THE SHUNNED (Part 1)
By Ted Peterson
On that summer morning, Allelia woke up at dawn, as usual. She did not know that it was to be the last “as usual” day of her life. She lay in her soft, feather-stuffed bed, staring at her dark bedroom window, the glass milky with hoarfrost, trying to grasp whether she were still dreaming.
An hour later, the sun finally rose while Allelia was having her breakfast in the west parlour. Lord Whythe stomped into the room, his jowly, blotched face more crimson than usual in his rage. Allelia knew that sympathetic words were the best salve to her father’s moods.
“Oh no, did the frost kill the crops, Papa?” she asked.
“Too soon to say,” Lord Whythe grumbled. “The fieldhands are pruning the damage back. They may recover. No, the news is more dire than that. Immradil is destroyed.”
“Destroyed?” Allelia whispered, imagining the vast city on the other side of the Parthia Forest being simply destroyed. “How?”
“The gods only know,” Lord Whythe muttered. “But that wouldn’t matter to us, except that Damn Fool has ordered us as his vassals to take in some of the refugees. Perfect strangers! Right in our home!”
Lord Whythe always used the phrase “Damn Fool” to refer to the Duke of Hethbridge, though not in his presence. The thought of Whythe Manor having tents all over their vast lawns alarmed Allelia as well. “How many are we supposed to take in, Papa?”
“The Damn Fool, given the size of our estate, thought we should take in a hundred. But I negotiated to whittle that down a bit.”
“One,” Lord Whythe grimaced. “And he’s reportedly small, so we can put him in the cot in the servants’ hall that young Umsbrick has grown too large for. His names’s Tyrio.”
After Lord Whythe left to inspect the efforts to save the crops, Allelia set about her usual morning routine befitting a 16-year-old lady of her social position. Her tutors arrived for dance, language, art, etiquette, and magic lessons. She went to the chapel and made her usual sacrifice to her patron goddess. Her maid Monalta told her when Tyrio had arrived on the estate, but she gave him some time to get settled before visiting him in the servants’ hall.
Allelia did not visit the servants’ hall unless necessary. It wasn’t a dungeon by any means. Lord Whythe insisted on cleanliness and some degree of comfort to keep his staff healthy and productive. Still, compared to the rest of the estate, it felt cheerless and plain, and she was eager to greet the guest and leave as soon as possible.
Monalta knocked briskly on the door and when no answer came, opened it and peeked inside.
“Milady,” she whispered to her mistress. “It seems he’s asleep.”
“In the middle of the day?” Allelia gasped, pushing Monalta aside, and stepping into the small, dark chamber. All she could see under a pile of woolen blankets on the cot, which was the only furnishing in the room, was a bare foot.
“Milady, he did walk five hundred miles through the snow,” Monalta whispered, failing to stop Allelia as her mistress rushed to begin tickling the foot.
Tyrio sat up straight in the bed and opened his eyes, causing Allelia to step back on instinct. He has an otherwise unnoteworthy face, neither handsome nor ugly, but even in the dim light of the room, his bright, pale brown eyes, almost amber, left her momentarily stunned. From Tyrio’s perspective, all of Allelia’s considerable charms were hidden in shadow, and he reacted as if attacked. He hurled himself at her, pinning her against the wall with the blankets from his cot.
Monalta fled the room, as Tyrio and Allelia stared at one another fearfully before Allelia could get out the words, “Your name is Tyrio, is it not? I am Lady Allelia, and I only came to welcome you to Whythe Manor. I’m afraid I lost my head. Usually, my manners are better than that.”
Tyrio, still shaking, quickly released her. “It is I who must apologize, milady. I thought you were the hungry dead.”
Allelia smiled. “You mistook me for Vampyr? A corpse?”
“Some of them are beautiful,” Tyrio stammered. “That makes them even more horrible.”
The smile faded from her face. “Is that what happened at Immradil? My tutors told me the rumors …”
“Aye,” Tyrio nodded. “They came everywhere at once, and they brought the cold and darkness with them.”
“I will let you get your well-deserved rest now,” Allelia replied, stepping out of the room and closing the door behind her.
For the first days Tyrio spent at the estate, Allelia saw little of him. He was healing and resting, and even when he was not, he seemed to prefer to keep to himself. Lord Whythe himself never deigned to introduce himself to the young man, and viewed him with suspicious hostility. Any minor mishap, and Tyrio was blamed.
