Not a cloud was present in the blue sky and the bustling of the market place brought the promise of commerce and profit. The many lives within the city went about their daily practice, from the riffraff of the slums to the royalty within the palace. Within the palace of Thundera, the 2 princes were sparring in one of the many courtyards, overseen by their father, King Claudus, and the Head Cleric, Jaga. Commanders Grune and Panthro were tutoring and guiding the princes as they sparred and fought.
Lion-O, the younger prince and the heir to the throne, was being driven back by his stronger older brother, Tygra. As their swords clashed and they danced around one another to try and outdo the other, their concentrations were broken by a flustered and panting guard.
The Bengal guard huffed and stumbled into the courtyard, almost collapsing before the Royal family, all stopped at the sight of him,
"Guard, what is the meaning of this?" Claudus demanded, but seeing the urgency in the Bengal's eyes he lowered his tone,
"My king, my partner and I…on patrol…outer wall…strange being…a child… but not a cat," the Bengal tried to catch his breath but the rush and speed he had run was enough to cause great difficulty to recover his breath, laboured breaths take in great haste to report just as fast,
"Calm yourself officer," Jaga soothed, "Begin again, what did you find?"
"Something…something we thought only existed in old tales," his words weren't exactly calling belief, but his superiors allowed him to speak, "It was, I swear it was a Child of the Ancients,"
"A child of the Ancients? Like from our story books?" Lion-O asked, running over to their father, Tygra close behind,
"Tygra, take your brother and go to your chambers - Now," Nodding, his eldest Tiger son grabbed his brother and dragged him out, not saying a word of questioning his father though Lion-O kicked up a fuss, he went without further coercion. "Now, are you sure that is what you saw? A child of the Ancients?" Claudus asked,
"Her very scream called the trees around her," he gasped, "Magic I've never seen before twisting them to her will! My partner is still with her, who knows what has happened," Claudus pondered the guard's words. As farfetched as his claim was, something like this could not be ignored, even if it turns out to be a farce the safety of his kingdom has now been called into question; a threat that great needed to be dealt with,
"Jaga, call your clerics," Claudus ordered, the aged cat moving with purpose out of the room.
"Your majesty, surely this is just a hoax, a ruse," Grune brushed the issue but only found seriousness on Claudus' face,
"Hoax or not, the safety of Thundera may be at risk, that is why I am sending you and Panthro in case of retaliation. If this Child of the Ancients is truly there, I wish to see it for myself," Claudus ordered,
"We understand my king," Panthro bowed, followed by Grune after Claudus with the guard leading them. Joined by his clerics and Jaga, they all were lead out into the surrounding forests. A loud scream pushed their strides until they gasped at the sight. The Leopard guard was bound in tree roots, trying to fight and fed them off, the young girl screaming and crying while the trees protected her,
"It's true," Claudus gasped, catching the attention of the child. The sight of more strangers pulled another shrill scream, the ground shaking as more roots appeared, separating them from her.
"We must calm her down!" Jaga cried, dodging the roots and rock,
"Calm her?! She must be stopped!" the Bengal cried, thrown back a root. Grune and Panthro were having a better time with the roots, easily thwarting them, but Grune was continuously drawn back to the child, something about her was just…supernatural. So different and yet, she cried like any Thunderian child.
"Her magic is inexperienced, she has no control! If I can reach her I may be able to calm her!" Jaga shouted, stepping back from another attack, Panthro leading a hand by keeping the roots back from the Cleric
"Do what you must! I trust your judgment! Panthro! Grune! Fall back!" Claudus ordered, the others retreated back, much to Grune's dismay as he growled before running back. Once a safe distance away, they watched as Jaga braved the storm. Holding his staff firm, Jaga called forth a strange energy; his magic flowed through the staff and with a simple tap on an attacking root it fell limp, returning to the earth from whence it came. Again and again with simple taps the roots calmed and retreated, leaving only a few between himself and the child.
Taking in the sight of her, he was sure – without any doubt – that this was indeed a Child of the Ancients. From the tales and fables of old, her fur-free flesh was a subtle soft violet grey – making her one of the dark ancients - a tuff of magenta red locks framed and clung to the tear stained, fear stricken face. Bright purple eyes contrasted both her flesh and hair, but what concerned the head cleric the most was her exposed body was covered in cuts, scraps and dried blood.
"Can you understand me child?" he asked, taking a knee to show he would not harm her, standing at her level so not to frighten her more. Only the briefest moment of calm crossed her eyes, a slight incline of her head marked her understanding, "Please, do not fear us Ancient one. We wish to help you," placing his staff down, Jaga noticed she was also clinging to a book, or rather a tome given its thickness and size compared her to grasping hands. He offered his aged hands, hoping she would calm and accept them. He watched and waited, her tears still flowed freely but her shaking had stopped and she seemed to calm. Holding the tome tightly, she released one hand to reach out to Jaga, but flinches as he tries to bridge the gap. Seeing this, Jaga remained still and watched her try again, placing her tiny hand into his seemingly colossal grip. What he hadn't anticipated was her purple eyes clouding over; her body crumbling as she fell forward. Jaga caught her in his arms, letting her tome fall from her arms as he held her. Now he saw the extent of her injuries; the cuts and scraps may have been shallow but they had not been treated, she was running a fever despite her cold shakes. He noticed an all too familiar discolouration and a number of thorns sticking out of some of the wounds.
