Mya stirred. Someone was watching her. She heard voices, boys’ voices. Her brothers? They knew she hated to be watched while she slept. Maybe it was Sy? It wouldn’t be the first time she’d woken to find Symon grinning down at her. The voices subsided. Mya, unable to Return to the Waking Life, drifted through the Veil of Dreams and floated perilously close to the deep unconsciousness of the Long Sleep. She felt a rhythmic thudding reverberate through her body: hoof beats. Perhaps the Great Wynn itself came to carry her soul onwards to its final resting place in the Eternal Dream.
A sudden rush of air passed over Mya’s sleeping form as the door to her room was flung open. Her skin prickled under her medallion. The sounds around her were muffled as if she were underwater. She tried again to surface from her sleep. The irritation from the medallion grew more intense. She felt herself Returning to the Waking Life, into consciousness and confusion.
The last remnants of sleep had not yet left her senses and she felt heavy, unresponsive. She hurt all over; a dull ache lurking in her flesh and bones. She breathed deeply. Bad move. She winced. Most of her seemed to be bandaged, one leg may have a splint on it but she couldn’t be sure. No wonder she ached. Injuries like that, well, there should be more pain, lots of it. Somebody must have given her poppy elixir.
Thank the Wynn, she must be home. Mya blinked in an attempt to adjust to the sunlight. The room was not familiar. She turned her head gingerly. Nobody in the room was looking at her now. They were gathered around a body on the floor near the window. She recognised none of them. Not home, then. The rhythm of her heartbeat leapt from steady trot to panicked headlong gallop.
An old man knelt on the floor, methodically checking the body for vital signs.
Standing to one side of the window was an older boy, a young man really. His expression was taut with concern. He gripped the handle of the dagger at his side, knuckles paler than his complexion. Black hair fell across his face. He shoved it away.
Lounging against the window frame opposite him stood his brother; there was no mistaking their relationship. He shared his high cheekbones and pale skin with the dark-haired young man. Sunlight streamed in setting his copper red hair aflame. His grim expression was mirrored by a younger boy who stood beside him. This boy’s face was rounder under his summer blond hair. He dragged the back of his hand across his face.
Pieces of a puzzle she couldn’t fit together. Mya blinked. Wynn take her! As if she could blink away the effects of poppy elixir. She really must be under its sway, like the time she’d forgotten what her own brothers looked like. The fun they’d had at her expense then!
A middle-aged man stood with his back to Mya. Like the boys he was tall and well-dressed. He wore a dark blue tunic over pants and fine leather boots. Mya thought she ought to recognise the intricate embroidery that trimmed his tunic. She closed her eyes. Nothing. Opened them again.
The old man stood up and stepped back giving Mya a clear view of the body on the floor. Boy, not body. His chest rose and fell in time with her own shallow breaths. His face was round like the blond boy’s but his hair was a rich brown like the earth in her family’s vegetable patch. Small sweat beads clung to his forehead and upper lip. Mya desperately wanted to take a full breath but did not want to draw attention her way.
The longer these people ignored her, the easier she felt.
The boy’s eyelids fluttered and opened. She’d never seen eyes that colour before. Colours that altered, deep brown then dappled with green, changing again to moss grey. People’s eyes shouldn’t change colour like that she thought, it wasn’t normal. Mya and the boy with the strange eyes stared at one another.
‘She’s awake,’ he said.
Now they all regarded Mya, the strange girl woken from her sleep. All four boys possessed unusual eye colours. It was not just the colours but the unwavering gaze, particularly of the older two, that so unsettled her. The eldest boy wore an inscrutable expression, his eyes the cold pale grey of a winter sky before snow. The redhead disturbed her most. He was the least friendly and made no attempt to hide his hostility. His eyes were the colour of an autumn storm at sea. Mya tried to swallow but her throat felt like someone had taken sandpaper to it. The youngest boy, the blond one, stared at her with unabashed curiosity. His eyes were the blue of a perfect summer sky. The sick boy was the only one who regarded her with any warmth or compassion.
If they’d wanted to kill her she would never have woken. Not an entirely reassuring thought to have as she lay injured and drugged.
Almost all the puzzle pieces lay face up in her mind, Great Wynn, if only she knew how they fitted together. Maybe if she did more than take the horse god’s name in vain it would bless her with the missing piece.
The dark haired young man took a step towards her. She flinched and grimaced. He halted. His expression softened, a flicker of recognition, his thought forming in front of her. There was no answering spark in her own mind. If he recognised her, why didn’t she know him? He turned to the blond boy. ‘Fetch Shenin immediately, tell him it is urgent.’ The younger boy hurried from the room. The sound of his footsteps suggested he took the stairs two or three at a time.
Her medallion flared white hot against her skin. The poppy elixir relinquished its hold over her body and mind. Shenin. The missing puzzle piece. Mya’s mouth opened in surprise.
She was an idiot! Shenin, the Master of Horse for the royal family of Abelei. Not just any boys, not just any princes, but the four princes promised, one for each season. The men, the tall one was King Alesdan and the old one, surely the Magus Kyabb. If it was so, then she’d managed to raise the alarm, her family was rescued and safe. But why was she here and not with her family? Her shallow breaths grew faster, the Royal family’s presence in her sick room made no sense.
