Philippa shot up in her bed, a shrill scream issuing from her throat. Sweat poured from her brow, plastering her hair to her face and neck. She buried her face in the crook of her body as she drew her knees up to her forehead and hugged her shins. Her body shuddered and soon, a familiar, comforting set of skinny arms hugged her, his weight tipping her into his body as her twin brother joined her on her straw mattress. "It's okay Phil," Garrett soothed softly. "What was it this time?"
She wailed, shifting to grip his thin tunic and huddle her face in his warm chest. The sound of their bedroom door opening and closing told her that Mama and Papa had also woken with her scream. "It was the fire man," she sobbed. She had seen the thing so many times, amorphous and bright, heat rippling around it as it stared with it's inhuman glowing eyes. Still, it terrified her.
Another body joined them on the bed and her father's deep voice filtered through her hiccoughing cries. "It's all right, Turtledove. Remember they can't hurt you unless you let them."
She sniffed and snuggled closer to Garrett as her father's hand landed on her still trembling back, providing a comforting warmth through her nightdress. "But they pretend so good."
"You're better at hide and seek," Garrett reminded her, his chin knocking into her head each time he opened his mouth. "Just remember, when you see them, run and hide, and then pinch yourself. If you wake up, it was a dream. If not, I'll be there to protect you." Garrett protected her. Always. He protected her when mama overloaded them with chores and she wasn't strong enough to do her part, and on the playground when the other kids inevitably picked on her for being too small or too slow. He was her shield.
"Do you remember the words I taught you to listen for?" Papa asked gently.
She nodded, rubbing her tear streaked face on Garrett's shirt before looking up, straightening her back, and dutifully reciting the words, "Deal, Promise, Power, Wish..."
Papa reached over and rubbed her head with a smile, ruffling her hair. "There's a good lass. Now, let's get you all tucked back in. Tomorrow's a big day."
Philippa gasped, releasing Garrett's shirt from her clutching fists and rubbing the last of her tears on her nightdress. "Market day?"
"Right you are," he agreed, getting up from the edge of the bed where he sat and allowing her to tuck herself back beneath her blankets. She clutched Garrett's hand and he rolled his eyes, climbing beside her so she could huddle against him.
"Will Mama be coming with us tomorrow?" Philippa asked hopefully.
"I should think so," Papa said with a nod as he tucked the blankets around the pair and leaned down to kiss them both on the forehead. "It will be her last chance to get out of the house before winter sets in and your siblings are born. Get some sleep, you two."
Papa turned and left the room, drawing the light with him, leaving the shape of the crystal burned into her vision. Garrett shifted and tugged on the blanket. "Share, Phil."
Philippa pressed her eyes closed and relinquished a bit of the blanket to her brother who was soon snoring softly again. It was not so easy for her to get back to sleep. Muffled voices drifted through their small cottage, allowing her to barely make out her parents as they spoke. "The dreams are getting more frequent," her mother's gentle hum said nervously.
"She's 7, Leandra. I was taken to the Circle when I was her age," Papa replied. "I had hoped I wouldn't pass this curse on to our children, but I fear Phil is showing definite signs."
"Oh, Malcolm, what are we going to do?" Mama fretted.
"Don't worry, love. So long as her powers don't manifest in public, I can teach her to hide them. I'll not allow the templars to take our little girl."
Philippa cringed. She remembered the hulking metal men that prowled the Chantry courtyard, menacing folks with their bucket heads wreathed in feathers, and their legs draped in colorful skirts that did nothing to hide the massive shields strapped to their backs and the sharp, magical swords that could steal the very breath from your lungs. She didn't want to be like father if it meant she would be stolen from her family. She didn't want her dreams and the scary spirits that haunted them. She didn't want magic.
They were all up early the next day so they could load up the wagon and head in to Lothering for Market day. Philippa sat beside Garrett on the long bench in front of the table, twirling her spoon in her oatmeal. She yawned heavily and lifted her elbow to drop it on the table and rest her head on her hand. "No elbows on the table, dear," Mama scolded, taking Garrett's already empty bowl from in front of him and giving him leave to go and help Papa. Philippa sighed and dragged her elbow back down before taking a reluctant bite of her breakfast. She forced the remainder down and then brought her bowl to Mama. "Come and sit by the fire and I'll fix your hair before we leave."
