• Published 11th Feb 2013
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Velvet Sparkle and the Queen in Stone - Tundara



Myths and Birthrights side-story: Velvet Sparkle recounts her younger years in a nation north of Equestria and the events leading up to her becoming the mother of Shining Amour and Twilight Sparkle

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Part Two

Velvet Sparkle and the Queen in Stone
By Tundara

Part Two

Tyr dug her hooves into the loose soil of Sparkle Manor's garden and felt... nothing. Gone were the little sensations and tingles that hinted at the aether flowing through the world's ley lines. The world felt so much duller, and Tyr wasn't sure she'd ever get used to the change. She didn't want to become accustomed to the emptiness, but she was already beginning to forget what it had felt like to touch the essence of the ground.

Subconsciously she rubbed a hoof along her back, scratching at the fur between where her wings had once been.

Stepping away from the flowerbed, Tyr made her way towards where Velvet and Comet sat beneath the shelter of a gazebo. Her small hooves scuffed and kicked at the ground as she walked towards where the two younger, yet older, ponies sipped their afternoon tea and read the Canterlot Chronicle. A sneeze bursting from the filly's nose followed by a groan made the two look up and towards the disturbance.

"Tyr, what are you doing out of bed," Velvet scolded, though her voice held little in way of reproach. Rather, she laughed a little, a slight titter she covered with a hoof before patting a cushion beside her in invitation.

"I was bored, and lonely," Tyr responded as she clambered onto the soft seat.

"Does your mother know you've snuck out of the manor?" Comet asked, his gaze already returning to the sports section of the paper. Before Tyr could respond, he gave a displeased grunt that made her ears flick backwards. "I can't believe it, Vel. We lost to those trumped up jackanapes from Appleloosa. How some frontier town put together a Hoofball team, I can't fathom for the life of me. This has been the worst season yet, and it only just begun. At this rate old Lateral Pass is going to have to be forced to retire. New blood, that's what we need, new blood!"

Comet finished his short tirade with a snort, paper tossed aside as he gripped his tea and took a hearty sip.

"Now, come out with it," he then said, ire redirected towards the newest addition at the table. "It's impolite to keep ponies waiting."

Tyr had to bite down on her tongue to prevent herself from snapping back. He may be rude and not technically part of her herd, since herds were matrilineal in nature. At least, Tyr was fairly certain that particular detail remained the same. Her mother, her real mother, had taught her to be smart and patient as the river that would carve away the land. Not just lash out in anger.

It turned out Tyr didn't even need to defend herself as Velvet grabbed the paper, rolled it tight, and then swatted her husband across the muzzle. Tyr and Comet both stared at Velvet with eyes almost bulging out of their heads.

"Dear, I know Halla shock spells..."

Velvet's voice was precisely controlled, her eyes not lifting from her own paper as she abandoned the improvised weapon. After a few moments, she glared over her paper towards her husband.

"Understood, love," Comet said, a note of contrition filling the simple words. "My apologies, Princess Tyr," he added, offering the filly a sharp bow of his head.

"Apology accepted," Tyr said, sniffing a bit as her nose ran.

Continuing to read, Velvet picked a hoofkerchief from the table and wiped Tyr's nose before the filly could protest.

"So, little one, does your mother know you are out here?" Velvet asked as she set paper and reading glasses aside.

"My mother doesn't even..." Tyr began, her voice trailing off as she saw the already exasperated look Velvet carried like a lance. "No, she doesn't," she said before another sneeze shook her.

Nodding slowly, Velvet glanced towards the manor, then said to her husband, "Dear, could you be a sweetheart and tell the Princess where Tyr has gotten herself."

Comet Chaser began to bristle, his mouth opening to argue, but was swiftly intercepted by a look that could send Timberwolves scampering for the darkest parts of the Everfree.

Tyr shivered a little at the dangerous smile Velvet gave Comet, as if daring him to test her threat. He seemed to honestly consider calling her bluff, but then he just gave a sigh of disappointment and trotted off towards the manor. As he moved away, Tyr heard him mutter, "I'll see if Shining wants to play some cards. Much better company."

