Brachet's mother was the beautiful blonde Kitt, once a fearsome seductress and starry rider, now reduced to a sweet, plump middle-aged woman after tragedy struck her and she lost her dragon, Kith. Her father was the handsome Mathos, not only a Healer, but a respected Protector of Cathair Utopian. Brachet also had a sister; the golden-haired Callilli, Brachet's rival for her mother's love, but not her father's, for Mathos loved his dark-haired daughter nearly more than life itself. Tis true that he loved his Callilli as well, but Brachet and Mathos always had a special link.
"Daddy!" Five-year-old Brachet ran into her daddy's arms. Mathos, a tall, handsome man in his mid-thirties, smiled down at his daughter.
"Good morning, sweetie. Come to wish your daddy a good morning?"
"Yes, Daddy," Brachet murmured, beaming.
Padded footsteps came toward the two, and a sleepy Callilli walked out of the shadows, rubbing her eyes and yawning. Mathos picked up his other daughter, and Callilli wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a sticky kiss. Brachet stuck her tongue out at Callilli, but her golden-haired sister merely ignored her.
"Are you going to work, Daddy?" asked Callilli. Mathos kissed the tops of both their heads, and set them on the ground.
"Yes, I am, sweetheart. Wish your daddy luck?"
"Good luck, Daddy!" the two chorused in their shrill voices.
Brachet tugged on Mathos's coat.
"Can't I come, Daddy?" she pleaded. Callilli rolled her eyes, knowing the answer, because Brachet had asked this every week for as long as she could talk.
"You can't, stupid," Callilli said, but Brachet ignored her, staring up at her father.
"I'm sorry, honey, but you'll have to wait until you're older."
"Oh, all right."
Kitt walked in, smiling at her daughters and husband. Mathos unattached Brachet's hand from his coat, and with two steps was at his wife's side. He smiled and whispered in her ear, and Kitt giggled quietly. Mathos kissed her gently on the cheek, then on the lips, and hugged her.
"I have a meal packed for you, Mathos," Kitt said, walking to the eating area.
"That was very sweet of you, darling." Mathos grinned at his daughters, and knelt on all fours, growling as he caught them in his arms and tickled them with butterfly kisses. Kitt came back in, carrying a bag of food, and laughed as the trio played on the floor. Mathos stood up and kissed her cheek, taking the bag.
"I'd better be going. I'll see you all at supper!" Mathos said, as he walked out the door. His daughters scampered to the window, waving as their father went out of sight.
"Will you play with me?"
"Okay, sure. What do you want to play?"
"Protectors! I'll be the Protector, and you be a marauder!"
"Fine. But next I get to be the princess!"
For awhile they 'fought', using sticks for swords and daggers. After the 'marauder' was 'vanquished', Callilli became a 'beautiful princess', locked away in a tower, waiting for a brave 'Protector' to come and find her.
"That's stupid! I think you've found too many Terran books; all the fairytales have gone to your head."
"It's not stupid, it's romantic and magical!"
"Girls!" cried Kitt as she walked in. "What are you doing?"
"Um.." said Callilli.
"We were just playing, Mommy," said Brachet.
"Well, please play a little bit quieter." Kitt swept out of the room, humming.
Several hours later, dusk began to fall upon the southern side of Danach. Kitt began to make supper, and the girls waited at the window, searching for any sign of their father, at which point they would've flung open the door and scrambled to him.
Time passed. Dinner got cold..Kitt and the girls, worry on their faces, ate dinner, waiting tensely for a knock at the door..
As all three were getting ready to go to bed, there came a rapping at the door.
"Daddy!" cried Brachet joyfully, and jumped out of bed, springing toward the door and opening it.
"Da-" Brachet's voice stopped short. The strange man outside, dampened by the rain, was not her father.
"Who are you?" she demanded rudely.
"Mathos?" Kitt's smile faded, as all the blood in her face drained, leaving it white and haggard.
"No..oh, no.." she gasped, sinking against a chair.
Callilli stared solemnly at the tall stranger who entered, hangin up his coat and hat, and sat down in front of Kitt.
"K....K'ley..it..it isn't true, is it?"
Kitt burst into tears as K'ley nodded solemnly, and patted her arm, his own eyes red-rimmed.
"Your husband, Mathos, was killed in a fight with a band of thieves and murderers, trying to get into the Cathair. He fought bravely, and he'll be missed, sister.."
"NO!" screamed Kitt, "NO, he can't be dead, he can't, I love him too much.." She fell to the floor, gasping for air, sobbing and clawing at herself. K'ley, alarmed, slapped her face until she calmed down, then took her into her bedroom, and made sure she went to sleep before he came back. Callilli was still crying piteously, but Brachet stood, white of face, lips thin.
"My daddy..he's..dead?" The little five-year-old barely knew what death meant, but she did know that when her cat had died, she hadn't come back..maybe her father wouldn't come back..
