The afternoon following Rowan’s confrontation progressed with everyone busying around her like bees. Hæra gave her advice on other options she could take in the future, suggesting that a defensive approach may be more prudent. Rowan couldn’t help but roll her eyes in response as she knew her mother would have acted in much the same way had it been Bragi’s father, if not worse. Actually, the more Rowan thought about it, a similar exchange between the two of them would border on cataclysmic. They hated each other with an untold passion that their children could only emulate. But Hæra wanted to at least put on a show of being a responsible adult and performance was her specialty.
While Hæra talked to Rowan, Gyren went to find their family doctor, Doctor Bræn, to inform him of what had happened to both Rowan and Bragi. Somewhat strangely, he was yet to hear about Bragi’s condition. Granted, he didn’t have much interaction with the An’Teags due to them being out of his standard range and because they were signed up with a different practice, but he was the best in town and it had been at least an hour. Unfortunately, he felt there wasn’t much he could do for Bragi without knowing more so he sent out an assistant to investigate. That left him free to check in on Rowan.
Based on what he had heard from Gyren, the doctor brought a selection of medicines so that he could be sure that Rowan was getting the treatment she needed. Following a thorough examination, he was able to confirm that she had bruised two of her ribs, Rowan was surprised they weren’t broken, as well as a sprained ankle. He also discovered the bruising and the small cut from her fall earlier in the day. Unsurprisingly, Hæra and Gyren were quite put out that Rowan hadn’t told them about that particular accident, but they chose not to comment on it. Satisfied with his exam, Doctor Bræn gave her some rather strong pain medication and a poultice to be used on both her ankle and ribs.
After the doctor left, Hæra soon followed suit to talk to the Town Council before it was too late and Gyren had to return to the store, so it was Tyris’ turn to be the watchful big brother. He spent that time telling Rowan and Tehri stories of legendary Ardents and Stoics. Rowan was fascinated by stories which she was sure were heavily embellished; there was just simply no way a Stoic Kairosi Fire Monk could devour a blazing inferno single-handedly no matter how strong they were. Tehri on the other hand was markedly less interested so Tyris tried to engage her in a Ferran game called Ruun. What amazed Rowan almost as much as the stories is that it actually worked.
As afternoon said its goodbyes and evening came waltzing in, Rowan came to the conclusion that it was a good day. Compared to the last encounter she’d had with Bragi, she was feeling ecstatic, over the moon even. For the first time in her short life, she had won against her great and terrible tormentor and it was a victory to end the war. Though something did confuse her about the blow she had given Bragi. When the rumour mill delivered the news of what had actually happened when his crotch popped, all the men around her turned dead white.
Rowan expected to be out of action for a few weeks at least due to her ribs. However, Doctor Bræn’s poultice worked miracles and Rowan was active within a few days. Not only did the poultice bring down the swelling, it also did wonders at clearing up the bruising. Unfortunately she still hadn’t fully recovered and had been banned from visiting the forest until she had been given the all clear from the doctor. She was still free to be physical in other ways as long as there was little risk of any blunt force trauma to her ribs, but she was still rather disappointed. That is to say, right up until she came to a realisation; she could still, in theory, learn the basics of how to fight with a sword or some other weapon if she could convince someone to teach her.
Following the fifth day of recovery, Rowan hunted down Tyris to try and persuade him that giving her lessons was an excellent idea. It turned out that this battle would be just as hard as her last conquest against Bragi as it turned into a war of attrition. Tyris’ resolve was ironclad. Rowan found it admirable, though she totally wasn’t jealous. That is until his resolve finally broke after a week of Rowan chipping away at it.
“Come on, Tyr!” Rowan sighed indignantly. “It’s been a week already; what’s the worst that could happen?”
“You could get hurt again, make your injuries worse.” Tyris’ voice was wary as he responded. He had forgotten how insistent his sister could be.
“We both know that’s not gonna happen if we’re only practicing the basics.”
“What about sparring?” Tyris asked. ”That’s an essential part of learning.”
“Who says we need to spar until I’m ready?”
Tyris wasn’t sure how to respond to that so he tried a different argument. “Well you still don’t have your strength back.”
“Do you want me to do a handstand?” She had responded before Tyris even finished his sentence. “I’m fine. Honest.”
