Chapter 1: A SCENT IN THE AIR

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Far from the soot-blackened walls and towers of Col Sargoth and the Sea of Gathol, south of the Forrest Weorcan and east of the sea-dwelling city of Kal Pyrthin, on a peninsula jutting out into the turbulent Esterian Ocean, sat a lone farmstead. It was a humble farmstead, with only a single A-frame barn and a tiny house, both built of rough-hewn timber and with thatched roofs of bound palm leaves. But on this night, beneath the stars and tendrils of purple clouds threaded across the sky, the farmstead suddenly shimmered and became a castle. Gone were the timber walls of house and barn, and in their place massive granite walls and turreted towers. Gone was the daub and stone chimney dribbling peat smoke into the night air, and in its place a rooftop pennon snapping in the wind. Gone were the sleeping plough horses and dairy goats, and in their place warhorses and hunting hounds mulling about the courtyard.

Inside the keep, Makarria—a princess—slept on a canopied bed piled high with cushions and sleeping furs. A simple violet gown hung on a brass rack beside the nightstand. Makarria sighed contentedly, but the sound of sudden pounding at her chamber door agitated her sleep and she rolled over to bury her head deeper in the cushions. The pounding persisted, however, and the doors groaned and finally burst open. Galen, Makarria's father, doubled over in the doorway to catch his breath from the exertion of kicking the door in, and Makarria's mother, Prisca, rushed past him, her gold embroidered sleeping gown billowing behind her.

"Makarria," Prisca gasped, shaking the sleeping girl by her shoulders. "Makarria, wake up!" Makarria groaned and tried to push her mother away in her sleep. "Makarria, wake up this instant," Prisca yelled, feeling herself become dizzy and disoriented. "Makarria!" she barked again and this time she slapped her daughter across the face.

Makarria woke with a gasp and in a blink of an eye it was all gone: the sleeping cushions, the canopied bed, the ornate clothing, the castle, all of it except the violet gown, which fell to lie crumpled on the uneven wood-slat floor. Makarria put one hand to her burning cheek but gave it little thought. In her mind, the image of a glorious castle still lingered. She looked up at Prisca with her big green eyes. "Mother?"

Prisca took a deep breath and collapsed onto the sleeping mat beside Makarria. "It's alright now. You were just having a nightmare."

"A nightmare?" Makarria sat up, her stinging cheek already forgotten. "It wasn't a nightmare. I was a princess, and I was in a castle preparing for a grand ball. I had a dress, and I was to meet—"

"You're not a princess, Makarria," her mother interrupted. "Just a farm girl, and you were keeping us all awake talking in your sleep."

"I'm sorry, Mother," Makarria said, realizing her father was there too, standing at the curtain that separated her sleeping area from the rest of the one-room house. "Sorry, Father. Did I wake Grampy too?"

Her mother sat up and frowned. "No, your grandfather can sleep through anything it seems. Now go back to sleep. Remember, if you have any nightmares or dreams—no matter how fun they seem—push them away, forget them. You're not a little girl anymore."

"I'll try, Mother," Makarria agreed.

Prisca brushed back Makarria's tangle of dark brown hair and tied it up in a bun with a leather tie, then nudged her to lie back down. "Close your eyes, fall fast asleep," she sang softly, "Rest your head, without a dream. When you wake, you will see, a bright new day for you and me."

Makarria smiled at the familiar song. "How am I supposed to be a big girl when you sing me nursery rhymes?"

"Never you mind," Prisca said, giving her a kiss. "Just close your eyes and sleep fast. The goats need milking at first light."

Makarria did as she was told and closed her eyes, and though she was still excited about her dream and cared not to go back to sleep, she was more weary than when she had first gone to bed that night. Why am I so tired, she wondered, grasping for the details of her dream, but already the images had flitted away like mist on a breeze, and she was fast asleep before even her mother bent over to pick up the gown from the floor.

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