Philippa trudged over to the fire and flopped to the ground while her mother waddled awkwardly across the living space and gingerly lowered herself into the armchair behind her. The horsehair brush tugged lightly on her matted black hair. "Ow," she complained. "Can't I just cut my hair like Garrett?"
Her mother chuckled lightly. "Maker, wouldn't that be a sight?" Without answering, she continued to tug the knots from Philippa's hair and then braided it loosely down her back.
"The wagon is ready," Papa announced excitedly, peeking his head in the door with a grin.
Mama shooed Philippa from the floor and with great effort, heaved herself from the chair to follow her to the door. "With any luck, the bumpy ride into town will knock these babies loose and I'll be able to breathe again. I can't believe I agreed to have more after the first set of twins." Mama said teasingly.
Papa chuckled and pulled the door closed behind them before helping Mama into the seat of the wagon while Philippa climbed into the back with Garrett and the few crates and parcels they were going to use as trade. "The odds of more twins was astronomical... and yet here we are."
"As long as there's no more girls," Garrett teased Philippa, sticking his tongue out at her.
"We won't know that until they've arrived," Papa reminded them as he flicked the reins and the mule started forward along the dirt road.
Philippa crossed her arms and returned the raspberry that Garrett had given her. "I hope they're both girls."
The autumn air was crisp, but not enough that you needed a cloak. On the ride into town, Philippa forgot about her dreams and about being tired as the tall spires of the King's road came into view through the trees along their path. Lothering was just around the corner. She could smell the freshly baked bread and hear the excited voices of the vendors as they all set up their tents along the outskirts of town, eager for the chance to sell some of their handcrafted wares and socialize with friends.
After Papa guided the mule into their usual place, they all climbed from the wagon and began to set up their own wares. Once the tables were set, Papa offered them each a copper and with a wink said, "Go find some trouble."
Philippa and Garrett grinned at each other and ran off into the crowd with Mama's voice calling behind them. "Stay together and be back for lunch!"
Garrett had a few friends in town that he had met last summer during the faire. His brown eyes scanned the streets as she lagged behind, wanting to find something to spend her copper on. She kept an eye on his bouncing mop of black hair, but he was faster than her on his longer legs. Papa kept promising she would hit her growth spurt soon and catch up to Garrett, but it wasn't going to happen in time for her to catch him as he finally spotted his friends and took off to join their game of tag. She hadn't particularly cared for the group of boys the last time they had met, but Mama had said to stick together, so she slipped through the crowd, following her brother's voice. Before she reached the middle of town where the boys seemed to be congregated, her eyes were drawn to a stall adorned with dozens of small hand crafted knickknacks. There was a row of carved mabari dogs, another of tiny fennecs, a few rams and some fantastical creatures like griffons and dragons. She was enraptured with a glass blown dragon statue no bigger than the palm of her hand. It was read and black, and shone in the glare of sun that was peeking through the clouds. She approached the stall and bit her lip, trying to read the sign scribbled beneath the dragon. "Can I help you, sweetheart?" the young woman minding the stall asked with a smile.
Philippa glanced down at the copper in her palm and held it up. "Is this enough for the glass dragon?" she asked quietly.
The woman glanced at the copper as well and then at where she was pointing. Her expression shifted briefly before she smiled again and said, "You drive a hard bargain, blue eyes. I think I can let you have it for what you're offering."
Philippa gasped and a smile broke out on her face, her heart soaring in delight. "Really?"
The woman nodded. "I know your folks. They're a decent sort and have given me a bargain many a time. I feel it's only right to repay the favor."
"Thank you, miss," Philippa said gratefully, gently picking up the dragon and passing her copper to the woman.
She hugged the figure to her chest and dipped back into the crowd to find Garrett. She was eager to share her excitement with her twin who shared her fascination with dragons. She broke through the edge of the crowd and spotted Garrett chasing after one of the other boys. She couldn't remember any of their names, but the young blonde he was chasing she remembered had been particularly foul. She caught Garrett's attention with a wave of her hand and he grinned at her, tagged the boy and jogged over to her. "I wondered where you went, Phil. Want to play?"