“Irrelevant. I’ve heard all of your arguments and you won’t change my mind. I’ve seen you doing exercises outside and they aren’t that far off dancing in terms of intensity. You do know that Ma let me start back up with my dance lessons over five days ago, don’t you?” She took a second to breathe after that to see if Tyris would respond, but he knew she wasn’t finished. Smiling to herself, Rowan revealed her trump card. “I’ve also seen enough of your routines and exercises to try it myself, but that would be incomplete and probably be beyond my level, especially without any fundamentals. Now that would be dangerous. So doesn’t it stand to reason that I should have someone teach me so that I don’t mess up?” Rowan felt a little guilty using that line as it was a touch on the manipulative side, but she felt it was important that she started young and if she waited until she was fully recovered, Tyris would have likely already left.
“Fine!” he sighed in exasperation. “But only under a few very important conditions. First, we clear it with mother and father. If you can’t convince them, you haven’t convinced me yet. Second, we will only cover the absolute basics and fundamentals until you have recovered more. I will talk with Doctor Bræn to work out suitable parameters. Thirdly, I insist that Kiriin and Kyr partake in the training as well. That way I can trust that you will watch each other and keep each other safe. Plus, having people to train with is the best way in my opinion.”
Rowan nodded in acknowledgement of all three of Tyris’ conditions. They made sense and she was only responsible for fulfilling two of them. To Tyris’ surprise, Gyren took more persuading, but Rowan knew it would play out that way. Hæra just needed to hear the points in a concise manner and get Tyris’ assurances. Gyren, however, hated the idea of either of his daughters getting hurt. Rowan felt like he worried too much at times, but she loved him all the more for it. Even so, he relented and the twins didn’t need any persuading, nor did their parents, except for requiring that it didn’t get in the way of school.
Unsurprisingly, the early lessons were on the boring side. Tyris was being especially careful to not strain Rowan, to the point where it was all theory at the start. It made sense, but there were times where it felt like she was being lectured at by Master Idyr. She still learned a lot, especially the pros and cons of different swords or how drawing back a bowstring is more in the back than in the arms.
Following the initial theory, they started on footwork which seemed trivial to Rowan as she had already had tonnes of practice with footwork through dancing. She was, however, somewhat mistaken, at least where the fundamentals were concerned. It was all about keeping your movements tight and controlled as well as your centre of mass low and stable. It was a weird experience in all, but she still excelled in it compared to the other two.
However, when they actually began working with actual practice weapons, it soon became clear that Kyr was an exceptionally fast study. This may have surprised some people, but Rowan was fully aware that both he and Kiriin had been born towards the end of the Warrior’s Lunar Cycle, which should grant them the Gift of the Elite. What surprised Rowan, was that Kiriin was actually falling in behind her, as their Gift was supposed to supplement their ability to learn and improve combat related skills. Even accounting for individual differences, they should have been closer in natural skill with the Gift of the Elite. It made Rowan’s head spin. They should have had the same Gift, but it was very clear that they didn’t.
Then she realised that they were born on the last day of the Elite. She’d never considered the possibility that the transition between cycles didn’t occur in the middle of the night. However, the more she thought about, the middle of the night in Næmyris wasn’t the middle of the night everywhere, so it would be unlikely for transition to be perfectly synced up with her home. Upon coming to that realisation, it was becoming more and more obvious that Kiriin had been born at the start of The Hunter, granting her the Gift of the Stalker. In hindsight, it was obvious from all the times Kiriin had snuck up on her.
It was worth noting, however, that Kiriin wasn’t satisfied being left behind in the dust. Instead she put in the work to ensure that she may one day surpass Rowan and her brother with a couple of weapons of the very least. Seeing Kiriin work so hard ignited Rowan’s competitive spirit, prompting her to go into overdrive until Tyris stopped her. Kyr on the other hand was a lot more level headed in his approach.
After that initial excitement, the first few weeks of lessons soon passed, and it was becoming clear that everyone was developing different preferences when it came to weapons. Rowan was becoming particularly focused on swords, mobility and to a lesser degree, daggers. Kyr on the other hand discovered his interest lay in polearms, greatswords and strategy, having excelled in theory as well. And last but not least, Kirin focused on archery, daggers, and short spears. Their overly narrow enthusiasm frustrated Tyris to no end. He insisted that it was paramount to have a wider appreciation for the basics before focusing on particular weapons, especially when you didn’t have any ideas beforehand. Tyris tried to convince them to wait, but they all had their reasons and were far too stubborn to change their minds.