“I cannot find my green coat,” Lord Wythe bellowed at Allelia one afternoon. “I’m dining with the Damn Fool tonight, and my finest coat is nowhere to be seen. Ever since that boy invaded our space, things have gone missing!”
“I saw your valet carrying it from the wash room,” Allelia replied. “I imagine it’s in your wardrobe now.”
Lord Wythe was still in his foul mood as he ordered his carriage brought to take him to the Duke’s palace in the nearby walled city of Hethbridge. Allelia waved goodbye from the garden, and then assumed her temporary duties as the head of household. She received reports from her father’s vassals, sent correspondence to artists they were patronizing, and supervised the work of the manor staff. While in the stables, discussing the care of a newborn foal with the equerry, Allelia saw Tyrio through the open gate and called him in.
As Tyrio cautiously entered the stables, the horses began to start and pace nervously. Tyrio responded by backing away.
“They’re skittish around strangers when they have a new member of the team to protect,” Allelia lied. “Anyhow, it’s fine. I’m done here.”
Allelia and Tyrio left the stables, walking up the cobblestone path that led to the manorhouse.
“I take it you don’t ride,” Allelia teased.
“No,” Tyrio replied seriously. “Everywhere I’ve been I’ve gone on two feet.”
Monalta met them on the front terrace, barely glancing at Tyrio before addressing her mistress. “Would milady like tea in the parlour now?”
“No,” Allelia said. “But we will have some of Papa’s best wine with dinner.”
“’We’?” asked Monalta.
“Yes,” Allelia gestured to Tyrio. “I will be dining with our guest.”
Tyrio said nothing but stared at Allelia, and continued to say nothing as they sat in the vaulted oak dining room and were served. Exotic fowl in delicate sauces, tropical fruit from the estate greenhouse garden, delectable pastries, loaves of aromatic spiced bread, so fresh that steam escaped as they sliced them open and slathered them with butter. Allelia made certain his flagon of wine was well-filled.
“I think you should get drunk,” Allelia smiled. “I would like that.”
“Why?” Tyrio said at last.
“You’re too guarded,” Allelia replied. “I have a feeling you have much to tell me about, well, everything. I have traveled beyond the estate, of course, but I might as well have stayed home. All the palaces and castles are the same. The balls and parties. The counts, and duchesses, Lord This, and Lady That. Nothing but the same.”
“It sounds like paradise.”
“Don’t think I don’t know how lucky I am,” Allelia said quickly. “I am terribly spoiled, but at least I know it. Please tell me about something I know nothing of.”
And so Tyrio told her about growing up an orphan in the gutters of Immradil, in the company of thieves and beggars when they’d have him. He told her about the hypocrisy of the Mystics of the temple who preached charity but practiced bigotry. He told her of the survival skills he had learned, such as hiding in cemeteries no one would dare enter. It was a tale of a bleak existence, but Allelia’s warm green eyes never left Tyrio’s, which glowed golden in the candlelight. She only smiled when Tyrio mentioned the word “friends.”
“So you weren’t alone,” Allelia clapped her hands together. “You had friends!”
“I used the wrong word,” Tyrio grimaced. “We only had in common that we were all outcasts.”
“But you supported one another?”
“I couldn’t have survived without them,” Tyrio acknowledged. “But we fought a lot.”
It had been a glimmer of hope in Allelia’s heart that Tyrio might have had experienced some joy, but it was evident from his expression that he did not want to discuss his “friends” further.
“Well, the wine had been drained and the meal finished,” Allelia sighed, standing up. “So, I guess it’s time –“
“Wait!” Tyrio stood also, golden eyes flashing. “Can you … wait?”
“Wait for what purpose?” Allelia asked. “Why?”
“Wait because … I don’t want this to end,” Tyrio said desperately. “I don’t know why.”
“Do you think it’s because no one’s ever listened to you before? Not even your ‘friends.’”
“I don’t … want to talk about me anymore.”
“What do you want to talk about?” Allelia asked, sitting back down. “I didn’t think you were interested in small talk, but I have been trained in the art in my etiquette classes. I am thinking about getting a dog, but I don’t want a breed that won’t sit still. What do you –“
“No, not small talk either,” Tyrio shook his head, but allowed a small smile. “Tell me about you.”
“I … don’t know much about that topic,” Allelia replied smartly. Tyrio kept looking at her, and Allelia realized she truly didn’t know the words she wanted to say.
