Topeka looked out from the leafy greenness of the beech tree she was in. Slender white trunks of birch trees, textured maples, sleek, scarlet madronas, and golden beeches surrounded her in the small forest. Topeka smiled and clambered down the tree to gaze at her home. A stream went merrily on its way in the middle of a sunny glade. Topeka's home was small, a little cottage with a short white gate and fence. Inside a tiny kitchen held a stove, an oven, and cupboards filled to the brim with food, mostly veggies and fruits she grew, bread she baked, and meat she hunted and salted-those were hanging in her larder, a small shack close by. In another room, the central room, there were shelves filled with books, a soft couch with hand-made, feather-filled cushions, and a round, low cherry wood table. Topeka sighed. Her house was so beautiful, but empty as well.
She walked into the kitchen, and began to bake some more bread; she had been running low on it, lately. When the bread was put into the oven, Topeka took a rest, flopping down upon one of her couches. She spread her silvery white hair out, and closed her grey-blue eyes. Her silvery lashes left soft shadows on her cheeks. In a few minutes she was asleep.
A sweet, fresh smell that spread warmth through the house announced that the bread was done. As Topeka took the bread out to cool, there was a knock at the door. Topeka tucked her loose hair behind her ears, straightened her rumpled clothing, and went to open the door. A young man with a sweet smile and intense grey eyes was standing there. He wore loose leather breeches and a baggy white blouse. He winked at her. Topeka felt shy, and the faintest image of a smile creased her lips.
"Hello," the young man said, "I'm Mikael. Do you have a spare room? People call me the Wanderer, because ever since I was old enough to care for myself, I've wandered from place to place, seeking shelter and food. In return I do odd jobs for the people who help me."
"Oh," said Topeka, wiping a floury hand on her pants, and holding it out to Mikael, "I'm Topeka Ironel. There isn't a spare room, but you may bed on the couch if you wish. I have plenty of food as well." Mikael shook her hand, nodded, and walked in.
Topeka walked back into the kitchen and called to Michael.
"I have fresh bread on the table. How about an early supper of fruit, bread, and cheese?"
"I'd love it," said Mikael. "I haven't had any food since I left Thelia, a good two days ago."
"You know," remarked Topeka, "I have a cousin that lives a few weeks away from Thelia. What's her name again? Oh yes, Santefe, the Silver-tongued."
Mikael walked into the kitchen and grinned at Topeka.
"Santefe, the Silver-tongued? Has she auburn hair, and green eyes?" Sukie nodded.
"She's Queen of Thelia now!" Topeka shook her head in disbelief, but Mikael nodded.
"Really?" asked Topeka. "Thats great!"
"Yes," said Mikael. "She was married, to the young King Kane of Llowell."
Topeka thanked Mikael for such fine news, and he replied that it was his pleasure.
Topeka set the table. A large pitcher of milk was on it, and a platter of bread, cheese, and thick, juicy meat from her larder. A bowl of grapes was the centerpiece, a few wildflowers tucked here and there between the purple orbs. Topeka perched on a wooden stool, and Mikael sat across from her. Between bites, they chatted about news of Thelia.
Soon Evening shed rosy rays of somber light upon Topeka's windowsill, and she knew that now was the time to sleep. She cleared the dishes, and went in search of a pillow and quilt for Mikael. She came up with a soft white pillow, and an old, huge quilt filled with downy fowl feathers. She handed them to Mikael, went to her room, changed for bed, and crawled in. In the other room she could hear Mikael getting ready for bed, turning pages of a book by candlelight.
Topeka got out of bed, opened the door, and floated down the hall in a long white night gown. She walked into the living room on quiet feet, and stood watching Mikael. She cleared her throat, and Mikael started, then turned around, and, seeing it was Topeka, smiled and stood, bowing.
"Allow me to thank you, Lady Topeka, for your kind hospitality."
Topeka grinned at Mikael as he slid back onto the couch and under the quilt.
"You are quite welcome, m'dear."
She walked over to the couch and sat down, looking at the sandy mop of hair poking out of the quilt. She pulled back the quilt halfway. Mikael looked up at her and grinned sheepishly. Topeka grinned back. He sat up and looked at her. She was very lovely, he realized. He had never really looked at her, and did now. Topeka's silvery white hair hung softly about her shoulders, soft silver lashes framed crystal blue, intense eyes staring back at him. Her skin was white; her hands were small and cool as she touched his shoulder lightly. He reached up to her, palms open. Topeka put her hands in his and smiled.