Rowan was looking forward to seeing how they would improve going forwards. She knew that once she was fully healed, they’d be able to go all out with their training. Well almost all out.
Towards the end of the month, just before the Solstice, Rowan finally asked the question that had been bugging her ever since she read his letter to her on her birthday. Why had he decided to pass on the right to inherit Elan Fiir to her and why then? Hæra had explained it, but she still didn’t understand that well.
“Why, you ask?” he responded. “That’s a good question.” Having responded, Tyris paused dramatically causing Rowan to sigh and palm her face, an act which caused him to deflate a little bit. “Well I’ve got a couple of reasons I guess; the first of which is fairly easy to explain.”
“Okay?” Rowan said expectantly
“So first of all, the blood of our Ferran ancestors is strong in you, stronger than me or Tehri for sure. Neither of us inherited the Ferran eyes, after all, and I know for sure that I couldn’t deliver a kick like you did to Bragi. Does it not make sense then, that you should inherit the sword?”
“Maybe? I don’t see why that’s relevant.” Rowan was still rather confused by his reasoning.
“Resonance, my dear Rowan!” Tyris exclaimed with an uncanny enthusiasm. “Elan Fiir was forged from the crystallized tears of ancestors so it stands to reason that the stronger our connection to the bloodline, the stronger our Resonance to them and the sword. I think that is the key to drawing upon the sword’s power. Are you following?” he asked, taking a moment to catch a breath and make sure he hadn’t lost Rowan. She nodded, so he continued, “Right! Second reason: you wear your emotions on your sleeve, Rowan, much like the Ardents that the Naliir of old were known for and you have their strength. It is my hope that one day, you will embody the legacy of our ancestors, my little crusader.”
Tyris’ explanation left Rowan’s jaw hanging. She wasn’t sure of how to respond, especially as something seemed odd about his tone when he mentioned Ardents. Kyr and Kiriin were also listening with bated breath. After a moment, Rowan finally responded. “Aren’t I a wee bit young for such lofty expectations?” she asked.
“Perhaps. However, I believe you are strong enough to bear it on your little shoulders. There is another factor that I’m yet to mention that makes you rather unique. You see, a few very important factors aligned on your birthday to create a special kind of Resonance that is extremely rare. Primarily, both of the Goddess’ Sacred Primes were in Resonance, I swear, the only way it could have been more perfect would have been if it were a double eclipse…”
As Tyris rambled on, Rowan stared at him blankly. “I didn’t understand a word you just said,” she stated flatly.
“Sorry, let me explain. On your birthday, several Resonance Factors came into alignment. The most important of these Resonance Factors were tied strongly to the Resonance of the Goddess’ Sacred Primes of three and eleven. I’m sure you can already see how it being your eleventh birthday is significant. So then we have the second Factor — you’re still confused, aren’t you?” Rowan nodded. “Is it the Resonance Factor?” She nodded again. “Well that complicates things slightly. So Resonance Factors are the metaphysical interactions that allow for especially strong Resonance to occur. These Factors can then further Resonate with each other to amplify the effect even more. Does that make more sense?” Rowan nodded for the third time before letting Tyris continue. “In the correct circumstances, Resonance Factors can fundamentally change the world. Nations have collapsed and races have been born because of the proper Resonance Factors aligning.
“Anyway I think that covers the basics of Resonance Factors. If you want to know more, I recommend asking Master Idyr, but it should suffice for now. I’ve already covered the first factor and the second is somewhat related as we were born eleven years apart. The third and final factor lies in the fact that you are mother’s third child”
“Wait!,” Rowan suddenly interjected, “What do you mean? Tehri is Ma’s third child isn’t she?
Tyris flashed a look that made it clear that he had said something he shouldn’t have. “You should ask mother about that,” he responded, trying to cover for the mistake. “Now that’s enough long-winded explanations. It’s only a day until the solstice and then I’m leaving so back to lessons.” Tyris moved on without finishing his explanation on why he’d chosen to give Elan Fiir up and now he only left Rowan with more questions and while the twins engaged in the renewed lessons with enthusiasm, Rowan couldn’t shake Tyris’ words. What did he mean by ‘third child’ and why had he mentioned Ardents in such an odd tone? She wished that she could ask her mother, but she was busy preparing for the Solstice Festival.