She shook her head, eyeing the nasty boy as he sidled up to them, his cheeks red from running. "Look what I bought." She held the dragon up in her palm, her eyes wide as she searched for her twin's approval.
Before he even had a chance to acknowledge her, the boy scoffed and lifted his hand, slapping the delicate figure from her hands. "Who cares. Come on, Garrett. No girls."
"Hey!" Philippa shouted as the dragon fell to the ground and shattered into millions of pieces. Her heart lurched and immediately, tears began to stream from her eyes.
A snorted breath escaped the boy and he rolled his eyes. "Cry baby."
Without a word, Garrett spun on the blonde boy and swung his fist, connecting with his jaw. "What's the matter with you, Leon? That's my sister!"
Recovering quickly, Leon pounced on Garrett and the two hit the dirt, rolling around and throwing punches and kicks. "Stop it!" Philippa shrieked, her tears still rolling freely. Her cries went unheard as the boys tussled. Leon rolled Garrett onto his back and managed to straddle him, holding his arms down with his knees as he started to punch him repeatedly. "Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!" By now, the rest of the boys had gathered in a circle around the scuffle, and were egging Leon on with shouts of their own. Philippa tried to push between them to get to Garrett and help him, but she was much smaller than most of the boys and all she could do was get knocked around. Fear for her brother began to roll through her and her breathing shortened to shallow gasps around her tears. Quite suddenly as the fear hit a crescendo, she let out a wordless shout and threw her arms outward. Something loosened in her chest, unraveling, and by her will, the crowd parted. She stepped into the circle and the thread continued to unravel. She drew her elbows back and then pushed her hands forward, "Get off!" she shouted and Leon flew off of Garrett and across the now silent square, landing in a heap near the wall around the Chantry.
She dropped her hands and her breathing quickened even further into small panicked breaths. She looked at Garrett who was slowly raising up on his elbows, his expression terrified. She would never find out whether he was terrified for her or of her as the metal men began to close in around her and the world spun. She dropped to her knees and her vision went black.
She woke in her bed, much like the night before, drenched in sweat and uttering a terrified wordless cry. She could barely see for the tears in her eyes, the room fuzzy. When she huddled in a ball this time, her body shaking, it wasn't her brother's arms that found her, but her father's. "It's all right, Turtledove. It was all a dream."
She huddled against her father and he smelled strange, "It was different." She mumbled around her tears, small shoots of pain rocketing across her temples.
Her father drew back and tucked his finger beneath her chin to lift her eyes to his. Something was different about his eyes. Something unfamiliar. "Tell me all about it," he urged gently.
"It was Market day. We went to Lothering and Garrett ran off with his friends. I bought a dragon with the copper you and Mama gave me, and when I showed it to him, his friend broke it. Garrett hit him, but he was smaller than the other boy and I was afraid. I got so upset..." her voice faded and she looked down at her hands. "I did magic. Like you... but when the metal men tried to take me, I fell..."
Her father hummed thoughtfully, but his expression looked hungry. She felt herself cowing from him when he spoke again. "Well, it had to be a dream. Today is Market day." He brushed her hair from her face and then patted her cheek. "How about this. I'll make you a deal. Go and get dressed and then on the way to Lothering I'll show you how to harness your power."
Philippa's heart began to thump swiftly. Her father had just used two of the words he had always warned her against. She hugged herself and sniffled, getting up from the bed. She went from her room and into the washroom to get cleaned up. When she was out of sight of her father, she took a chunk of her upper arm between her fingers and pinched.
The world snapped back around her. She tried to sit up, but fumbled when she couldn't bring her arms from behind her back. She slipped and her cheek smacked painfully into a hard wooden surface. She tried to cry and utter a complaint, but her voice was gone. Terror settled into panic and she began to thrash in place like she had seen fish doing on the riverbank when Papa had taken her and Garrett with him to catch dinner in the spring. She tugged on her arms, trying to get them loose and found her feet bound as well. When she tried to cry out, nothing escaped her throat. Tears began to stream from her eyes as her wrists burned where the rope wrapped around them rubbed her skin raw.
