“The Second Searcher” is set 1000 years prior to Joshua’s arrival on the scene. It tells the story of Wind, a young foal, and Leannah, a twelve-year-old girl who have to save their world from the evil that has descended upon Hollow’s Gate. You’ll meet some of the other characters from “The Three Feathers” as well, like Alda, Dragon-of-the-Stone, and Broga. I have included chapter one and two for you here. Enjoy!
For a long time there was darkness. Thoughts of comfort and warmth enveloped her, telling her of things she did not yet understand. The one who thought to her was never absent for long from her mind. And after a while she reached out as well, first brushing against the other’s mind with hers, then staying longer until there was a bond between them. There, in the mind of her mother, she saw images of a world beyond the darkness. It was a world bright and green and vast. Slowly she became aware of voices outside. They were softly spoken, far and close but never distant. One in particular spoke to her always. There was excitement. Laughter. Then a melody, sung to her quietly at times and loud at others. And when her mind reached out to the one who spoke and sang to her, it embraced hers within it instantly.
Then suddenly there was pressure on her body. The voices outside became louder, more urgent. Her heart rate increased until her mother’s thoughts reminded her, assured her silently that all was well. The light came; flickering at first, breaking through the dark and creating patterns inside her eyelids. She welcomed the cool air and took her first breath willingly, inhaling deeply the scent of it. When she opened her eyes, she could not focus on anything at first. But for a moment she saw the darkened shape of her mother’s head against the window and she thought it the most beautiful thing there was. Then the brightness of it all made her close her eyes again. Her mother’s nose nudged her, began to lick her face until it was clean. Experienced hands began to rub down her body. The sun that came through a gap in the wood planks of the stall illuminated them as they worked, as they dried her fur and removed the water bag. She recognized two of the hands, smaller than the others, as belonging to the one who had sung and spoken to her. She felt her joy as they went very methodically up and down her spine and over her head cleaning it from any remaining residue of her birth.
When she stood up, the girl wanted to help her but the old man gently held her back so that she could get on her feet by herself. She had to sit back down several times before she could stand. And when she stood she swayed back and forth, adjusting her hooves on the floor trying to hold her balance. After a while she took an uncertain step. Then another and yet another after that. Her ivory coat began to dry and her mouth found her mother’s belly and she stilled her hunger. And throughout it all she heard her mother say one word in her thoughts over and over again. She did not know what it meant and she would not hear it again until much later, until almost a full year had passed. But at that moment she heard it and she knew it was her name. And her name was Wind
Leannah could not contain herself. She awoke when all was still quiet and the only sounds she could hear were the animals in the stable below. When she peered through the thick drapes of her attic room window she saw that the streets were deserted. Only the baker’s son, she thought, would be out that early. In her mind she saw him running down the street, late as usual, barely making the corners without sliding on the sandy surface of the streets; his thick hair unkempt and sticking up in all directions; his long, dark brown coat wrapped around him despite the warmth of the air.
She opened the curtain just enough to let the light stream into her attic room. Dust particles danced in the beam as it illuminated the plank floor and part of the narrow wood framed bed to her right. The straw filled mattress on top was wrapped in white linens. Several handmade stuffed animals were perched to one side of it. Next to the bed and on the floor sat a small box also made of wood that served as table and dresser. A chair on the other side of the bed held a few pieces of neatly folded clothes. There was a second bed on the other side of the room. That one was empty and perfectly made, a quilt tucked into its sides and several stuffed animals perched on top. The wall with the window in it displayed several gray, thin, square stone plates with detailed chalk drawings on them. Most of them showed a white horse either running through a meadow or standing next to a girl who held a resemblance to Leannah herself. They were obviously self portraits but done in such astonishing detail that for any outside observer must have seemed to have been drawn by another person. One of the drawings hung near the second bed. It showed Leannah on a horse and another girl, slightly older, holding the reigns.
Leannah’s talent of drawing anything from what she saw in her mind’s eye was not something she was aware of. For her it was normal. She saw something and drew it without spending much thought on it at all. But this morning none of this mattered. This morning, after her chores were done, she would go and see her foal again. She had known for a few months now that it would be her foal, the one she would bond with and be with for the rest of their lives according to the custom of her people. She had felt the slightest brush of the foal’s mind on hers when it was still in the womb. But Leannah was not yet able to hold on to it for longer periods of time. She was too young and her training not advanced enough. Most of it would happen within the next year when she and the foal would both attempt to reach a deeper bond until what one would think the other would know; what one would see would be visible to the other also.
When she changed from her night gown into her day clothes, her glance fell onto the empty bed for a moment. The memory of her sister was still overshadowed by her grief over her death three years ago. It took a whole year for Leannah to be able to sleep in their room afterwards. Too fresh the memory of her, too deep the pain over her loss. And suddenly, while she stood there tying the shoe laces of her boots, the memory of that day pushed itself into her mind and she could do nothing but witness it again.