Over the next day, Rowan found her mood dropping to a new low, even rivalling Tehri’s demeanour for most of the past couple of weeks. Because of what Tyris had said, she was sure that her family had been keeping some great secret. It hadn’t been the first time that Rowan picked up on something odd when Ardents had been mentioned; there had been the look her mother had earlier that week amongst other times. Then there was the heavy implication that she had an older brother or sister that she knew nothing about. As she thought about it more and more, dark and horrible thoughts.
Why? Why haven’t Ma and Da told me anything? Did I do something? Am I the reason that they aren’t around? Did I hurt them? Is it Bragi? Please don’t be Bragi? Does that mean that Ma was unfaithful?
No! She wouldn’t do that!
But, what then? Did Bragi’s Da hurt her? Ma did say that bad people sometimes forced themselves on others. He could have. He does hate half-breeds.
The thoughts were driving Rowan to the brink of despair and tears flooded her eyes. No matter what she did, she couldn’t make them go away; they just kept getting worse and worse and as evening approached, she found the relentless doubts and thoughts to be unbearable and Rowan struggled to think of any options that would help. In the end, she hoped that asking her mother would at least answer a couple of her questions. She found Hæra practicing a song for the dance around the bonfires at the end of the festival. When Rowan entered the room, Hæra turned quickly and hurried over to Rowan when she noticed her red and puffy eyes.
“What’s the matter, dear? Are you okay?”
“It’s my head,” Rowan explained, tears in her eyes, “I cannae stop my thoughts from racing, No matter what I do I keep thinking awful things like maybe Bragi’s Da hurt you a really long time ago, and —and.” Rowan’s voice trailed off into a sob
“What made you think that?”, Hæra asked, looking rather concerned.
“Tyris mentioned that I was your third child and I thought maybe Bragi — I mean it would explain why you hate them and they already hate us. And then I thought if that wasn’t true then maybe I did something wrong and because of that I’m not allowed to know about my other big brother or sister. Maybe I hurt them?” At this point, the tears in her eyes were flowing free.
Hæra quickly brought the sobbing Rowan into her arms as she tried to comfort her. “Oh, Rowan, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think keeping this secret would hurt you so much. I should have known. I thought that if you knew, you would blame yourself. Perhaps if I’d told you when you were younger it wouldn’t have been so heavy a blow. I can’t promise that knowing the truth will make you feel any better, but you deserve to know. Are you okay with that?”
Rowan nodded meekly and buried her face into Hæra’s shoulder. “Now, before I tell you, know that it wasn’t your fault and no matter what, I love you. We all do.”
Hæra started to stroke Rowan’s hair as she began to explain the truth behind the long kept secret. “Your father and I have been holding onto this secret since you were born. The truth is that you weren’t alone. Just before you, your twin sister, Rina, was born. I still remember the day. She was much quieter than you were, but she was still a healthy little girl and in any other family, she would have remained that way. Unfortunately, we aren’t any other family. Long ago, something happened to one of our ancestors following a double solar eclipse. By all accounts it was a freak occurrence that caused all manner of changes and bizarre Resonance to the area that was touched by the totality of the eclipse. That’s what led to the birth of the Ferran.
“Amongst the first Ferran was the ancestor in question. He and a few others engaged in a ritual to capitalise on the intense Resonance caused by the eclipse. They were Imbued by Rowan’el and forever changed by it and that change held strong with their children and their children’s children. Even now it affects us. Our bloodline is known for producing incredibly strong Ardents, as are the others, though I don’t know if any have survived to this day. However, their connection to Særan’el was also damaged which has resulted in not a single Stoic from those bloodlines. Everyone who Awakens always does so as an Ardent and this brings us to why your sister isn’t with us. You were identical twins, and when one identical twin has the potential to Awaken, so does the other. However, this is guaranteed to result in an Ardent/Stoic. It’s random which one ends up as which, but it is set in stone long before they Awaken. In yours and Rina’s case, she was set to be the Stoic and the Resonance of that potential and our bloodline caused her body to quickly deteriorate and she passed away a few months later.”
There were a couple tears twinkling in Hæra’s eyes as she finished explaining. It was a lot for Rowan to take in; she felt like her world had simultaneously been shattered whilst also being cleared of the haze that had plagued her for the past day.
Rowan cried for the sister she never knew she had and smiled for the future she was now determined to live for the two of them.