"Hey," Mikael said softly, "You know, you are really very pretty." He put his hands on her hips and drew her closer, leaning forward, and kissed her softly. Topeka looked at him, startled, then closed her eyes and kissed him back. Mikael pulled her closer, and under the covers.
Topeka woke in the morning, feeling achy and hollow. Sunlight was streaming in onto her face. She felt for Mikael, and gasped as she felt around the space where he had been the night before...nothing. She got up and looked in all the rooms. On her bedside dresser there was a note from Mikael. It read:
Thank you for the supper and bed. As I said, I do little odd jobs. I did what you needed, longed for. I gave you companionship, and what you thought was love. I can read minds, so I can tell what odd job the person would like. I'm sorry if this hurt you. What else can I tell you? Oh yes. You've been impregnated with my son.
Topeka dropped the note, and fell to her knees, a sob escaping her throat. It had all been a trick.
Topeka knelt on the floor for a while, overcoming her rage. She looked up at a mirror. It scared her what she saw there. Her eyes were wild, cold and threatening, with a horrible anger mounting behind them. She knew then that she could no longer be the innocent Topeka. She was something different, something silent and menacing.
"I will find you, Mikael," Topeka vowed in a hoarse voice.
Topeka went to her room and found a large pack to carry her things; a smaller one she tied onto her belt. She packed a crimson cloak, and a dark brownish-green oneone with which to frighten, and one to hide in. She packed knee-high boots made of soft black leather, as well as warm, thick woolen socks. She tucked a few small knives into the boots she was wearing, and polished an old sword until it gleamed, which she then buckled around her waist. She packed two daggers and a bow in her pack, a quiver of arrows hanging on a strap across her shoulder and back. It mattered not to her that she had never had to defend herself, and therefore knew not how to hunt or fight or even how to wield or hold most of those items. Leggings, shirts and sweaters also went into the pack. Topeka stuffed the thick hide of a ryanth, some poles, and some furs into the pack. She shoved all of her money into her pouch; not much, but enough. Last of all, Topeka packed enough food from her larder and cupboards to last a long while.
Topeka walked outside to her horse Sfili's stall. She tied her bags to his saddle and put all Sfili's gear onto the horse, last of all his saddle. Topeka swung up into the saddle, and opened the door of the stable all the way so that her livestock could wander freely, to feed on their own. Topeka gazed a last time at her peaceful home, feeling the ache in her chest grow. Then she dug her heels sharply into Sfili's ribs, and they galloped across the fields and through the sparse woods, to a new place.
Topeka arrived in Thelia about two hours later, and switched to the main road instead of the path she had been following. She urged Sfili toward the castle where her cousin, Lady Santefe, lived. Once at the gate she dismounted, strode up to the guard, and coolly addressed him.
"Greetings. I am Topeka, and you would do well to let me pass. I must see her Majesty." Something in her eyes left the guard without a will to live, and he numbly opened the gate. Sfili walked through, his hooves clicking on the marble halls.
Topeka entered the quiet, majestic castle, dismounting Sfili, who walked along beside her. Inside the castle hung many tapestries. A long oak table rested in a large room, possibly the main dining hall. Topeka noticed a small, winding staircase in the corner of the room, partially hidden by another tapestry, and peered into the musty gloom. She was about to enter when she heard a voice.
She whirled around, cheeks blazing, to meet Santefe's familiar sparkling green eyes.
"Greetings, Santefe. I see you've become Queen, in the short time we've been parted." Santefe grinned.
"Yes, I suppose so. Have you met my husband?"
Topeka shook her head, smiling.
"I'd heard of your marriage, but I've never seen this king of yours." Santefe smiled coyly.
"Ah, yes..I have completed my quests..but what of you? Why have you come to this gentle land?" Topeka nodded slowly, thinking.
"Have you heard of a man named Mikael?"
"No. A friend of yours?" Topeka laughed harshly.
"Not quite, unless you consider rape a friendly thing." Santefe gasped.
"Oh, poor Topeka! I never thought anyone would find you out there, let alone molest you-" Topeka put her hand on Santefe's shoulder.
"Don't worry about it. There was nothing you could've done; I was foolhardy." Santefe shook her head glumly.
