Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)

BOOK: Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)
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Saving Galerance

Trilogy

-

Book One

Chasing Shadows

 

By:
Natalie Reid

Chapter 1

The stone war room in the Galerance capital building had
changed much since its latest ruler had come into power. There used to be
colored banners hung on the walls, displaying the flags of each of the four
major Galerance villages. Now there was only one flag. A great somber beast of
a flag, with a black background and four red diamonds forming a circle, bearing
a single word inside: PAX.

Peace.

The end to all wars.

The end to all suffering.

The Amias Pax had been enforced for nearly thirty years now,
and in that time the Kingdom of Galerance hadn’t seen so much as a hint of war
or uprising.

Guardian Amias looked down at the large wooden table in the
old war room and ran a hand across the map of his kingdom. A circle of Pax officials
stood around him, waiting in respectful stoicism for him to speak. Outside he
could hear the muffled clink of the castle servants’ boots as they tapped
across the stone floor like skittering mice, hurrying to get away from this
room as they went about their daily chores.

Amias sighed and looked at a number of red dots that
littered the map. “Exactly how many have there been, Auberon?” he asked, looking
up at the man that he had placed in charge of the western village of Breccan.

Auberon cleared his throat. “It’s hard to say, sir.”

“Is it?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “I’d
imagine it would be fairly easy to count the number of large flaming baskets
left on the side of your main road!”

There was snickering throughout the room, and Guardian Amias
shot a stern look to the man on his right. “I’d wipe that smile off your face,
Garon. Fairbrooks has had nearly as many of these Harbinger attacks as
Breccan.”

“With all due respect sir,” Garon said, placing his palm on
the table. “They’re just a bunch of kids swinging through the trees. They’ve
named themselves after a bird for crying out loud! Because they think it sounds
cool! The-the harbingers of war!” Garon said, waving his hand in front of his
face in a dramatic sweep. “The crows of ill omen! The, I don’t know, bats of
death! Give me a break! All they’ve managed to do is nick a few supplies.
Pocket change and turnips. No one’s even paying attention to them.”

Garon leaned in closer to Amias, saying in a low voice, “They’re
too busy singing your praises when they wake up every morning to find a basket
of food at their doorsteps.” Then, addressing the men around him, he knocked
his knuckle against the wood and continued. “The people are smart. They know
they’ll never get it any better than this. These Harbingers are just bored
teenagers that have nothing better to do than to mess around with authority.”

Guardian Amias rubbed a tired hand across his forehead. “I
don’t care
why
they do it. What I want to know is
how
. How are
these kids, as you call them, able to take a cartful of goods out of a moving
carriage, and leave it burning on the road behind them without the guards being
any the wiser?! Because I’ll tell you,
Garon
, if this is the work of
kids, then I’d hate to see what the adults will do when provoked.”

“What do you want us to do about it, sir?” Auberon asked,
clasping his hands behind his back.

“I want you to find them!” he exclaimed simply. “Cart every
last one of them off to the dungeons of Arkadiak. I don’t care how young they
are. Get your boys to take one second away from leaching and get this done.
It’s your jobs to enforce the Pax. I’m not going to see it ruined by a bunch of
bored kids!”

With a wave of his hand, Guardian Amias dismissed his
advisors, watching them leave one by one in a somber line. Then, as the last of
them were going, he raised a graceful hand in the air, saying, “Auberon. Would
you come back in here please?”

The men around the Breccan official shot him looks of
curiosity and even sympathy, quickly parting to let him back into the war room.

“Shut the door behind you,” Amias ordered.

When the loud thud of the massive wooden door shuddered
through the room, Amias turned to his official and smiled. “Sorry about yelling
at you back there,” he offered.

“There’s no need to apologize, sir,” Auberon said.

“I suppose you think it’s strange of me to keep the others
in the dark on this.”

Auberon responded with a shake of his head. “You’ve only
told the people you need to in order to preserve its secrecy. I don’t see
anything strange in that.”

Amias smiled as he looked down at the map, directing all of
his attention to the village of Breccan. “Very good, Auberon,” he commended
him. “That’s exactly why I chose you for this. You know how to get things done
exactly how I want them.”