“Thank you for telling me, Ma,” Rowan finally said after she finished crying.
“I should never have kept it a secret from you, “ Hæra responded, wiping away Rowan’s tears, “I only hurt you more by doing so”. She then smiled at Rowan. “ Now let’s get you cleaned up ready for the Festival. We’ll sing and dance your sister’s memory together.”
Rowan nodded quietly as Hæra carried her through to the bath. It was at times like this, that Rowan was reminded of how surprisingly strong her mother was. Barely two fingers taller than five feet and slight of build, she had no difficulty carrying Rowan with a gentle grace and while Rowan was small, she was still only a foot shorter than Hæra.
Like a river, Rowan let the bath wash away her worries and the scent of roses soon warmed her heart. It was time to get ready for the Festival.
Rowan stood in her room wearing a beautiful white dress that fell just above her knee. It was held with a belt around her waist and in the right light, she was positively incandescent. About her feet she wore sandals that wrapped around her ankles. As always, her neck was graced by the twin moon pendant which was even more meaningful to her now as she felt it represented her and Rina. To complete her ensemble, she wore her hair in a loose ponytail held by the hair clip she had received from Kiriin and Kyr. All in all, she barely recognised herself. Especially as Hæra had insisted on doing her makeup. She looked in the mirror and smiled, her rosebud lips and large violet eyes shining. She was ready to leave.
The sun had just started to set when Rowan and her family arrived at the park outside of town where the festival was being held. To Rowan’s young eyes it almost looked like the entire town had gathered around the unlit bonfire, though she knew how unlikely that was. Some folk preferred more private celebrations and others were too old, young or unwell to attend. Not that it made the event any less awe-inspiring or jubilant. The sound of music filled the air as children played and adults made merry with wine and ale, while a troupe of fire dancers dazzled any and all spectators as they made their offering to the sun, the Heart of the Father.
To any other in attendance, the Festival wasn’t much different to how it usually was. To Rowan, however, it was near overwhelming. With how her emotions had been bombarding her heart, everything was infinitely more intense. She couldn’t help but stare into the flames in breathless wonderment.
Rowan was snapped out of her bedazzlement by a hand landing on the top of her head. A slight turn to look over her shoulder revealed Tyris, his hand unmoved. “Why is your hand up there?” she asked, somewhat confused and unaware as to how long she had been in a daze.
After a moment of letting the question hang, he responded dramatically, “I merely noticed my dear little sister entranced by the flames. I took it upon myself to bring you back from the land of dreams. Now fly, little robin and dance the night away.” He looked down towards Rowan to see the effect his words and melodramatic delivery had had on her. She blinked a couple of times in response, caught completely off guard by her brother’s melodramatic outburst. His words were so completely unexpected and outrageous, that she couldn’t help but laugh. With her silvery peals laughter, Rowan’s emotions flowed free and she found herself somewhat grounded. She smiled and went searching for Kiriin and Kyr before Tyris started another embarrassing tirade to encourage her to have fun.
Amongst the setting sun, Rowan danced her heart out with Kiriin and Kyr and then her family. She danced with wanton abandonment and she flowed with the grace and fluidity of a river, caring not for pain or exhaustion. In that eternal moment, there were no sad memories, no hateful words, only the warmth and joy of friends and family, both living and dead, remembered and forgotten.
When darkness finally descended on Næmyris, the bonfires were lit and Hæra started to sing the Lament of the Sun God, marking the last phase of the Festival. Hæra’s song reached everyone and resonated deeply with Rowan who chose to dance alone, though only in a sense. In truth she was dancing with the memory of Rina and their unspoken and renewed bond. As Rowan danced, the Lament of the Sun God evolved into a new melody with a profound emotional complexity and a deep sadness layered into the song. To most it was merely a beautiful song; to Rowan, it was a lament for her lost sister. As her mother sang the final song of the night, Rowan danced with glistening tears that seemed almost like crystals in the light of the fading bonfires.
An eternity passed and the lament came to a close. The bonfires were little more than embers and everyone had stopped dancing. After a night full of music it was eerily sombre. The townsfolk that still remained started to slowly drift off back home. Rowan, however, was dead on her feet, completely exhausted from the night’s festivities. She tried to walk towards her family only for her legs to fail her. Tyris caught her just in time and brought her into his arms. There she fell asleep as he carried her home with the rest of the family in tow.