Once the door snapped shut at his tail, Tyr turned back to Velvet, a frown tugging at her face as she regarded her foster grandmother.

"You know Halla elemental magic?" Tyr asked, deciding that anything was better than talking about the here-and-now, or worse yet, why she had decided to sneak out of the manor. Ponies, Tyr had learned, had a deep fascination with knowing where she was at all times. They were worse than the priestesses in the Citadel of Light. At least they knew better than to talk to her unless spoken to first.

A familiar sharp pang of loss jabbed into Tyr as thoughts and memories of her old home briefly surfaced. Velvet, probably recognising the expression, gave Tyr a sad smile as she picked up one of the tea pots sitting in the middle of the table and poured a cup out for the filly.

"Here, drink this, slowly. It is very hot. It'll help with the congestion and the aches."

Silently Tyr took the small cup in her equally small hooves and lifted it to her lips. She hissed and almost dropped the cup as the searing hot liquid burned lip and tongue.

"Slowly, love, slowly," Velvet sighed, taking the cup back and placing it on the table. After tending to Tyr, she leaned back on her cushion, lifting her head up to stare at the pegasi moving clouds about in preparation for a light rain in the evening. "So, you want to hear more of my story, yes?"

Tyr just nodded, tongue still protesting its ill treatment from her carelessness.

"Well, I was taken from what I later learned was the Eagle Lodge..."

Eagle Lodge was old, and it showed in the partially rotten timbers throughout the Hall. Crisp Winds and Blue Winter carried me out of the hall, the few apprentices of the Lodge watching me with a mixture of curiosity and disdain. They, like Bright Briar, saw me as a threat to the peace and stability that the Halla had known for countless generations.

The sun stung my eyes as we stepped into her harsh afternoon glare, and for a few moments I just peered through the doorway between my past and future like I was a Janus.

I had developed many expectations of the Halla from Father's stories. I used to dream of their towns and cities. Sometimes I imagined that they lived in giant hollow trees that stood as tall as mountains, roads and pathways formed from woven branches. Other times I pictured simpler affairs closer to the Buffalo of the Mild West, with tents and open campfires that the Halla would gather around as they shared their oral history.

The reality was far different.

My first sight was of Reinalla, a fortress-palace of thick granite walls perched on a low hill overlooking two small rivers, both barely more than streams. The walls looked to have been molded or poured, and from the outside gave an impression of being a sheer cliff. Inside the walls sat the Eagle Lodge. The part I'd been kept in was tucked away and to the side, an aging building sagging under the weight of its history. The majority of the lodge mirrored the walls, presenting a strong, stone face, with simple windows and a sod roof.

In the middle of the Lodge's wide arms sat a simple stone garden, and at the garden's heart was a statue. Her wings were spread wide, a look of serenity and calm on her face, as if she was listening to the most beautiful song ever sung. Her mane was thrust back, like a billowing wind touched her face.

"Why do you have a statue of the Princess?" I naively asked from Winter's back.

Neither Winter nor Crisp so much as glanced towards the statue, the former saying, "That is not your Sunbringer, little one."

"Oh... So it is the Namegiver then," I reasoned.

"No." Crisp Winds shook his head. "It is not the Namegiver either."

Tapping my chin, I considered the statue some more as we approached Reinalla's gatehouse. Just before we passed under the hewn stone arch, I asked, "Is she Nightmare Moon?"

"No."

"Well, who is she then?" I demanded with a petulant huff.

"She is our Queen," Winter sighed, turning her head to look over her shoulder at me. "She once brought the Spring and looked after the foals. That was long ago. So very long ago."

"Oh," I said back, shrinking a little under the weariness tugging at her eyes, a weariness born by generations.

I remained silent the rest of the trip.

From the fortress we came down a short hill and into the town.

Hoofbridges crossed the rivers and the paths and roads winded and swirled through the town. Log homes were interspersed with older stone buildings. No matter their age or the differences in their construction, every building was built around the forest and the gentle, rolling hills. Balconies and gazebos were everywhere, with Halla sitting on wide benches as they ate, conversed, or played Humtha —that's a type of combination card and board game, dear— as they took in the chill afternoon day. Near the end of a broad lane sat a pair of tall structures, their stone sides painted black and white in swirling and looping patterns that dazzled and confused the eye while large windows, closed against the chill northerly breeze, let in light.