“Does this mean that it’s time, sir?” he asked.

Amias spread his palm across the map, looking at the portion
of Valor Wood that laid to the east of Breccan. “Yes,” he said with a satisfied
nod. “I think now would be the right time. Send word to Brin on your way back.”

“Sir,” he replied, nodding once more.

He turned to leave, but Amias kept him back.

“Oh, Auberon?”

“Sir?” he asked, dutifully turning to face his master.

Amias extended his hand and waited for him to take it. “It
has been an honor to have you in my service.”

“It has been an honor to serve, sir.”

With a final dismissal, the man named Auberon marched out of
the room, giving a brief glance to the great red and black flag of the Pax
hanging above his head, before the heavy wooden door closed behind him, leaving
the Guardian of Galerance alone to his thoughts.

Chapter 2

Norabel was not yet a woman. Or so her reflection reminded
her every day. The months and the seasons that had gone by all told her that
she was twenty-one years of age, far past the time that any girl in the Kingdom
of Galerance would be considered a mature young-lady. Yet Norabel still felt
like a child.

Living in a village as largely populated as Breccan, some
people actually mistook her for a child. It wasn’t that she was lazy, for she supported
herself and worked hard every day as a potter, making every bowl that should
ever pass through the hands of a Breccan villager. And it wasn’t that she did
not know suffering or loss, for her home had been burned down when she was only
eight years old, and her grandfather had perished in the fire.

It was the paleness, Norabel reasoned. Her blonde hair was
so devoid of color that it nearly looked white, and even her blue eyes were
paled by a sort of silvery quality. Her mother had called it elegant, and her
father had called it special. The way her eyes were always wide in wonder like
a child’s, and the way her hair, which was braided around her head, looked like
a crown of snow.

However, the village doctor called it by a different name.
Jotham’s Disease. It meant, if Norabel strained herself too hard, her lungs
would constrict, and there was the very real possibility that she could
suffocate to death. With each new attack, the chances of death grew greater and
greater.

The condition, her grandfather had told her when he was
still alive, was named after a hero from long ago. Jotham was a brave soldier
that had died on the battlefield from one of these attacks. A hero in a time of
war. It had made Norabel proud when she heard his story and knew she carried
some of his same burdens. Yet, as she grew up, she realized that the world had
no more place for heroes such as this. The Amias Pax would not allow it.

 

It was on a warm afternoon in the beginning of summer when
she felt the effects of the Amias Pax once more in her life, interrupting her
normally peaceful work day.

Norabel worked in the western commons of Breccan, in a small
building called the Potter’s Work House. It was divided into three sections:
one for making plates, one for making more advanced, specialized pieces of
pottery, and lastly, one for making bowls. It was in this last section where
she worked. It was separated from the other two by a thin wooden wall, and had
a large window in front of her work station so that she could look out at the
dusty village road as she worked.

Since it was the beginning of summer, and the temperature in
her workhouse was filled with a sleepy kind of warmth, she opened up the wooden
shutters of her window all the way to let in what little breeze the outside
street could offer. She was just about to throw a ball of clay on her potter’s
wheel and begin making her seventeenth bowl of the day, when the sound of
hurried footsteps made her stop. A moment later her neighbor, an eight-year-old
girl named Iris, appeared at her window, looking very flustered and out of
breath.

“Iris, what’s wrong?” Norabel asked, setting the ball of
clay down and rushing over to the window. “Did you run all the way here?”

Iris nodded her head as she took in deep swallows of air.
Then she raised her arm and pointed west, in the direction of both their homes.

“Pax,” she choked out in a frightened squeak. She couldn’t
seem to get any more words out, and merely jabbed her finger several more times
in the same direction, saying, “Pax!”

“Pax officials were at your house?” Norabel asked, concern
growing on her face.

“I snuck out the back,” she said, gripping onto the window
seal with both hands. “But I didn’t think to grab it. Now I know they’ll find
it!”

Norabel reached out the window and held her hands to try and
calm her down. “Find what, Iris?”

The young girl shook her head and clamped her lips together
in a tight line, as if trying to hold off an attack of tears. Then, taking in a
loud sniff, she announced, “The Albatross Seed!”