"Now,"said Topeka,"I wish to meet your husband." Santefe smiled in excitement, obviously pleased with the request.
"Oh, you'll love him. Just a moment-" Santefe peered up the staircase Topeka had seen upon entering.
"Hmm?" A young man's voice floated down the stairs, and Kane soon followed. Seeing Topeka, his eyes widened, but, ever polite, he bowed, kissing her hand. He kissed Santefe gently on her fair cheek, addressing her whilst grinning at Topeka. With a jolt, she realized that Kane was much like Mikael. A hot bolt of anger flowed through her.
"Whom do I have the pleasure of greeting, my dear?" Kane inquired of his Queen, who giggled.
"This is the fair lady Topeka, my cousin, if it please you, Your Highness." Santefe laughed outright, and Topeka grinned, holding out her hand, which Kane took, and, with a flourish, kissed. Santefe hugged Topeka tightly.
"We are so glad that you're here!" Santefe said, brightly. "It's been awfully dull in Thelia, and I've missed you so." Topeka nodded.
"I am glad to be here as well." Santefe beamed enthusiastically, but in a moment grew somber.
"Why are you here? You've never sought your relatives, before." Topeka sighed.
"I am here because you are the greatest, wisest Protectress in all the land, the best Healer as well, and now I need your help. I must learn the ways of a fighter. I must become better than the best in wielding a sword, tougher than the toughest in hand-to-hand combat, the swiftest runner, the surest bowman. And I knew you could help me," Topeka said, in a rush. Santefe looked thoughtful.
"Wow,"said Kane,"you make quite the impression. What made you this way? Santefe always spoke of her soft, quiet, sweet cousin." He grinned, and Topeka smiled wanly.
"If I do teach you, what will you do then? Pursue the man who raped you in vicious bloodlust, thirsting for revenge? No, you mustn't be taught." Santefe pursed her lips, and Kane's eyes widened in surprise.
"But you will spend the night. It is my wish that you do so," Santefe said, and smiled apologetically, snapping her fingers to call a lady-in-waiting. The lady-in-waiting curtsied to Topeka, then took her hand and guided her out of the room and up a grander flight of stairs than Kane had come down.
"It isn't fair!" Topeka growled as she pummeled her pillow. "I came all this way, and now she won't even help me!" Worn from her journey and from her anger, Topeka relaxed slightly, lying on her bed, and shortly went to sleep.
The creak of a door opening woke Topeka. She held still for a moment, and then turned to see the wall opening! A dark figure stood in the shadows for a moment, and Topeka bit her lip, thinking it was Mikael. But in a moment, the faint candlelight in Topeka's room revealed it to be Kane, Santefe's husband.
"What are you doing here?" Topeka hissed, frightened and curious at once. Kane bowed, his face blank.
"I came to help you m'lady. I know that you wish to hunt this Mikael down, and to do that you must have skill. I will help you. I am as good as my wife when it comes to a fight." Kane sat down on the edge of Topeka's bed, and leaned forward, his nose nearly touching hers. "But you must do something for me." Topeka's eyes widened and narrowed.
"You are married!" she cried, and Kane covered her mouth hurriedly.
"Yes, I know that, and I love her dearly, and it isn't that she doesn't give herself to me as much as I would like, because she does, but you are so beautiful! And I have been with her for so long that she seems almost boring, I guess. I am still passionately in love with her, but you were perfect from the very moment I saw you." Kane took Topeka's hands in his, gazing at her, his heart beating quickly, his breath ragged. Topeka's heart raced too, but for a different reason. "Please," Kane breathed, and looking down, Topeka was horrified to see a lump under his pajama pants.
"No," Topeka whispered hoarsely, "no! I love my cousin! I could never do that to her. She loves you, you love her! You'd be throwing that away!" Kane shook his head, and let go of her hands.
"You're right. But you lost your chance, Topeka Ironell."
After Kane left, Topeka couldn't sleep. She realized that there would be no help for her in Thelia, and the thought made her feel chilled.
-If they won't teach me, I'll have to teach myself- she vowed, and packed her things.
As Dawn broke across the horizon, her rosy fingers gently caressing the land, Topeka saddled her paard and rode away from Thelia. She left in Kane's study a small book, written in a delicate hand. It was the story of Kane and Santefe's meeting and love, as Santefe remembered it.
-Read this and remember, Kane..- Topeka thought.