"She's awake," a gruff and unfamiliar voice said from nearby. She stilled herself and craned her neck to look in the direction the voice had come from. It was one of the metal men. His helmet had been removed and he sat on a long wooden bench that she had managed to wedge herself beneath in her writhing. His skin was dark tan, his hair a few shades lighter. Philippa hooked her feet around the foot of the bench and drug herself from under it, shuffled awkwardly to her bottom and drew her knees up to her chin, as far from him as she could get. He set a suspicious look on her. "Was she silenced? I don't fancy getting thrown from the wagon." he said.
"Aye. After what she did, the Knight-Commander felt it necessary. For safety. Even if she did exhaust herself on such a small spell." Philippa's head spun to take in the second voice and she huddled even further into herself.
They were on a wagon, the second metal man, also without his bucket helmet, sat where her father and mother usually sat when they took a ride, guiding the horses. Where are we going?! She wanted to shout, but when she opened her mouth, still nothing came from her throat. The first man looked at her with a small amount of sympathy. "Do you know where you are, child?" She shook her head desperately, her chest tight as the tears continued to stream down her cheeks. "I'm sure it's scary waking up with your arms and legs bound, your voice gone, and a pair of strange men your only company, but you're safe. Do you remember what happened in the market?"
She felt her eyes go wide and she hung her head, realizing that it must not have been a dream. She wished that this was, but she was pinching the skin on her wrist that she could grab hold of and still she looked on the man. Garrett had lied. He had swore that when she pinched herself if it wasn't a dream that he would be there to protect her. She was all alone. The wagon trundled along the road, rattling noisily as the cheek she had slammed on the floor throbbed in time with her racing heart.
Her captor spoke again. "We're taking you to the Circle of Magi, child. When we get there, you'll be with other boys and girls like you. The Enchanters will teach you how to be safe, so you can't hurt anyone or yourself with your magic."
Philippa didn't want to be safe. She wanted her family back. Papa was a mage. He could teach her. Why did she need strangers to lock her up and show her tricks? Papa had been part of the Circle once, but he was free now. He didn't like talking about that time. All he had ever said about the Circle was a single phrase that he had repeated to her after she began to have nightmares. My magic will serve what's best in me, not that which is most base. Right now, she took no comfort in the words. She was alone and scared and her face and arms hurt.
She pressed herself into the corner of the wagon as far from the metal man as she could get and hung her head, ignoring him whenever he tried to speak to her again. Soon, a light rain began to fall and the moisture soaked through her clothes, chilling her. She tried to clench her jaw and stave off the shivers that began to wrack her from the cold, but it was no use. Her body trembled in spite of her best attempts. The man stood and draped a blanket over her. It was thin and patchy, but it temporarily quieted her trembling until the rain soaked through it as well. The raw skin on her wrists burned as the drops of rain trickled from her sleeves. She was miserable and she closed her eyes, trying to pretend she was anywhere but in this wagon with these men.
After what felt like forever, the wagon began to slow and she opened her eyes to see where they were. The woods around her told her nothing about where she was and she huddled even further into the blanket until the man stood from his bench and moved to kneel beside her. "We're going to bed down for the night, child. It will be another few days before we reach Kinloch Hold. We have tents and some food. If you promise to behave, I can unbind your wrists so you can eat. At the first hint of magic, either myself or Ser Maron will cast a smite to stop it. Do you know what a holy smite is?" Again Philippa shook her head, her eyes wide. Even if she wanted to escape, she had no idea where she was. She could never get home. There was no reason to use magic on these men, even if she knew how she had thrown Leon across the town square. "Well, it's best you behave so you don't need to find out."
He reached behind her and used a knife to cut the soaked rope from her wrists and when it dragged across her skin, rubbing the raw edges, she tried to whimper, but it was soundless. She may have her hands back, but she would have liked her voice back, too, even if it was to cry properly. She slowly worked her arms back into a natural position after they had spent all day twisted behind her back while he cut her ankles free as well. Then the metal man pulled her to her feet and walked her to the edge of the wagon before dropping down to the ground with a clank of his armor and then hoisting her down, setting her on her feet on the muddy road. The driver knight had gone into a shallow clearing along the road and setup the tents and was now working on a small fire to keep the cold at bay. "Bryant, you know she isn't supposed to be loose."