It was the week before Bellerose’s horse was to begin her solo pilgrimage up the Path Of No Return, the narrow, spiraling walkway along the steep, vast walls of Hollow’s Gate all the way past the Gate of Time and far up to the Plateau of Wills to make the jump into the unknown; into either life or death. Bellerose had told Leannah the night before that she had seen a white raven on one of the totem poles at the borders of their city. It had just sat there and when Bellerose approached it, she saw that one of its eyes was missing. Then it had flown away from the city and toward the plains. It was not only forbidden to cross the borders of the city without one of the masters, it was also dangerous. The city lay under the protection of a permanent light shield that the Dark – the ones that came out during the time of the seven nights – could not penetrate. Beyond the shield and during the week of darkness that always followed the week of light in Hollow’s Gate, the Dark reigned and whoever was still out there when the sun set in the eastern sky, fell prey to their hunger for blood. There was a reason the week of darkness was called The Time of the Dark.
Leannah had told Bellerose to stay away from the borders but she could see in her sister’s eyes that the temptation had become too big. During the weeks before the pilgrimage, the horses and their bond partners were always the most vulnerable. They needed to shield themselves from any influence from the outside and concentrate solely on the task that lay ahead: for the horses to prepare for the jump into the abyss and with that leave their limitations far behind and learn how to fly. For the girls, this was the time when they were about to cross the threshold of childhood and become not only a woman but join the ranks of Protector of the Realm. Whoever passed the trials during their horse’s pilgrimage was automatically considered to enter the rigorous training to become one of The Circle of The Eight. This was considered the highest honor but also the highest responsibility of leading their people in peace, protecting them and guarding them against outside forces.
The day after Bellerose had told Leannah about the white raven, she went to Master Torin’s house. He was one of the Elders in charge of her own training, in charge of determining when she was ready to begin her own bonding to a foal and thereby enter the three-year curriculum. She never went to his house before and had only known him from her lessons at school. He was a very kind man and she knew he would not rebuke her for coming. But her respect for him never allowed her to even think that she would go to his house. It took her a good part of the day to muster the courage to do so. During that time she made several attempts to talk to her mother who was pre-occupied with her little brother. Eventually her concern for Bellerose won over her fear and she decided to go.
When she stood before Master Torin in his study, surrounded by books bound in worn leather with fading letters in ancient languages, she forgot for a moment why she was there to begin with. She suddenly felt small amongst the accumulated knowledge of her people. Master Torin stood, hunched over a large table thickly layered with written pages, drawings and notes. One of the drawings showed a schematic of five structures with a large opening in their center.
The boy who had let her into the room had disappeared quietly. She knew him to be Master Torin’s grandchild. He must have been seven or eight years of age and two years younger than herself at that time. The old man looked up from his studies.
“Leannah, what a pleasant surprise. What has brought you here?” For a moment she couldn’t remember why it was she had gone to him in the first place.
“Do you know everything that is written here?” She asked, mostly because it was the first thing that came to mind.
“Hardly,” he answered with a smile. “And the more I study those, the more I reckon how very little I know.”
Leannah suddenly felt silly to have come here. It was just a raven and nothing more. There was no cause for concern and therefore no reason for her to be here.
“I’m sorry… to have interrupted you, Master Torin. I… I forgot. I forgot the reason… I shouldn’t have come. I apologize.” She turned abruptly and walked toward the door.
“Leannah.” She heard his voice behind her and stopped. “Why don’t you sit and we’ll talk for a few minutes. Now that I have you here, why not use this time to get to know each other a little more.”
She turned and looked at him. Her conflict must have shown plainly in her face for he smiled while walking to one of the two chairs in front of the hearth where he sat down. From a small table he took a pouch with pipe tobacco and began to stuff a craftily carved wooden pipe.
“Or you can just tell me what it is that bothers you and let me decide whether or not you are right in thinking it silly. If it is, the both of us will just forget about it. If it isn’t, well then I’m going to be very glad you have told me.
He lit his pipe, puffed out several times until he relaxed into his chair.
“What do you think?” Pipe in hand he pointed to the chair across from him. His smile encouraged her more than she wanted to admit. Eventually she walked over and sat down, her back straight up her hands folded on her lab. She looked at him for a few moments, looked at the short, mostly white, scruffy beard and equally scruffy hair. His eyes of slate gray watched hers calmly, waiting patiently for her to speak. The fire crackled in the hearth, its warmth extending toward her bare feet.
“Bellerose saw a white raven yesterday. On the outskirts of the city. He was one-eyed.”