Her uncle, K'ley, nodded, and now he had to try very hard not to cry, so he wouldn't alarm the little ones. Callilli ran to him, and he held her in his lap.
"Come here, little Brachet," he said, and Brachet went to sit in his lap as well.
"I'm so sorry, girls. Your father was a wonderful man, never forget him..."
K'ley buried his face in Callilli's curls, gasping, trying to hold in the tears. Brachet patted his cheek.
"It's okay," she whispered, "go ahead and cry, Uncle."
Brachet's bravery and solemn sweetness brought tears to K'ley, and he hugged them tightly, then tucked them in with their mother. He left soon after he thought they were asleep, but while Callilli still whimpered in her dreams, Brachet lay awake, and in her heart was a terrible pain.
Ten years later...
Brachet rode upon her horse, Mathe, a beautiful golden mare that she had named in honor of her dead father. Yes, Mathos was dead, although it had taken many years for Brachet to come to terms with his death. She had not, however, forgiven the man who had murdered her father. Lothe was his name, a red-bearded marauder from the northern parts of Danach, as blood-thirsty and cruel as a man could be. He hadn't been satisfied with simply killing the most loving man in Danach. He had cut her father's heart out while he still lived, laughing at his gasps and pleads for mercy, listening to his story of his two daughters and wife at home, and scoffing as Lothe held Mathos's steaming heart in the air..while he was still alive; he had died slowly. The other Protectors had tried to save him, but he had been taken far from the Cathair when he was murdered, too far and too fast to overtake Lothe.
Once Brachet was old enough to understand about oaths and quests, she swore that she would avenge her father's death. Each day she rode further upon Mathe, searching for the scoundrel Lothe and his band. It mattered not to Brachet that she, a meer girl, scarely begun to bleed, couldn't hope to overpower such a man as Lothe. Still she sought him, a long blade at her side. Brachet's mother had begged her not to go, as she didn't want to lose her daughter as well as her beloved husband. Callilli had watched with no little jealousy, however, because Kitt finally gave in, and bought Brachet a sword, and Mathe, so that Brachet would survive in the wilderness.
It began to get cold, and Brachet stopped for the day. She tied Mathe to a tree, and built her little campsite. After hunting and catching a rabbit, she boiled it and drank of the broth, saving the meat in case she wasn't able to get any more. After her meal, she fed Mathe, and crept into her furs, drifting into unbroken sleep.
When dawn came, Brachet stood, stretched, and dressed. She boiled the rabbit again, and drank the broth. She packed all her belongings, and strapped her sword 'round her slim waist. While she was saddling Mathe, she heard the snow creak behind her, announcing the arrival of a stranger. Whirling around, long dark hair whipping her face, she narrowed her dark eyes at a young man with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, standing a few foot-falls away from where she stood.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" she hissed through clenched teeth.
"I could ask you the same thing, m'lady." The young man's tone was friendly, and his lips curved in a smile of peace. Brachet relaxed.
"I am Lady Brachet of Cathair Utopian, good sir. Who are you?"
"I am Th'Ralan..you may call me Ralan, if you wish."
"You are a Rider?" Brachet asked curiously.
"No, my mother just liked the name." Ralan's smile broadened at her mistake.
"Oh," said Brachet, a faint whisper of a smile rewarding him. "So..what are you doing here? I am searching for the bandit Lothe, who killed my father in cold blood when I was five."
"My quest seems quite boring compared to yours-I was only in search of a little exercise! May I accompany you?" Ralan asked.
Brachet thought for a moment. It would be nice to have a companion she could talk to..but she didn't want to be slowed down.
"Have you a horse, sir?" she inquired.
"Why, as a matter of fact, I do. I'll get him, eh?"
"That would be wise. You may come with me when you bring him."
Ralan came back to her, riding on the back of a large black horse. Smiling at Brachet, he indicated his horse.
"His name is Tirell."
"Beautiful," said Brachet, smiling at Tirell. Tirell whickered, twisting his ears at the sound of their voices. "Let's go. If you see anyone, stay out of sight, and whistle..I will look and see if it's Lothe. If it is, we will charge."
"We?" said Ralan, but Brachet was already ahead, and didn't hear.
The air was cold and the two spoke little, their breaths misty in the frigid air. The chill entered their bones and seeped into their lungs, making them cough. No birds sang from the bare branches of the trees, no deer came to watch the travelers' progress with wide, innocent eyes. The world seemed dead to Brachet, but Ralan knew it was merely sleeping.
"So," spoke Brachet, breaking the muffled silence, "where do you come from, sir?" Ralan unwound the scarf around his mouth, and replied,
"Please call me Ralan. I come from near Cathair Fionabhain. It is actually very pretty there, and right now I doubt they have any snow. It has a nice, warm climate." Brachet soaked up his words like she would sunshine.
"So, if I was to fly a-dragonback to this Cathair, I would no longer be so cold?" Ralan nodded, and they both hunched back inside their coverings.
-Why am I here?- Ralan thought -it's too cold!-