She tried to speak but only managed a weak rasping sound. Using her good arm she attempted to push herself into a sitting position but this was futile. Her injuries growled and snapped in protest. She almost wished for her pain-on-a-leash befuddlement to return. Shenin would know her. He’d explain. He’d make everything right.
Not three months ago the Master of Horse with the Crown Prince Wynter had visited her family’s stud farm to select a new horse for Prince Jessen. Shenin had introduced Prince Wynter to her father, Alwynn. It was considered an honour to be permitted to buy from the Equinnivus. The horse gypsies had retained their ancient right to refuse sale. No amount of money or power could persuade a breeder to part with an animal to the wrong owner nor did they feel any obligation to explain their decision.
The brown mare Wynter had chosen for his brother had not come cheap. Busy in the stables Mya had watched from a distance. Royal title or no, one suitable buyer was the same as the next to the Equinnivus. Their easy disregard of status, of bloodlines (in people anyway), kept the old superstitions about them alive. There was magic in their veins.
Surely they couldn’t think Mya had anything to do with Prince Kelval ending up corpse-like on the bedroom floor . . .
‘Can you hear me?’ The Magus Kyabb was leaning over her, talking in the same calm tone Mya might use with a spooked horse. How long had he been speaking?
He turned to Prince Jessen. ‘Please assist your brother to my chambers.’
The red-headed prince frowned but helped his whey-faced younger brother to his feet. He put his arm around him and whispered in his ear. Prince Kelval smiled as they left the room.
‘Your Grace,’ said a familiar voice. In the doorway stood Shenin, thank the Wynn. Shenin glanced down at his manure and mud caked boots. ‘Forgive my appearance. Prince Verran insisted that my presence was required right now, this very minute.’ He inclined his head in apology.
King Alesdan waved away his apology. ‘Wynter believes you know this girl or at the very least will recognise her. Is she Alwynn’s daughter?’
Shenin shifted his weight from left foot to right and hooked his fingers through his belt. Sure, Mya’s dark hair could’ve belonged to any number of girls her age whom the horse master had encountered in his travels, but not her hazel eyes. ‘She’s Equinnivus.’
That was it? Perhaps her face was bruised beyond recognition, perhaps she just looked like any and every Equinnivus. Her throat burned. Attempting to speak was pointless.
Mya glanced warily from face to face.
Shenin studied Mya. ‘Didn’t anyone check her tattoo?’
The King raised his eyebrows, ‘I would have thought she was too young for that.’
‘They don’t brand before thirteen. Traditionally the branding is done at a coming of age ceremony when the person is sixteen.’ Magus Kyabb said.
‘If all Equinnivus have a tattoo how will that help us know if she’s Alwynn’s daughter or if her family is from another branch?’ asked Prince Wynter.
A brand? Equinnivus did not brand their horses much less their children. Sore and seething she tried to speak again. Everyone ignored her. How dare they? It wasn’t like she was unconscious anymore, she could hear and she could see.
‘Why has no one checked for a tattoo then?’ Prince Verran asked. He paused. ‘Oh, ohhh. Couldn’t Clara or one of the other female healers look?’
Mya doubted that there was any part of her the healers hadn’t seen when her wounds had been treated but that wasn’t the problem. Her tattoo was on the inside of her wrist, on the arm that was heavily bandaged. She guessed it was probably not legible for the moment, even if someone could understand it.
‘What happened to her?’ Shenin asked.
‘A border patrol found her face down on our side of the river. The Ways was attacked.’ King Alesdan said.
‘If she’s from The Ways she’s Alwynn’s daughter.’ Shenin gently touched her shoulder and smiled down at her. ‘Alwynn’s daughter was a sure thing for the breeder’s path in life, even at six years old.’
Shenin was correct. Mya had insisted on being tattooed the moment she’d turned thirteen. She remembered the prick of the needle. The ink forcing its way under her skin marking her first as Equinnivus. Guided by the expert hand of the tattooist the ink swirled exposing details of her familial homelands. The third section of the design described her paternal and maternal family lines. Ink and script flowed across her wrist revealing the fourth and final part; her chosen path in life. Tears of pain and pride had left salty tracks on her skin.
Wynn give her strength. Mya attempted to speak again. ‘Ways . . . Alwynn,’ she croaked.
A question rippled across Shenin’s usually calm expression. King Alesdan gave a slight shake of his head.
She was alive. Please let her family and friends be safe.
Don’t think about fleeing. Don’t think about drowning. Don’t remember. Not yet.
About the Story
This is an extract from a novel in progress, which was developed during the Faber Writing Academy Writing A Novel course 2017.
Unaware that she possesses the gift to move souls between Life and Death, horse gypsy Myawynn desires nothing more than to train and trade her family’s horses. When an ancient sect attacks her family and friends Myawynn escapes and seeks help from a neighbouring kingdom.
Crown Prince Wynter accepts his father’s mysterious decision to protect Myawynn. Only when he is fatally wounded defending her, does Myawynn discover her power. Her choice to save Wynter reverses the natural order.
But Myawynn finds that every gift has a price, and that her choices will endanger those she loves most.
Anna created stories long before she could write them down. Her passion for storytelling and history led to the completion of a BA (Hons) and Grad DipEd. She currently divides her time between sharing the magic of words with her own children and writing her YA fantasy manuscript.