This idea has been floating around in the back of my mind for a while now, and I figure I should start writing it down. Reviews and constructive criticism welcome. I hope you enjoy.


Chapter One

The last day of the first stage of Cerys Denarin's life dawned bright and clear.

She woke up a few minutes before dawn, as usual. Like most of the other members of her family, Cerys was a morning person, and after living on a farm for seventeen years, she had gotten past simply being accustomed to rising early and started enjoying it. Every morning, her internal clock woke her up without fail a few minutes before the sun rose, and this special morning was no exception. The first rays of dawn were just starting to shine over the horizon as she did her best to stretch in bed without moving too much – her younger sister Liya, who took up the majority of the bed they shared, was the one member of the family who would much rather sleep late, and Cerys did her best to let her doze uninterrupted for as long as possible.

Even though she expected as much, the wooden floor of the house was still surprisingly cold, and Cerys hopped across her room and the house's main room to the door outside on tiptoes, trying to avoid contact. It was an early spring day, and even though they'd had a few nice days already, the weather still couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to stay cold or continue its first small steps toward true spring. This day, fortunately, was looking to be a warmer one.

Maybe it's a good omen, she thought as she walked barefoot from the house toward the pasture. Maybe things will go well today. Oh I hope they do!

She climbed on the wooden fence surrounding the cow pasture, setting her feet on the lower rung to balance herself, and looked around. She wanted to be able to remember all of this for tomorrow, when she would be waking up in a strange place with new expectations and people to learn. The best way to remember it, she felt, was at dawn, when the sun was just lighting everything up with its first warming rays, and the farm, pasture, and forest seemed new and as refreshed by the night as Cerys herself was.

The farm was small in land but large in people, consisting of a half dozen cows, twice that in chickens, a few sheep, one ancient horse, and the family – her father Tol, little sister Liya, elder brother Senren, her brother's wife Ria, and, of course, Cerys. There was plenty of work to do, but not enough income coming in to support all of them comfortably; Ria would be giving birth soon, as well, making the situation even worse.

The buildings were slightly dilapidated – the barn and chicken coop were the best taken care of, while the house itself could use some work. The wooden buildings were made with the wood of the trees in the nearby forest, and made years ago – the once beautiful light browns were weather- and sun-damaged, Cerys thought as she surveyed them critically, and could probably use replacing, not that that would happen anytime soon.

"If you girls ain't up yet, I'll wake ye with m'belt!" Her father's voice, harsh and rough as the man himself, startled Cerys from her reverie as he shouted from inside the house, nearly causing her to fall from her perch on the fence. "Git yer chores done so we can git inta town."

She turned around on the fence and hopped off, heading back through the house and into her room as quickly and silently as she could to wake Liya before her father did. Her sister, of course, was still sleeping soundly, and with Cerys's absence from the bed, the eleven-year-old had spread out to take up the whole thing.

Cerys chuckled and kneeled down next to the bed, giving her sister a gentle shake. "Time for chores, Li," she murmured. "We need to get done quickly so we can get going to Haven."

The younger girl grumbled and turned over to face her. "Do I have to get up," she said sadly. Knowing the answer already, Liya pushed the blankets off and sat up more in bed to stretch her arms up above her with a yawn, and her short sleeve went down to her shoulder to reveal a deep scratch on her left arm.

"What's this from?" Cerys asked with concern, standing up and lifting Li's sleeve to look at the cut more closely.

She smiled with chagrin. "Was pickin' berries in the forest yesterday when I was supposed to be watching the sheep. I heard papa yelling for me and ran back quick as I could and got caught on a branch or sumthin. It's not so bad as it looks."

Cerys disagreed with that last statement, and gave her one of the older sister looks that told her to be more careful next time, then bent over and kissed the cut with a smile, wishing it would get better. Li looked at her arm to reassess the damage. "It looks better already!" she said cheerfully. Cerys was surprised to notice that it actually did – the skin around the cut was no longer a bright and worrying red. "You have magic kisses," Li teased. "I bet Jaleron will think so too!"

She felt her stomach lurch at the mention of that name, but grinned to cover up her nervousness. "Let's hope that my magic kisses don't only work on you!" Li giggled, then suddenly reached over to hug her tightly. "What's wrong sweetie?"

"Don't want you to go," she said, her voice muffled by leaning into Cerys's nightdress. "Why's papa making you get married, it's no fair!"

If I didn't have to, I wouldn't, she thought sadly, but she hid her nervousness and stroked Li's hair comfortingly. "It'll be all right," she soothed. "It's- well, Haven's not too far away, and I'm sure you can convince Senren to take you on the cart when he comes to visit the market. And I'll write you plenty of letters," she offered, and these ideas seemed to cheer Li up some, though they did little to ease her own fears. "Come on now, we'd better hurry before papa gets upset at us."

The two girls hurriedly climbed out of bed and pulled on their work clothes to do the day's chores. The animals had to be fed, cows milked, chicken's eggs taken, then they had to herd them outside to graze and soak up the sun. Usually the girls would watch over the animals during the day, but since they were both going into Haven with their father today, Senren and Ria would be taking over those duties.

The thought of the journey made Cerys's stomach lurch again, and she tried to calm herself by focusing on her chores – she could do them now without thinking about what she was doing, but it was the last time she'd be at the farm for who knew how long, and she wanted to remember everything.

When their duties had been finished and the animals were content, Tol finally came to check on everything. He was a gruff, aging man with graying hair and a no-nonsense attitude. She could only barely remember the time before her mother had died when he had been as caring and loving as a father could ever be; Yeina's death while giving birth to Liya had completely changed him.

"Git the horse and wagon out," he commanded, and they hurried to do as he said. Cerys was always nervous around him – failure to do as he said often resulted in a harsh word, and both she and Li had felt the sting of his belt a few times for slacking in their duties or causing trouble in some way. Today was not the day to test the limits of his patience; she was sure that he wasn't pleased about having to make the trip to Haven, but hopefully the thought of the money he'd be making from her marriage would cheer him up.

Once the skittish old mare was hitched to the wagon, Tol looked at Cerys, seemingly assessing her, and he didn't look pleased with what he saw. "Yer goin' into Haven. Go get cleaned up and put somethin' presen'able on so ye don' make a fool of the fam'ly. Then bring yer clothes out here so we can get movin'." She nodded and ran out of the barn.

Fortunately, she'd packed up most of her clothes the previous night, so all that was left was to put on what was once a short white summer dress and was now a light grayish color, but it was the best she had. She smoothed the wrinkles out nervously, then grabbed her bag, looked around her room for the last time before leaving, and returned to the barn.

Tol was sitting in the driver's seat and Li was in the back when she returned, so Cerys hurriedly climbed into the back and sat down next to her sister, who linked arms with her and leaned on her shoulder. Her father clucked at the mare and the three began their several-candlemark trip toward Haven and Cerys's future.