Norabel’s face stilled. She had been the one to give Iris the
Albatross Seed. Even when Guardian Amias had outlawed them thirteen years ago,
along with any other mention of the Albatross Myth. But now, if the Pax officials
found one in her house…she couldn’t let her and her family take the blame for
something that was her doing.

Wiping her clay-caked hands on her work apron, she took one
quick peek behind her to make sure that the other potters weren’t coming in to
check on her, before hoisting herself out of the large window and onto the
street.

“W-what are you doing?” Iris asked, rubbing her palm into
her eye.

“Come on,” she said, taking her hand. “I’ll make sure you
don’t get into any trouble.”

As the two of them rushed through the dirt roads of Breccan,
hardly anyone was around to see them. It was during a work hour, meaning that
everyone except the very young, the very old, and Pax officials should not be
out on the streets at this time. While it was not illegal, you were liable to
get into trouble with the Pax if you did not have a good enough excuse as to
why you left your work station.

One of the measures in force throughout the village to
monitor “Commoner Activity” was a Pax checkpoint stationed at strategic,
normally busy roads. They were usually located in between a residential
district of the village and a Commons Sector, or work district. Some people,
depending on where they worked, had to go through several of these checkpoints
on their way home.

The way they operated was fairly simple. The road was
blocked off by a short wooden fence, short enough for even a child to jump
over, yet the penalty for doing so was immediate imprisonment. In order to get
to the other side, you had to pass through a narrow station which was monitored
by a Pax official. Here he would look up your name on a ledger which contained
the name of every person living in the village and put a checkmark next to it.
He would also note the general time, keeping track of every time you passed in
and out. The ledgers were checked every night, and if you were found passing in
and out too many times, a red flag was placed on your name.

Luckily, Norabel didn’t live too far away from where she
worked, and only needed to pass through one checkpoint in order to get home. The
Pax official manning this station was a young man named Hunter. Though many of
the officials Norabel met were gruff, unfeeling men, Hunter was anything but.
He would smile pleasantly at her every time she passed through and ask about
her day, making some agreeable remark or other about the weather or the time of
day.

As Iris and Norabel came to his gate, he nodded to them as
if he had been expecting them, and then looked to Iris, commenting, “So I see
you found her then.”

“I’m so sorry Hunter,” Norabel cut in. “I know we shouldn’t
be out right now.”

“It’s alright,” he reassured her, throwing her a smile that
rested easily on his face. “It’ll be our secret.”

She stared up at him in silent gratitude, watching as the
sunlight caught in his chestnut brown hair. It was hard to believe that a Pax official
could be so nice. Her friend Mason would say he was just trying to trick her,
lull her into a false sense of security. But as his green eyes stared back at
her in friendly innocence, she just couldn’t believe him of trickery.

“Thank you,” she told him. She clasped onto both of Hunter’s
hands, which were resting on top of the closed ledger. “Thank you,” she
repeated, trying to sound as sincere as possible.

When she let go, she found with a shock that she had left a
residue of brownish-orange clay on his palms.

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, putting her hands up to
her mouth in embarrassment, the troubles awaiting her back at home momentarily
forgotten.

“Please,” he said, smiling easily once more. “Don’t worry
about it.”

By now, Iris was through the gate and was tugging on her
hand for them to get going. Norabel had started to hurry forward with her, when
Hunter called her back.

“Norabel, wait!” She turned around, and he pointed to his
mouth, saying, “You’ve got, um…”

Her cheeks reddened when she realized what she had done. She
had gotten clay on her face when she put her hands up to her mouth. She quickly
wiped at her lips with the back of her dress sleeve, trying not to feel
embarrassed. Then, throwing him a parting wave, she ran off down the road.

The western-most part of Breccan was situated right up next
to a towering rock mountain. She could hardly see to the top of its gray
scraggly peaks when looking out her bedroom window, and the base of it was just
a stone’s throw away. This late in the afternoon, the sun was already hidden
behind the rocks, casting their neighborhood in cool shadows.

When they rounded the road down to their neighborhood,
leaving a small trail of dust behind them, they could see a horse-drawn Pax
cart standing in front of Iris’s house. The cart was about six feet in each
direction, with a large woven basket inside. It was in this basket that Pax officials
carried everything they took from household raids, transporting them to the
capital city of Cashel.