Blue Winter barely paused as she trotted down the street towards the later buildings.

All around us other Halla stopped what they were doing to stare at me. A stunned silence followed us as my caretakers carried me up to the wide double doors and into the first of the tall, painted buildings.

Where the Eagle Lodge had been weathered with time and age, Raven Lodge was all newness and crisp, the air filled with the scents of rough cut wood and fresh grass used for the thatched roof. The only things that showed any age were the scrolls and book filled shelves that covered almost every available space on the walls. Occasionally there'd be a break, a ponyquin garbed in odd armour or robes in the spot. A set of stairs lead up to a second floor, while the entrance hall continued all the way to the back of the building, doors placed in even intervals along both walls.

I felt a wave of nostalgia and homesickness twist my insides as I gazed in wonder at the familiar surroundings. In turn memories of better days leapt forward to torment me as I again felt so small and alone, lost so far from my herd, from my parents.

"Welcome to the Raven Lodge!" Crisp Winds proclaimed, making a sweeping gesture with a hoof. Raising his voice, he then called out, "Come, everyelk! We have an honoured guest to our Lodge!"

At once there was the dull thudding of hooves and a trio of bright flashes. Letting out a miniature shriek, I tried to hide further behind Blue Winter's neck and head. The flashes turned out to be teleportation spells, identical triplets that stood in the center of the Hall with antlers raised in a haughty pose while the other Ravens clambered from rooms, down the stairs, or leapt over the second floor railing. In short order the entire lodge had gathered, two dozen Halla all standing in a loose group.

"Greeting, Grandmaster Crisp Winds, Mistress Blue Winter," the Halla said as one.

"As I am sure you've all heard, and divined, by now, Reinalla has a very special guest," Crisp Winds said without preamble, pacing slowly in front of the gathered Halla. "She is new to the Taiga and unused to the forest's, and our, ways. I want you all to treat her with respect, courtesy, and fairness. Am I understood?"

Again in unison, the Halla said, "Yes, Grandmaster!"

"Good," Crisp Winds gave a soft glare down the end of his nose. Switching to Equestrian, he continued, "Now, please step forward and meet Velvet Sparkle, twelfth Baroness of Sparkledale."

I had no time to be surprised that Crisp Winds knew of my heritage, or that he assumed my mother was dead, as one by one the members of Raven Lodge took a step forward, bending a knee and lowering their nose almost to the floor while introducing themselves. The only change was when the triplets introduced themselves. They moved as one, spoke as one, and laughed as one.

"Very good," Crisp Winds said as the last stepped back. "You may return to your studies." Turning to Blue Winter he added, "If you wish, you can return to your own lodge, Mistress Blue Winter, we'll see to her safety and comfort."

"Aye, I best be getting back. The other Mistresses will be having their hooves full with the yearlings," Blue Winter agreed. Lowering herself before me, she leaned forward and gave me a brief nuzzle. "Now, you be taking care, understand? Listen to the Grandmaster and mind yourself."

"Yes, Ma'am," I said, my unease clearly showing in my fidgeting hooves and the quivering in my voice.

After Blue Winter had left, I was lead upstairs and settled into a comfortable, if slightly small, room.

I wouldn't leave it again for almost five months except to eat and tend to my physical needs.

"They kept you prisoner?" Tyr gasped, thumping her hooves onto the table and almost upsetting her cold tea.

"What? Celestia, no!" Velvet laughed. "The triplets in particular were always trying to get me to leave my room, but I was too sad to leave, my dear."

"Why?"

"Because, I had lost my parents and I was all alone surrounded by strangers. I just wanted things to go back to being the way they had been before; when we lived here, in Sparkle Manor." Velvet gave a wistful smile, waving to Princess Cadence as she left the manor. She then gave Tyr a wholly significant look. "I am sure it is a feeling you can appreciate."

