Chapter 1

Adolie adjusted her grip on her basket as she hauled the heavy load of wet clothing out into the kitchen courtyard. A rope was strung along one side, waiting for the sheets, as was a pair of brawny women. One took the basket from her.

"Off you go now." The woman snapped in her heavy, Imperial accent.

Adolie refused to look away. Her family had been one of the two dozen that lived in the area before the intruders showed up. The arrival of more than few thousand strangers and the founding of their walled town had first been greeted with interest but now the wildlife was depleted, the forests her family once explored were replaced with fields where farmers redirected streams and polluted the waters with manure.

Her tribe couldn't move on, as some Imperial suggested to her at least once a fortnight by somebody. An ousted clan wouldn't be welcome anywhere and would be chased off with fire and bows, especially the Kylii. They'd be suspected of treachery.

Adolie looked to the sun, sighed as she mentally tallied up the time to the end of her day, and headed back inside to do another batch of laundry.

The day dragged on until finally she finished her last load of laundry, delivered it to the courtyard, and was dismissed for the day. Part of her wages was two meals a day from the castle kitchen but she'd have to wait until after the court meal was served, the kitchen cleaned, and the leftovers divided up. She'd get some half eaten piece of bread at best, perhaps a bit of cheese and a pickle. Once she asked how that counted as a meal and the kitchen maid sniffed and said that she should be grateful for what she got and to eat berries if she was so hungry.

Instead of sitting in the corner of the kitchen where she would be underfoot and resented for 'being idle' she collected her bag from a hook in the laundry and headed out to a wooded field that abutted the castle's gardens. There was a temple among the trees they just completed that had padded benches. It was open to anyone who had permission to be on the castle grounds but few took up the offer since the Grove made people uneasy. The strange God Horses paid little attention to her as she hurried through the early spring snow to the temple.

She stopped in her tracks when she spotted the solemn crowd filling the temple. A body was laid out on the altar. Mourners stood along every wall and every seat was filled.

One of the God Horses turned to study her, which caused the hair on the back of her neck.

She debated leaving but decided that would draw more attention and instead she sat on the floor in a niche next to the door, got out the strips of rabbit leather and started weaving the six strands. With leather and beads made from broken glass ground into spheres and shell she made hair ornaments, belts, bracelets and straps which she sold on her half days off. The leather rapidly formed into a narrow band with green glass beads down the center until it was the right length for tying hair back. She made four such ornaments before the people on the benches stood, said a prayer, and filed out. Three men dressed all in white stayed at the altar, their heads bowed. A figure draped in white was laid out on the new altar.

Finally she remembered the king had died. It didn't much matter to her who called themselves boss but to people who had property and had choices it was very important. It did mean that she should have a larger share of the food tonight as there would be a feast.

Eventually the last three men left and Adolie was alone with the body.

She put away her work and slowly approached the body. This was the man responsible for the great changes that started just a year before she was born.

Crossing her arms over her chest she studied him. His hair and beard were white as snow, but it had always been that way from what she knew. His shoulders were still broad and he only had a bit of a belly but he didn't look more than forty. He had a grown grandson so she knew he had to be more than seventy.

For a moment she was tempted to spit on him for the changes he caused but she could hear her grandmother's voice. The changes to her clan were not all bad. They were safe from the neighbouring tribes, the elderly were no longer a burden on the nomadic families, and the farmers stockpiled enough food that a decade of bad winters would leave them skinny but not dead.

"Well, I won't wish you a hard path. But I don't see how your stones and fields are so wonderful." She said in her native tongue. Turning back to her corner she found a young man dressed in white watching her.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you." He gave her a strained smile.

"Ye di' no' sturb me." She said in an exaggerated burr. She lowered her gaze, and rushed to her belongings. She gave him a rough bow and hurried outside.

"It sounded like you were saying a prayer." He said as she neared him.

Adolie debated lying but she was a miserable liar. She flushed like an over ripe apple and stuttered whenever she uttered a falsehood. "I were wishin' him no hard road."

His eyes were haunted as he looked on the old man. "Thank you, he was a good man."

"To some." Adolie said in her tongue.

The man's brow furrowed.

She ducked her head and continued out of the temple.

"Hold a moment. You're one of the Kylii." He caught her by the arm.