"Jaga?" Claudus asked, stepping up to the Head cleric, shocked at the sight of the Child. She was so…unlike anything he had ever seen, but in the time he had first glanced at her, she grew paler,
"My king, this Child is very ill. I fear her time in these lands has not been kind," Jaga rose to his feet, cradling the little one, taking her tome into his free arm. She was so little; small enough to be carried in one arm and that caused his concern. Light and frail in her state were never good signs, "She needs a doctor, and fast, if she is to survive,"
"Take her to the palace, have the healer take care of her, however he can," nodding, Jaga and his clerics fled back into the city; Claudus, Panthro and Grune followed close behind, coming to the healer's chambers. Jaga having already called the healer and closed off the chamber to all others,
"Father!" Claudus turned to his sons, running in after another servant carrying a full pitcher of water, slipping into the chambers,
"Is it true? Is there really a Child of the Ancients in there?" Tygra asked, becoming just as excited as his brother,
"Yes, my sons. But now, we must hope whatever gods watch over her do not call her back to them," the news came as a shock to the princes, keeping their vigil by the door. The very thought of meeting one from stories and legends was enough to quell any boredom but the time spent outside the door was calling dread to most.
Finally, as the sun began to set, Jaga emerged from the room with a relieved sigh,
"Well?" Claudus asked, Jaga nodded,
"The child is fine. The healer managed to bring down her fever somewhat and clean her wounds. He surmised she had been running for some time, from the signs of death brush and poison briar infecting her cuts. It will take her time to heal," stepping aside; he allowed his king, the commanders and princes into the chamber. A female cat servant finished securing a bandage to the child's head, stunned at the sight of the child too. Waving her away, the King saw the extent of her wounds: most of her arms and forehead were wrapped in white bandages and patches of healing herbs. Now wearing a simple white slip, her old clothing having to be throw away due after being covered in blood, stinging nettles and tears beyond mending.
"Wow," Lion-O gapped, coming up to the bed's side. Tygra followed but didn't voice his astonishment,
"When will she wake up?" Tygra turned to the healer, his father and Jaga,
"Only time will tell I'm afraid, my prince," the healer replied, looking over the child again, "She's been through a lot, and instantly fell asleep after we managed to control her fever,"
"But she will survive the night?" Claudus asked, watching the healer check her vital signs and lit a soft incense to aid in the healing process,
"Yes, but I will have one of my assistance check on her through the night," a small bundle then skittered into the room, running up to Lion-O before noting someone was in the bed,
"Maybe Snarf can watch her!" Lion-O beamed, picking up the small cat-like creature, his confused and baffled look questioning what was going on,
"Perhaps, but only if his majesty approves," turning to the King, he found no objections. The small creature was left in the room on strict instructions to fetch the healer if something happened to the child. Nodding, purring in understanding, he took his vigil over her on the end of the bed, getting comfortable as the doors closed.
Tiny lids quivered and flinched, slowly opening to reveal clear violet eyes. The young child slowly awoke, silent as she slow sat up. The dim sunlight streamed through the open window, a soft breeze catching the curtains as they danced and flittered beside her. She didn't recognise the room, she hadn't been here before, but the events of the last few days came sprawling back. Her body shook, her eyes grew wide and fear returned on the wave of tears falling over her cheeks. Soft sobs and whimpers squeaked from her closing body, drawing her legs into her body in the hopes of protection.
That's when she noticed the bandages. She was surprised someone beyond her world had taken the time to care for her. She could feel the herbal patches underneath the bandages causing a little discomfort on her healed wounds. A small quiver from a red bundle on the end of the bed pulled her attention away from the bandages. More so curious than afraid, her tiny hands reached forward. Smiling at the smooth softness that met her fingers, she began petting the strange creature, giggling as she managed to pull a purr from the bundle of fur. To her surprise, the strange red creature uncleared, allowing her to see it fully.
Snarf had wondered who was petting him, not that he didn't enjoy it and wondered why it stopped. Looking up, he gasped at the sight of the little girl he had meant to be watching. She seemed to jump at his fright as well, but otherwise seemed fine. Curious about the strange girl, Snarf slowly crept forward until they were sitting before each other. Had anyone else come into the room at that moment, they would find the endearing scene of the girl tilting her head and Snarf following her moves. Finally, once both had deemed the other not a threat, the girl reached forward and cautiously held it before Snarf. Purring, the little red bundle leant into her hand and nuzzled the warm hand.
