- Chapter 1 -

The slender young woman hovered just in the shadows.  Her form almost completely shrouded.  As far as Medren could tell she was probably in her mid to late teens.  As if she sensed his attention upon her she vanished through the door and out of sight.

"Who was that girl?"  Medren asked with a Bard's curiosity.

His mother followed his gaze.  "What girl?"

"She was just there.  She just vanished into the shadows."

"That would be Afiona."  Melena explained.  "She is almost impossible to catch."

"Who is she?"

"The last of the Mavelans.  Tashir allows her to live here.  She is a spooky little thing.  She doesn't let anyone close.  I suppose it is a hold over from being raised in that nest of vipers."  Melena eyed the door sadly.  "I feel sorry her."

Medren drummed his fingers on the table.  "She doesn't speak to anyone?"

"Actually, she is deaf."

Medren, who couldn't imagine being unable to hear, felt a flash of sympathy.  "Poor thing."

~ * ~

Afiona retreated to her garden.  No one else dared enter her little retreat for fear of being turned into a toad.  She could have told them that there was no fear of that happening.  She didn't even have enough mage potential to light a candle.  All mage-gifted children had been spoiled and feted.  She had been neglected to shadowed corners and ignored.

By the time she had reached five she had preferred it that way.  Now, at seventeen, she had no reason to change.  She had no idea when someone would turn on her.

A fat grey tabby meowed a greeting as she appeared.  She didn't vacate her post on the large branch of the ancient oak.

:Have you caught your supper yet?:  Afiona asked as she sat on the bench below the tree.

:Mouse.  Stupid.:

Afiona smiled slightly.  :Fat mouse?:

:Stable mouse.:

Afiona knew that the mice that the cat preferred were the fat mice that lived in the feed room in the stable.  The large black tom, another of her friends, preferred the mice that lived in the great hall.

Afiona stared up at the slowly drifting clouds.  Her life was far from bad.  She was content.

A movement on the edge of her vision made her jump.  There was the strange young man the others had been fawning over.  She slid off her bench and started to retreat.  There was only the one gate in and out of the small walled garden. 

The grey tabby leaped from her perch on the tree yowling and landed between Afiona and her pursuer bristling and screaming.

:Trespasser!:  The thought was more a series of images than a word.

Afiona felt a stab a fear for her small friend. 

Unexpectedly the young man knelt and offered a hand to the cat.

:Don't go!:  Afiona pleaded as the cat stepped closer sniffing curiously.

:Smells good.:

Afiona continued to retreat.  The young man with drew his hand, sighed with disappointment and left.  Afiona was shaking as she sank to the soft ground, unmindful of her gown.  The small cat padded to her and curled up on her lap. 

:Safe?:  The cat asking if she was feeling safe now that the intruder had left.

:Safe.:  Afiona answered and cuddled the cat closer to her chest.

~ * ~

Medren was shaken by the obvious fear in the girl.  She looked like a female version of his friend, Tashir, with the same golden hair, the same delicate features.

It was hard to believe she was the last of the feared Mavelans, the same clan that had nearly killed his uncle fourteen years before. 

"Medren, your mother said you were looking for me."  Tashir hailed Medren as he strolled through the gate leading to the popular garden where Medren was brooding.

"I was.  I found your little cousin first."

"Afiona?  Usually we can't get her out of her garden with out a fight.  She scares the gardeners at least once a week."

"How long has she been deaf?"

"All her life, as far as I know.  We want to send her to Haven and the Healers, but there is no one she will tolerate to take her."

"So she just lives in the garden?"

"No.  She does have a room in the family wing and she cares for herself quite well, but we are hoping the healers can help her lose her fear.  It is a crime the way they treated her.  After Vanyel eliminated most of them the servants continued to treat her as they always had, she was thirteen or so before I discovered her existence."

"How old is she now?"

"Seventeen or so.  And after three years she has lost none of her wariness.  Leshya is worried about her as well."

"What about drugging her and shipping her off?"

"We tried that.  Every animal in the palace tried to attack us.  It was a year before she would trust us even a little."  Tashir's brow furrowed with concern over his cousin.  "If she could hear I would suggest you trying to sooth her."

"I can try.  Maybe she can hear."  Medren offered.

~ * ~

Afiona patted the ground around the replanted rosebush.  Its large neighbours in its old spot were choking it out in its former spot.  Satisfied she sat back and rubbed her hands on her grubby gown.  Standing she appraised her small sanctuary.

"Lady Afiona?"  A pleasant voice asked from the gate.

Afiona didn't betray her awareness of his presence.  She knew it was the strange man from earlier.  The others said he was a Bard.  She adored music so she had been trying to listen to him, but had failed dismally.

"I know you can hear me." 

Afiona slowly turned to face him.  She started to shake, unsure of what he wanted.

"So you aren't deaf."  Medren was careful to away from her with his hands at his sides.  "Is it alright if I sit down?"

Afiona made no movement. 

"I'll take that as a yes."  Medren moved to the bench farthest from her, and also farthest from the gate so she wouldn't feel trapped.  "Do you speak as well?"

Afiona was shaking like a leaf but stood her ground. 

"Did you do all this?"  He gestured to her garden.  "It is incredible."

She didn't answer, but she did relax some.  No one had ever praised her garden.  Trees had been tamed into leafy arches over benches.  Roses and other flowering bushes lined narrow, stone paths.  Small statues she had removed from other gardens peered out of the shrubbery.  Everywhere the eye fell was colour and enchantment. 

"Don't let me interrupt you."  Medren urged.

Afiona finally moved from her position by the replanted rosebush and hurried out the gate.  She used the narrow halls the servants and pages used to reach her room where she closed the door and locked it.  Her room was exactly the same as it was when she had arrived a frightened fourteen year old.  Everything was pink and lacy and entirely unsuited to her tastes.  Not that she really cared.  It was where she slept and changed her clothing, otherwise she spent her time out in the gardens in fair weather or in the shadows in inclement weather.

She sank on to her bed and stared out the window.  She found herself wondering what would have happened if she had stayed.