In front of the cart were two black horses, their saddles
reserved for Pax officials only. If anyone without the armband of the Pax was
caught riding a horse, they would be immediately captured, tied to the horse by
a long rope line, and then dragged about in the middle of the village square
for everyone to watch, before being carted off to the dungeons of Arkadiak.

The Pax cart was a sight that no villager wanted to see in
front of their house. It was the heart and soul of the Amias Pax; the pound
extracted to pay for its raging appetite. And today, it was calling upon their
neighborhood.

As they passed by the cart, Norabel turned to Iris and told
her to stay outside before she started up towards the house. She had only taken
a few steps before the front door opened, and a Pax official stepped out. He
was a tall, commanding man that almost needed to duck his head when coming out
of the doorway. He bore the metal armband with the red and black Pax insignia
on it, and was holding something small and circular between the fingers of his
gloved hand.

When Iris saw this, she yelled out, “No!” and ran forward to
try and reclaim her possession. Norabel stopped her before she could reach the
man, and held the squirming girl in her grasp.

“I take it this is yours, young lady?” the man asked gravely,
stepping towards them in slow, stern movements. “You know it is illegal to have
one of these in your possession.”

Iris strained her arm forward, bravely yelling, “Give it
back!”

Norabel hushed her, trying to get her to stop, and then
looked up at the man, saying, “It’s…”

She was about to take credit for The Albatross Seed, when
Iris’s mother, Vera, appeared in the doorway, saying, “I told you, It’s mine.
My daughter has nothing to do with this.”

The Pax official looked back to her in doubt, and then eyed
Iris once more.

“Well, girl,” he said, placing a hand on the sword at his
waist. “Is your mother telling the truth?”

Norabel’s hands tightened on her shoulders, and Iris stared
at where her mother stood in the doorway. She opened a quivering mouth, about
to speak, but then quickly clamped it shut and nodded her head to the ground.

“If you have everything you need, then I’d like to get back
to work,” Vera stated calmly.

From behind her, another official came out of the house,
carrying an armful of jarred foods, colored fabrics, and a few coin pouches.
This official was younger than the first. He had wavy dark hair, and though his
brooding face might have been considered handsome, the smirk on his lips
somehow turned it sour. As he walked towards them, his gait seemed to suggest
that he wanted everyone to respect his position, when it was clear that he did
nothing much to earn that respect.

“We might have to make a note of what we found here,” the young
official told Vera, smiling suggestively. “Hording excess money is a crime
against the Pax. If I were you, I’d be more careful in what I’d keep in my
house.”

From where Norabel stood, she could see Vera’s back stiffen.
A threat like that could often lead to a leaching problem. And leaching was way
worse than one simple house raid. With a house raid, a couple of guys showed up
at your home, took what they wanted, and were done with you. You didn’t have to
deal with another raid for around a month or two. But a leacher. That was
someone who could bleed you dry. They could show up at your house as often as
they wanted, demanding what they willed, and you couldn’t do anything about it
unless you wanted to be beaten and imprisoned.

“Come on Fletcher, let’s go,” the first official said,
waving his hand in the direction of the cart.

The man named Fletcher shot them all one last hard stare
before going to the basket and depositing his items. However, before they left,
the tall official gripped The Albatross Seed in his hand and looked down at
Iris.

“There are smart actions, little girl, and then there are
dumb ones. And the Amias Pax will only allow for so many dumb ones before it takes
action…no matter how young you are.”

Norabel could feel Iris quiver in her arms. She held her
tighter to her middle so she could feel at least a little protected. Then, both
officials mounted up on either horse and kicked them into a trot down the dirt
road.

When they were long out of sight, Norabel turned to Vera,
saying, “You didn’t need to do that. I would have told them it was me that gave
it to her.”

The older woman shook her head. “It would have been
pointless. They already found it in my house. Why get both of us in trouble?”

Norabel took a step forward with Iris still in her arms.
“Did they take much?” she asked.

BOOK: Chasing Shadows (Saving Galerance, Book 1)
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