Her words hung in the air like thick smoke. It seemed as if all color left Master Torin’s face at once. His eyes did not leave hers. Gone was the friendly old man. Gone the wise Elder.
“Asher!” He spoke loudly into the room and then more quietly to her: “Are you sure of this?”
The door opened and the boy came back. “Get Peregrine.”
“Yes, Grandfather.” Asher briefly looked at Leannah as if astounded by the command, then he quickly left the room. She could hear his hasty footsteps outside.
“Are you sure of this?” Master Torin asked again.
“Yes. Yes, I’m afraid I’m sure. What does this mean?”
Master Torin got up and crossed to the door. He took a hooded cloak from one of the hooks.
“Where is your sister now?”
Leannah just looked at him. She could see the foreboding in his eyes. Tears welled up in her.
“Leannah, do you know where your sister is now?”
“No. I don’t. I have not seen her since this morning.” She began to cry.
“Go home at once. I will send someone.”
All she could do was nod. “Come,” he told her.
She got up from the chair and walked toward the door. Before Master Torin opened it, he knelt down before her. His callused hand removed a strand of hair from her face. His eyes told him more than she wanted to know. Then he got up and left the room.
She followed him to the outside. It was as if all strength had left her legs. Asher stood there, Peregrine behind him. The wings of the white Pegasus were stretched out reaching at least twelve feet on either side of the creature. Having grown up amongst the Pegasus and having been around them all her life, Leannah still could not help but be astounded by the creatures’ magnificence and for a brief moment her concern for Bellerose was washed away and exchanged for a deep sense of comfort.
Master Torin’s words brought her back. “Go now,” he told her. Then, with a fluidity completely belying his age, he jumped onto Peregrine who pushed forward, his front hooves already in the air. They gained speed fast and after a few seconds, the Pegasus lifted up, his wings pushing them upward and toward the sky.
Leannah remembered very little of what had happened afterwards. Only one scene stood out from the blurry images and raw memories of the day when her sister disappeared. All she remembers was that she suddenly had found herself at home sitting in the kitchen with her mother there and her father trying to comfort her. Master Torin was in the room and several others and all she could think of was why she couldn’t have told him earlier. She could not fight the thought that she might have been able to save Bellerose if she would have gone to Master Torin in the morning. She felt that her sister’s death lay on her own shoulders and as much as everyone told her that she could not possibly have known, she did not believe them. She was certain she never would.
* * *
Leannah forced herself to turn her head away from the bed, to shake the vivid memory from her thoughts. She climbed down the steep steps into the kitchen, her feet finding each of the rungs, her hands grasping the worn wooden sides of the ladder. She crossed the kitchen to a door leading into a small vestibule where she took several pieces of wood and placed them carefully next to the large hearth. A second trip brought kindling and dry straw. She knelt down and, using flint and steel, kindled a fire that soon began to crackle and hiss. She took the iron pot from the hook, crossed the kitchen and opened the back door.
“I’ll be there soon,” she thought. “Only a few chores this morning and I’ll be there.”
The answer was not more than a brushing against her mind, a soft touch toward her. But it was enough to hasten Leannah’s steps through the vegetable garden and toward the well. The foal could not communicate anything specific as of yet. This would take time. It would take practice and continuous effort for both, to form the bond and to strengthen it to a point where communication would be as effortless as breathing. But she could sense her curious mind already, could catch an image here and there and a fleeting glance at her surroundings.
She lowered the bucket into the well until she heard it hit the surface of the water below. It took all her strength to pull the rope over the squeaking wheel of the well house without it slipping out of her hands. When she filled the iron pot with the water from the bucket, it spilled everywhere and she had to remind herself to be more careful. On a normal day she saw the morning tasks as her daily ritual, a time of introspection and meditation as suggested by the order of the eight. Not this time. She couldn’t wait to get back, to finish her tasks, to run to the stables and see her foal. Today she wasn’t aware of the smell of Thyme and Burlock and Lemon Balm that grew abundantly in front and all around her. Today she didn’t see the stream behind the garden as it meandered passed her through the village. She didn’t see past the other houses and their straw roofs and into the distance where the sheer cliffs of The Great Deep reached far into the sky.
Leannah was glad that her foal was born in the daylight cycle and not during the night. She didn’t consider herself a suspicious person but she had heard of foals and babies that were born during the night cycle, especially the ones who lived just within the outermost reach of the city’s light shield, and never completely lost their fear of the dark. And even though she never since found out what had happened to Bellerose the day of her disappearance, Leannah began to shiver whenever her glance went past the totem poles at the edge of the City of Light and into the plains.