Giggling, she became bold and began to pet, scratch and cuddle to the small creature, still intrigued with him. And Snarf wasn't about to stop the little girl from petting him, nuzzling closer to her touches. Neither of them noticed the door chambers open and Jaga, Claudus and the palace healer. All three weren't expecting Snarf or the child interacting together. The Healer though was more surprised by the fact she was awake so soon. His over-eagerness grabbed the pairs' attention, the child was spooked by their sudden appearance, trying to skitter back and away from their visitors,
Snarf hurried to her, shaking his head before nuzzling her in the hopes of calming her fear. He managed to calm her down enough to allow their visitors to approach without her throwing magic about again,
"How are you feeling, child?" Jaga asked, letting the Healer to proceed. The child was still nervous around them, but like a fawn she was placid and allowed the healer to check her wounds and bandages. But she wasn't confident enough to speak, meekly nodding to Jaga. Her eyes darted between Jaga and Claudus. She retreated further back on the bed as Claudus took a seat on the bed,
"What is your name little one?" he sat patiently, waiting for the Child of Ancients to speak. He still couldn't believe he was sitting before such a being, a young one at that. Patiences was key as the child took time in overcoming her fear. But, taking in the calm and friendly smile on the king's face, she began to open up,
"Niah," almost lost but the soft whisper of her voice, Claudus smiled at her answer,
"Where are you from, Niah?" Claudus asked, but taken aback by when she shook her head,
"Daddy said…I'm not allowed to," slowly looking up to Claudus, new tears slowly sprung from her eyes, "And…I don't remember,"
"Perhaps Niah," Jaga approached, "Could you tell us how you came here?"
"I…I was playing, in the Scholia Arcana gardens…I got lost…then these mean men chased me," it was obviously upsetting to relive such horrors, for a young child at least, "Now…I don't know where I am,"
"Hush now," Claudus could see her hurt and pain, raising his voice would do nothing to help her, "I know this is hard and daunting, but you may stay her as long as you wish. If you can remember where your home is, we will help you,"
"R…really?" Niah looked into the Cat King's eyes, seeing the sincerity of his words,
"Yes really," he smiled, slowly reaching forward and, to his pride, managed to place a hand on her head, stroking the tuff of silk on her head and pulling a giggle from her, stopping her tears.
"Might I suggest she remains in the care of the Clerics?" Jaga imposed, approaching the pair. It still marvelled him how the king – a great leader and ferious warrior – could calm the frightened child, "There she may practise her magic under our tutelage, as well as protect her of the horrors of the city. Should anyone beyond this room learn of her exsitance,"
"Yes Jaga, I wouldn't have it any other way," Claudus turned back to find Niah with a cute, confused look on her face, "Jaga is my Head Cleric…a Mage if you will,"
"Like Papa?" Niah asked, turning to the older cat, she could definitely feel the magic coming from him as well as the same Aura of wisdom her own parent seemed to exude,
"Indeed," he smiled, "But you must promise not to leave the protection of the Palace. The same mean men who chased you, there are others who reside within the city and beyond. We only wish to keep you safe,"
"I understand," she bobbed her head, agreeing to their terms however binding they were. Never to leave unless she remembered where home was. Like a gilded cage. But the thought of learning magic was a decent reason to pay such a high price.
"Father?" came a new voice, looking back to the door, Lion-o and Tygra stood there staring at Niah,
"Come my boys, say hello to Niah," Even though Niah pulled back slightly, she seemed just as intrigued by the small princes as they were of her.
"Hello, are you really a Child of the Ancients?" Lion-o asked, practically blurting out. But before his older brother could 'discipline' him, Niah tilted her head,
"What's that?" Niah asked, she had never been called that before, "I'm a Dok…Dokkal…a dark elf," pronouncing her race was always hard for her, such a long name,
"I believe there will be much explaining for you, young Niah," Jaga smiled, standing aside as Claudus stood from the bed, "But your health must come first,"
"Her wounds are healing nicely and her fever is all but gone," the near-forgotten healer smiled, looking down at Niah, "She should be able to leave within a few days,"
"Very well. Niah, until you're better you must stay in bed. The healer will see that you have everything you need, Snarf will keep you company unless one of us comes to visit," Claudus explained, watching as the little Snarf sit comfortably in her arms,
"Promise you'll come visit?" Niah asked, hoping his words are true,
"If not the King, then either the Princes, or myself" Jaga added, gesturing to the others and himself. It was somewhat comical as Niah's eyes grew wide as she glanced between Claudus and the Princes. In a flurry of sheets, Niah sat up and made an attempt at bowing,
"I'm sorry, your highness, for my rudedness," she stuttered, catching them off guard, "Papa always said you have to bow and be polite to royalty,"
"No need for that now Niah, you are a guest and require rest. It is best we leave you be now," with a nod, Claudus cleared the room as he followed Jaga and his sons out, leaving Niah, Snarf and the healer within the room. It was almost strange having a being, thought only to exist in fairy tales, show such respect and temperance. Especially one so young. But in the years to come, she would prove to be more an ally than a mere guest.
A/N: I FINALLY got around to this rewrite. Those who were fans of the original, I'm sorry but it just wasn't working for me. I'd like to thank my good friend Sidrah for helping me through with this chapter and giving me the motivation to write this.