"She's just a child, Maron," her escort said chidingly.
"A child that knocked a group of townsfolk on their asses and then threw a boy across the square with sheer will. Don't underestimate her."
Ser Bryant led her to a stump near the fire and sat her down. She slunk as close to the small fire as she could get, trying to stop her body from shivering. In a few minutes, he brought her a meager ration and bade her eat. She nibbled at the food, her stomach upset. Once the sun was down, he led her to one of the tents, handing her a fresh blanket. She didn't want to sleep. She was terrified of her nightmares. She laid awake for as long as she could, fighting the burning of her eyes, but finally, her eyelids drooped from pure exhaustion.
She didn't truly sleep. As soon as her eyes closed in the waking world, they opened in the dream world. Papa had called it the Fade. The monsters came to her all of the time, trying to trick her. Papa had warned her how to tell if the monsters were real, but even knowing all he had taught her, they still made her scared. This night, it was easy to tell the monsters from reality. It didn't even try to hide itself behind a mask. The tall gangly creature with the green skin and misshapen, over-sized, mouth stalked toward her. She wanted to run, but the space she was in closed in behind her. Her head began to ache, and Philippa cried, at least able to use her voice in her dreams. "Why are you so scared, little girl? I am not the one who wishes you harm. On the contrary, I would prefer we were friends. It's the ones out there who would bind and chain you until your flesh bleeds. Don't you wish you could fight back? I could show you... blend our power and I could help you get back to your parents." It said in a shrill and ragged voice.
Philippa shook her head, wisps of hair falling over her face as she pressed her eyes closed. "I don't want to hurt people."
"You wouldn't have to hurt anyone. Let me help you," it tried to offer.
Philippa shook her head again. "No!"
"So be it," the monster growled, rearing back and issuing a high pitched scream from it's maw that made Philippa clap her hands over her ears.
She bolted awake, much like she usually did from her dreams, sweating and terrified. She did it alone, no Mama, no Papa, no Garrett and no soft blankets to hide beneath. She couldn't even scream, the metal men still keeping her silenced. All she could do was shudder and cry, hugging herself as she curled into the fetal position and wished Garrett was there to curl up behind her. He had promised to be there for her. To keep her safe. Why wasn't he there? Why had Papa allowed the metal men to take her after promising Mama it would never happen?
Ser Bryant soon pushed the tent flap aside and stuck his head inside. "I'm going to take you to relieve yourself and then it's back to the wagon."
Philippa followed him further into the woods and he directed her around a tree, warning her not to try to run. After relieving herself, she sheepishly came back around the tree to follow him back to the wagon. He lifted her up onto the back of the wagon and then proceeded to bind her hands and feet again, at least allowing her the luxury of tying her wrists in front of her this time.
The next three days were the same. Day in and day out, she cried silently in between the bumpy road, the meager supper, sleeping in the cold tent alone, and dodging any number of monsters that haunted her dreams. By day four when Ser Bryant nudged her delicately around noon and pointed toward the North, revealing a massively tall stone structure towering over the landscape and probably visible for miles, she no longer had the capacity to be afraid. She watched the Tower slowly get larger and larger until the wagon ground to a halt near a small wooden dock outside a roadside inn. Ser Maron got down from the wagon and approached the ferryman at the end of the dock while Ser Bryant undid her ankles, leaving her wrists bound.
She was ushered onto the ferry and when the ferryman pushed off from the dock, Philippa stumbled. Her legs were unused to being stood on, and the boat rocked. She was still tired and dizzy and a little bit hungry. Her body ached. The ferry ride took several hours and the sun was going down by the time they reached the island in the middle of the lake where the Tower loomed against the sky. "Hail!" a voice called from the docks. The man's face was obscured behind the lantern he held aloft, burning dimly against the creeping darkness. "I'm Knight-Captain Greagoir. What's your business?"
"I'm Ser Bryant and this is Ser Maron. We hail from Lothering. We have a charge we discovered in the village that came into her power quite spectacularly," Ser Bryant explained.