Back in the house she hung the pot onto the hook inside the hearth and moved the iron arm over the fire. She took leafs from several dried herb bushels and dropped them into the water. The fragrance of the tea would soon fill the house, stirring the rest of her family to awaken. Her grandmother would be next. Her back bent from years of working the fields, her skin leathered and her gray hair sticking out from under a head cloth, she would cross the room to the outside, leaning on her cane, making her way through the garden while looking at each plant, assessing its growth, determining how to attend to it.
Next, her mother together with her younger brother Clay would awaken. They would all gather around the table to have breakfast together. But there was still time until then. Leannah brought out utensils, wooden cutting boards and stone cups for the tea, placing them onto the table. She would be able to do the rest afterwards. For now, she had to go and see her foal. She ran outside, remembered that she forgot the milk bottle and went back inside to get it. She closed the front door quietly and first walked, then ran down the narrow street passing small houses made of the same clay, stone and straw than her own.
A few more people were out now each busy with their own tasks. Some of them were merchants leading a donkey and a wagon on their way to the market to set up their stands. Soon the city would be bustling with life but this time of day Leannah always found special. She loved the quietness of it and the anticipation of what was to come each day.
She rounded several more corners before she came to a larger building with a tall fence attached to it. She opened the gate and entered the courtyard. On her right, the two story high barn extended straight ahead with twelve stables that opened into a paddock on her left. Several horses grazed quietly in the far corner of it. A few stable boys were already busy feeding, changing water, and emptying stalls. Stable master Feredith would soon arrive and the boys were doing everything in their power not to upset her early on. She was known to be strict when it came to caring for the horses. Her task was not a small one as her responsibility included the Pegasus as well.
Leannah passed stable after stable, peaking into each one, expecting to find her foal in one of them. She saw her in the second to last one. Her mother came out just when Leannah arrived. She sniffed her hand briefly and then trotted onto the grass of the paddock. “I’m here,” Leannah thought to her foal before it saw her. The foal’s head turned toward her. It lay in the corner of the stall on the freshly turned hay floor. Leannah went down on her knees in front of her rubbing the foal’s head and ears down her nose.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for you for a long time. We will be spending a lot of time together and I very much look forward to that.”
The foal sniffed Leannah’s head and licked her hair. For a brief moment Leannah saw an image of herself against the blue sky outside and the partial ceiling of the stables. She realized that she had received an image from the foal of how she saw her. Her head was nothing more than a silhouette against the brightness of the sky behind her but with the image, Leannah also recognized the fondness with which the foal looked at her. It made her very happy.
“Would you like to come out with me?” She asked. With that she stood up and walked toward the stable door. The foal stood up, found her balance and came toward the door. Leannah realized that the foal was as tall as her already even a tiny bit taller. She would not become a large horse but Leannah could sense her spirit already and it filled her with utter joy.
“Come,” she said as she stepped from the stone walkway that span along the stables onto the paddock. The foal followed and both of them walked toward the middle of the meadow where the foal’s mother grazed. Leannah didn’t have too much time right now as she still had to get milk and bread and attend to her mother and grandmother at home. But she wanted at least to spend a few minutes with her new friend.
When they reached the middle of the meadow, the foal turned her head toward the sky. Leannah followed her gaze and soon saw a small shadow moving closer fast and approaching them from the east. For a moment cold fear gripped her heart. Since her sister disappeared she had never been able to relinquish that fear completely. She wasn’t sure of what she was afraid of. They were in the middle of the day cycle and not anywhere near the city borders but her first reaction to everything unknown lately has been fear. She couldn’t help it. Even now she had to muster all her strength not to run inside the stables and hide.
The foal must have sensed something in Leannah as she nudged her arm with her head telling her not to worry. Leannah relaxed a bit until she saw that the shadow in the sky was one of the Pegasus. Her fear dissipated as quickly as it had come on. She was now able to see the Pegasus more clearly. It was Peregrine. Leannah recognized the small dark spots on one of his hind legs. The large Pegasus landed about six yards away from them on the grass. The wind from his wings brushed against Leannah’s face and hair. Their eyes met for a moment. Leannah had never directly communicated with him but always felt his presence when he was near–a mighty being, wise and strong and powerful. The Pegasus acknowledged Leannah, briefly recognizing her as one of Master Torin’s students and trotted past them toward the other end of the barn and around a corner.
When Leannah watched Peregrine she suddenly felt the wish to be free and able to lift up into the heavens and soar with the eagles high above the earth, floating on the upward winds with no boundaries and nothing to hold her back. Some of what she had felt must have reached the foal for she suddenly shook her head excitingly and then took off into the meadow running toward the edge. And as Leannah followed her path making a wide circle along the fence in full gallop, still clumsy and wavering from side to side but already filled with the innate wish to just run as fast as the wind, she felt inside herself the wish to help her learn how to fly, to experience the freedom from the bounds of the earth.
“We will be good friends,” she whispered. “Very good friends.”