PrologueFern stood on the small, diminished balcony of her shabby house in Naquari village, looking down on the water lilies in the fishpond and sighed. If only life was a little easier, she thought. Little did she know that it was only about to get a whole lot harder. Fern stood gazing at the small lake and reflected on the hydra attack that had claimed her father’s life. She rubbed her temple as she tried to focus on that day exactly one year ago.
“Clear skies today, Fern. I have a feeling that there’s not going to be any rain today”
Fern glanced across to where her father was inspecting the heavens, his hopeful eyes fixed on the blue canvas spread above him, before peering back down to the book she was holding.
“Yeah. It looks like it” she replied absent-mindedly. Unable to concentrate, she gave up trying to read and stood up from her chair. “I’m going outside” she said casually, and wandered out the door.
Outside it was pleasantly mild weather. As Fern walked past the garden, a warm feeling came to her and she found shivers of pleasure and joy running up her spine as the sun hit her. She came up to the village graveyard, and sighted a figure in the distance. Looking closer, Fern saw that it was Daome, a village cook. Fern waved and ran towards her.
As she approached her friend, Fern shouted some words of greeting, and Daome started, and looked at her closely. “Oh, thank God, Fern. It’s just you”
“Who did you think it was? Chef Horax?” Fern joked. Chef Horax was Naquari’s Head of Baking and he treated his associates like junk. Every village baker feared him and tried to stay out of Horax’s way as much as possible.
Daome laughed. “No, Fern. I thought it was Yaki, my husband. He needed me to--” Daome broke off in a startled squeak of horror, moving her mouth wordlessly, looking above her, and pointed. Fern followed her finger to see a looming mass of disaster above them. Staring in fascinated horror, Fern barely heard Daome give a shout of warning.
Fern sighed. She knew that the death of her loved one could not be undone, but sometimes she wished death would be a little kinder. Thinking of that, she then remembered how much horror hit her when her father perished. In her mind’s eye, Fern saw her dad before facing the hydra, a determined glint in his eye, a hard-set face and a daring expression. His sword’s hilt poked through a thick metal sheath on his belt and on his back lay heavy silver shield with the village coat of arms on it. Fern had been told many times that her father was a mighty warrior when he faced the hydra, and he looked like one too.
She remembered how her father’s hand slid to his sword and he struck forward, shouting in surprise as the hydra reared up and a dark claw hit him in the leg, ripping it open and tearing the muscle. Stained with blood, he kept fighting, even if it pained him to do so. Finally though, he had to learn the cruel lesson of death. The slightly damaged hydra decided it had enough of this tiresome game. It reared up, inhaled, and with a mighty swish of its head, blew out a great wall of flames. Fern remembered watching in horror as her father yelped before the fire engulfed him. She remembered the small pile of ash that remained after the hydra flew off. And last but not least, she remembered the night following. The one she had spent curled up in bed crying until the light gray of dawn seeped through her curtains.