Finally, with great hesitation and many stops and starts, Allelia began to tell her guest about herself. She began with surface observations and basic facts, but as the hearth fire had been reduced to embers, Allelia began to talk about truths she never dared say aloud. She was lonely, though she had an extended family not many miles away, and many people she would call friends.
“I don’t have a connection to any of them,” Allelia whispered, holding back tears. “They aren’t who I am, or who I want to be.”
Tyrio nodded solemnly. He was listening. That was all he had to do.
At last, when the fire in the hearth was but a memory and the room was growing cold, they said goodnight.
Allelia thought that her father might have heard of her dinner when she met Lord Wythe the next afternoon. She had prepared herself for a stern rebuke, but there was none. All he wanted to talk about was the dinner with the Duke and the news from Hethbridge.
“The whole Dukedom is positively wracked with fear,” his lordship grumbled. “People are vanishing. At first, it was the scum of the street and no one took much notice. But two days ago, it was a prominent merchant banker. And then, the Damn Fool’s personal falconer.”
“What do they think is happening?” Allelia asked. “Is this how it started in Immradil?”
“Every possibility is being investigated,” Lord Wythe replied. “Even the idiotic ones. Talk of Vampyr.”
Allelia knew that Tyrio would not be a reliable witness in her father’s eyes, so only asked, “What is your non-idiotic idea, Papa?”
“The Shunned,” Lord Wythe spat. “If there are Vampyr about, it’s because of them, but they’re quite capable of all manner of evil work on their own.”
Allelia skipped her usual routine and sought out Tyrio. She searched everywhere before finding him kneeling in the empty manor chapel. It was a small, intimate space her family had lavished with art and sculpture over the generations, making it feel like a jewel box. Tyrio rose at the sound of her footfall on the marble entryway.
Allelia told Tyrio about the conversation with her father, and then asked. “Are we right to be concerned? Was it just like this in Immradiil before the end?”
Tyrio nodded. “Aye. The Vampyr first test the grounds of the city with small raids. But a battle is coming, and unless the city guards are prepared, you will lose and it will not last long.”
“Papa thinks it’s the Shunned we have to be worried about.”
“You have nothing to fear from the Shunned.”
“How can you know that for certain?” Allelia demanded. “No one knows anything about what they’re capable of.”
“You must trust me. I know.”
“If you don’t trust me to tell me why you know, how can I trust you?” Allelia asked. “Why do I have nothing to fear from those monsters?”
“You have nothing to fear from me,” Tyrio stammered. To her confused expression, he added. “I am Shunned.”
Allelia just looked at Tyrio, as if his words were in a tongue she didn’t understand.
“I trust you because I love you,” he then said.
Allelia swallowed the four words “I love you too” before they escaped her lips. At the very same moment, there was more footfall echoing on the marble entry, and Allelia and Tyrio turned to see Monalta running away.
“She’s off to tell Papa,” Allelia said and looked back to Tyrio. “You must run away, or he’ll have you killed!”
Tyrio could see she was serious, so with one last parting glance, he bolted out the back entrance that led to the manor grounds. It was only a moment later that Monalta returned, bringing with her the castle guard and Lord Whythe himself.
“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” her father demanded, and before she could answer, he added. “I knew bringing in refugees would lead to this. The Shunned can blend in well, but I could always tell there was something wrong about that boy.”
“I know what you mean, milord,” Monalta nodded.
“Don’t just stand around!” Lord Wythe bellowed to his guards. “Catch him!”
The guards rushed out as one.
“He said,” Allelia caught her breath. “He said it was the same in Immradiil, and it was the Vampyr. He said we must prepare for an attack.”
“Don’t trust a word he said,” Lord Whythe sneered. “You little fool, don’t you know the Shunned created the Vampyr?”
Allelia sank to her knees. “And you left me alone with him?”
Monalta helped her mistress up, and together they left the chapel while Lord Whythe raged on.
The two women didn’t say a word while Monalta helped Allelia dress for bed. Finally, Allelia asked, “Did you tell my father that Tyrio said he loves me?”
Monalta thought a moment. “No, milady. It didn’t seem relevant how the Shunned feels.”
Allelia nodded, and Monalta closed the chamber door. A moment later, Allelia threw her fur cloak around her and stepped out onto her balcony. A moment after that moment, she had landed in the soft snow which had poured over the estate lawn like a bedspread.
Allelia began the slow first steps of her journey into the woods to find Tyrio. She knew where he’d be.
To be continued…
Part 2 of The Shunned will be published next week.1 comment