CHAPTER 1- part 1

The hot summer winds blew off the plateau, searing the sand so it felt like so many tiny embers against the skin. His white and lavender robes billowed about him like mist, keeping him from feeling its sting, his silver braids flew free of his hood to play about his smooth, sculpted face.Tall, lean, and well-muscled, his honey-brown eyes at once held the peace of an oasis and the fury of a sandstorm.

Miya sighed as he looked down at the valley below with its sun-baked village and white limestone fortress gleaming like a beacon in the barren desert. He remarked how little the Keep had changed since the last time he had looked out over this very plateau, then a mere boy dreaming of adventure and conquest. How little had he known how his life would change, how much he would learn about himself and others, knowledge a weapon he used to conquer instead blades and bows.

He turned on his booted heel and grabbed the reins of his dapple grey stallion to swing gracefully up into the saddle, turning the steed toward the trail that led to Glynniere.

The wind seemed to blow even more fierce as Maeloryn walked toward the stalls to secure them against the gale, thankful of her thick boots, breeches, and duster that kept her from feeling the full brunt of the force. Sand caked her hair and coated her lips when her broad-rimmed hat and scarf flew off her head, letting her blood red hair flow free in the storm. As she spun her head around, squinting against the flurry of sand to see where her hat had blown, she was greeted with the vision of a dapple-grey stallion riding full tilt toward her, the rider’s cloak giving the impression both had wings as they galloped against the wind.

Upon seeing the whirlwind of sand chasing after them, she quickly opened the barn, the rider deftly turning his steed into the doorway, ducking under the crossbeams and dismounting just as Maeloryn secured the latch behind her. She squeaked when he pushed her onto the floor of the barn, covering her with his body and the robes just as the storm slammed against the wooden structure, making it creak and shake in response to the storm’s angry roar. Yet it stood fast as it always did- her great grandfather had built the stalls strong and sturdy to house the best steeds in the Steppes and withstand the desert’s fury, so it had yet to fall in ninety some-odd years since its construction.

“A grand entrance that was, sir,” Maeloryn quipped, raising her eyebrow at the rider, who loomed above her. “Now would you kindly remove yourself from my person?”

“Begging you pardon, Lady, I only wished to protect you.”

Miya shook off his hood to reveal his long, ebony hair set off by the silver braids that framed his beautiful face- silver braids that marked him as a Ziyan warrior-priest. The Ziyan were revered and feared for their power and wisdom, and as such were often called on to be mediators between the oft-warring factions of the Steppe Nations.

“Thank you,” she replied softly, accepting his large, fine-boned hand as she rose to her feet. His dark eyes sparkled as he smiled down at Maeloryn, who stared in wonder and in fascination, her heart skipping a beat upon seeing the man before her, his boyish smile lighting up his beautiful face, his mahogany eyes beaming. “Seems you brought quite a storm with you.”

“My hopes were to still the coming storm, not agitate it.” He ran his hands along his silver braids, pinning them back with a silver rod he produced from the folds of his robes.

“You are the Ziyan attending the treaty talks with the Kythos?”

He bowed to her, lean frame moving with a grace seemingly impossible for his height. “I am called Miya.”

A shiver went down her spine- here before her was the Ka-Ziyan himself.

The Ka-Ziyan was a prodigy, learning all but a few disciplines in a matter of months, the rest perfected over only a couple of years. Though he respected the Ziyan order, he answered to no one- though he respected authority, he had no qualms calling leaders into question if he felt necessary. His power, his ability to Read a person’s chi, led him to be the most powerful Ziyan since the Kaer-Ziyan V’norr. Yet he refused the position of Kaer-Ziyan- a title only given to those in the order that reached their highest pinnacle- so he could continue his studies, believing himself to not be yet ready for such a distinction.

He was a prolific writer, his journals having gained popularity both inside and outside of the Temple when his students began copying the text to share with their families, and then the Nations- words of wisdom and encouragement to his students, as well as chronicles of his journeys both in the corporeal and the incorporeal. Maeloryn held fast to his words that gave her strength when her Pawpa passed, when her mother disappeared into the Kythos territories.

Then one day he had disappeared totally from the order, telling his followers he had to “go alone on his thorny path,” but they would always be with him in spirit and would keep in contact with them in his diaries, which were delivered without fail to the Temple by his trusted couriers.

What had caused him to surface here, now, was beyond Maeloryn’s comprehension.

“You’re smaller than I imagined.” Maeloryn folded her arms over her chest, raising an eyebrow, hoping that he could not see that her hands were shaking in excitement and dread.

Yet when he laughed, her eyes sparkled with the hearty musical sound that came from him, his smile that lit up his whole face as he again beamed at her. “Many tell me just the opposite.”

“Well, I am not like many.” She cocked her head, pursing her lips. “Forgive my rudeness, I am-“

“Maeloryn, I know.” Miya walked over to his steed, who was whickering and nudging one of the stalled mares, and took the reins to walk him over to her. “I was hoping that you could house my Windsprint for the time I will be here?”

“How do you know me?” Maeloryn eyed him curiously, noting the smirk that played about his lips, as if he was holding a secret.

“I know much about you, Maeloryn Lilan D’Harr.” His smiled widened as he moved closer, leaning in to whisper in her ear. “Much that you do not even know about yourself.”

A chill ran down her spine as she shuddered, his warm breath somehow both frightening and intoxicating. The sense of familiarity about him disturbed her, the tug at the back of her mind that she knew this man maddening.

“You have a message from my mother?” she asked, hopeful. “She travelled to the Ziyan Temple many years ago- she would have been the only one who knows my full name.”

“Apologies, Lady Mae, I have no message,” Miya replied, taking the reins of his steed and placing them in her hand. “And I simply know what I know.”

Snapping out of her reverie, her steel walls went up in an instant, anger replacing the warmth of his presence as she refused him entry into her psyche. He had Read her uninvited, without cause or permission and that was simply unacceptable.

“You pay up front,” she snapped, her expression cold and hard. “Fees double if you go over the time allotted by your pay.”

Miya chuckled, producing a black bag jingling with coin and tossing it up at Maeloryn, who caught it deftly with a frown. “Should be enough for two weeks, eh?”

Maeloryn weighed the bag in her hand- this was what she had become, horse trader to the Steppes, expert at what a bag of coin should weigh for what service, not the warrior her mother once was and what she had hoped to be. “Two weeks to still the blood lust between the Kythos and Glynniere? Tall order even for the Ka-Ziyan, hmmm?”

“Perhaps.” Again that unnerving smirk. “Don’t suppose that would be journeyman’s stew cooking in your pot?”

Damn, his nose is as sharp as his wit, Maeloryn thought. “That, Ka-Ziyan, will cost you extra.”

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