Adolie shrieked as her vision flashed black and the temple was replaced by a street that roared with fire and bodies littered the streets. There was one at her feet that was bloody but he wore white. A black beast slunk towards her, his eyes glowed a toxic green and his hide was a mix of stiff fur and protruding scales, his claws were as long as her hand and scored the earth with deep furrows with every movement. He had a long, whip like tail that lashed behind him.

Adolie was frozen to the spot as the monster advanced.

Just as the beast leaped for her, his claws spread and his long white teeth bared and angled for her throat the world flashed to white again and found herself staring up at a blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds.

"Did she have a fit?" A woman asked with a hint of distaste. "What is she doing here?"

"She is as welcome in the temple as you." A man said firmly.

Adolie scrambled to her feet and looked around for the beast, everyone was staring at her but there was no black beast.

"Are you alright?" The man in white asked her as he swung his cloak around her shoulders.

"Aye." She said weakly.

He looked doubtful. "Come on, you should sit down. Look at you, you're just skin and bone."

She gathered her wits enough to hold her tongue. Her visions always left her shaken and it could take her days to recover.

"What's your name?" He asked as he helped her back inside and sat her on a bench.

Adolie regard him soberly. Should she tell him what she saw? It had something to do with him since his touch triggered it and his body was there. A buzzing sound made her frown and she looked around for the source. Someone close by was using the Silent Speech and they were not being terribly polite about it.

"I think you're right."

"About what?" Adolie asked.

"Sorry, I was speaking to Noemi, she's my Companion."

Adolie was careful to keep her face blank, so he was the Silent Speaker. She didn't expect any of the intruders to have that gift. "A wife?" She tried to clarify.

"No, one of the Companions. Ur, one of the white horses. I'm a Herald."

Adolie realised he meant a God Horse. Everyone knew the story. Four years earlier the king prayed to many Gods and They made the strange horses as an answer. She didn't know why anyone would wish to ride one of the glowing white animals, having a god-sent spirit under your saddle would be very disturbing.

"What is your name?" He pressed again.

"Adolie Eshka. I work in the laundry." She figured she may as well make it easy for him to dismiss her. She'd hate to have anyone else fired because of her, even if they were unpleasant to deal with. She hadn't achieved anything of note anyways. "I should go."

He glanced towards the body. "Come, I will see you to your room."

Adolie shook her head.

"I'd rather not make it an order." He cautioned with the voice she knew well from the other 'nobles' when they deigned to speak to servants, that he didn't think she had a choice and must obey.

"I don't live here. I have a room at a tailor's in the city. It's not far." Adolie glanced at his white uniform. She didn't want to get to know him. Her visions were rarely easy to understand but when she saw someone die it always came to pass.

He actually smiled. "And suddenly you speak properly."

Adolie scowled at him. "I can speak properly in many languages but words that sound stupid keep the wealthy sort from watching me. I speak like an Imperial because I had no choice."

The man's face darkened and looked to the doorway where a white God Horse watched them.

"Well, rest a bit, Adolie Eshka. I will have a basket of food brought out to you."

"No!" Adolie shot to her feet, causing her head to spin. "No, I am a servant, if I make work for them they will resent it."

"Either you sit here and wait for food or you come with me and I will get you a basket. You are far too skinny. Aren't you fed while you work?"

"I eat, yes." She said stiffly.

"Not enough. Noemi says you are far too skinny and I always agree with her. It saves time since she is usually right." He reached for her hand but she jerked away before he could touch her.

"Hart?" A man approached them, he wore all white and his eyes were red from crying.

"Merf, are they heading back?" Hart asked.

Adolie grabbed her bag and slid out the door. She heard him call for her but there was no way he'd find her even in these sparse trees.

She stayed in the trees until it was time for collect her allotment of food and then headed home. Her tiny room had no fireplace so it was cold as a crypt but she only slept there and piles of blankets kept her warm.

She ate a portion of the food, put aside what wouldn't spoil quickly, then curled up on her bed but tried not to sleep. Her visions were not clear messages, unlike her grandmother's. Her visions usually struck when she touched someone or a personal possession but sometimes they struck out of nowhere. Either way, for days after she'd be on edge. Her dreams would replay the vision with a dozen variations but never any clearer.

Hart seemed like a nice man. She considered going back and telling him what she saw but no one would believe she saw the future. Despite having magic, the intruders were not inclined to believe in the other abilities.