"I see," the voice on the dock said calmly. "Bring her ashore and we'll get her to the cells for observation."
Philippa's heart began to thump harder as a new fear came upon her. He had said cells. Was she to be a prisoner like the bandits that she had seen trussed up in cages outside the windmill in Lothering two summers ago? The locals had shouted and thrown rotten fruit at the men in their cages, using language that had caused her mother to cover her and Garrett's ears and usher them away from the ruckus. She hoped no one was going to throw fruit at her.
Bryant laid his hands on her shoulders and guided her from the ferry. The wind was whipping angrily across the lake and she shuddered as she tripped and sniffled, her nose running down her lip. The man who had greeted them wore the same metal armor as her escorts. He led them up a winding stone staircase carved into the grounds toward a gigantic set of double wooden doors that arched to a point at the top. Another pair of templars opened the doors to let them in. Philippa was guided into an entryway so grand that when the doors closed behind them, the slamming echoed noisily off the domed ceilings, making her cringe. She sniffed again, the cold air from outside following them into the hard stone walls.
The Knight-Captain did not stop, even as a few more guards watched them pass. Philippa folded in on herself, averting her eyes from everything but her own two feet shuffling forward. They passed through a dark, rounded hallway that curved around the central room of the tower. Everything was stone. Philippa had never been in such a harsh building. The Chantry in Lothering had been made of stone, but it had been soft inside, full of good feelings and warmth.
She was herded down a set of stairs into an even darker hall. They passed a door ringed in strange letters that made her feel choked. Suits of armor lined the walls like terrifying sentries. After a few minutes, the Knight-Captain stopped outside of a room lined with several empty cells separated by thick iron bars. He opened one of the cells and Philippa's eyes widened as he finally deigned to look on her. His features were grim, his round face supporting a full head of light brown hair. His dark brown eyes narrowed as he looked her up and down. Philippa sniffed again, averting her eyes at his scrutiny. When she looked back up, he still hadn't spoken, but his head tipped ever so slightly toward the open door of the cell. She realized he wanted her to enter. With her heart beating so heavily it sounded like rushing water in her ears, she hesitantly stepped into the cell.
It closed behind her, the bars clanging loudly and the lock clicking into place. Tears joined the snot dripping down her face as she turned to look out at the three men staring at her like she were the one who was terrifying. The Knight-Captain beckoned her hands to him and he cut the bonds, aggravating the raw flesh on her wrists. She sucked in a breath and hugged her arms back to her chest. Suddenly, the heavy feeling that had followed her since she had woken up in the wagon the first day lifted. "What is your name, girl?" the Knight-Captain asked in his gruff voice. She took a step back, too scared to speak, even though she suspected she could, now. "How old are you?"
He tried a few different questions, but she refused to speak, afraid that anything she said would get her into more trouble or make them smite her like Ser Bryant had said they would if she misbehaved. When he realized he would get nothing from her, he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Bryant, did you say? Come with me and we'll give her some time to settle in. You can tell me how she presented. Knight-Commander Robard can decide how to handle her in the morning."
The three men left, taking the only lit torch in the room with them and plunging her into darkness. She hugged herself and backed to the farthest corner of her cell. It was cold and impenetrably dark. She leaned her back against the hard stone wall and slid to the floor, huddled around herself. Her body began to tremble and she coughed lightly, her own voice startling her momentarily. She hadn't heard it in so long. An odd taste set up in the back of her mouth and in spite of not having used her voice in days, her throat felt like she'd been screaming it raw. She wiped her face on her sleeve. Mama would have been angry if she'd seen. The floor where she sat was freezing and unforgiving. She hadn't thought there were any more tears in her, but they continued to stream down her cheeks, joined now by muffled sobs.
She could not tell if it was morning, but she woke, her body aching. Her head pounded in time with her heartbeat. Her clothing was soaked through from sweating in spite of the shuddering that would not stop. Her nose was still dripping and she sniffed, causing the bridge of her nose and the space beneath her eyes to explode in pain. She huddled more tightly, wishing for one of the threadbare blankets that Ser Bryant had given her and soon felt her lids drooping again, her eyeballs burning.