"Yes, I can," Tyr mumbled, fiddling with her hooves.

It was Autumn when I finally decided to leave my room.

Crisp Winds was instrumental in breaking me out of the shell I had created. Everyday that season he would come into my room and just sit beside my bed. Often he would bring a book and read it to himself, though he had a habit of muttering the words so I would overhear. Some days he would talk about an upcoming festival or event, such as the Harvest Trade, where the wandering Halla would return to the towns. There they would exchange goods and services, and even herd members, in preparation of the long winter.

I would hardly react in either case. Head resting on my goose down pillows, I would stare through the window at the meandering sun and pray to Celestia that my father and mother would walk through the door.

The few birches outside my window had become a blaze of oranges and reds when Crisp Winds marched into my room.

"Come, get up," he commanded, his antlers glowing as he tore back my covers and heaped them on the floor. "It has been too many months of this foolishness."

"No! Sleep. Not wander." I countered with the little Halla I'd begun to pick up as I tried to bury my head under my pillow.

That protection, too, was stripped away, and soon I was being hefted up and carried down and out of the lodge. I kicked and screamed, cursing Crisp Winds in both our languages as tears flooded from my eyes. Thrusting open the lodge's doors, Crisp Winds didn't slow down.

Reinalla was bustling with activity that day, the last of the Harvest Trade. Cutting through gawking crowds, he carried me all the way to the Badger Lodge.

The crafters were out in force, showing off tools to sell, or haggling their services to repair. Sitting me down near several bolts of cloth, all autumn colours, he called to a Journeyelk to find his Master or Mistress.

The Mistress soon arrived, several pincushions bobbing on her antlers like apples on a tree. She hardly looked at me as she approached, her eyes showing large bags underneath.

"Grandmaster Crisp Winds, a pleasure and a delight. What can I get for you? Some silk from Marabia, perhaps? Found in a shipwreck along the eastern ice flows. All good quality." The Mistress gave a hopeful smile, but it floundered when Crisp Winds gave a slight shake of his head.

"I'm not here for myself, but for the guest of Raven Lodge, Lady Velvet Sparkle. She has nothing to wear for the winter."

"Nothing at all? Poor wee filly." The Mistress clicked her tongue as she considered me. "So; boots, cloak, perhaps some underclothes as well. Ponies don't handle the Taiga so well, not at the height of winter, when the blizzards sweep down from the north to chill elk and beast alike. A scarf of thick wool, as well. Wolf fur for the cloak, or perhaps the Arctic Fox would be better."

"She will also need a ceremonial dress for the Brou'alla."

The Mistress stopped in her muttered planning, her watery brown eyes slowly drifting up to Crisp Winds. I had managed to only catch a few words here and there, but had gathered enough that I was to get clothes of some sort. Her expression grew pinched, and I could tell she wanted to say something, but the cold, aloof indifference of Crisp Winds set her on the back of her hoofs.

Eventually, she gave a bit of a sniff, curling her nose as if she'd smelled something rotten, and turning away said, "The Grand Eagle will not be pleased to see the One Horn at the Brou'alla."

"He doesn't need to be," Crisp Winds snorted, leading me up to a slightly raised workstation.

The Mistress said very little as she took my measurements, just abrupt commands on where and how to stand, or lift my head. Crisp Winds haggled the price as I was being measured. It seemed an odd method of business, but kept silent as the Mistress worked, wilting beneath her hard eyes. By the time she was finished, my legs were sore and all I wanted was to crawl back into my bed. Not much of a change from the morning, in retrospect.

At Crisp Winds' side, I trotted back to Raven Lodge, a bubble of silence following me as the visiting nomadic tribes stopped to watch me. Along the way we stopped at a stall set up in the shade of a covered wagon.

"Ha-ha, my friend, good it is too see you!" jovially burst a voice rich and rolling with a resonating timbre. From behind the wagon stepped a truly massive Halla. A cloak of rich burgundy was draped over his frame while gold bangles and rings covered his neck and hung from his ears. His grass-yellow eyes were narrow, twinkling slits as he approached Crisp Winds. Lowering his head, he jumped forward the last yard, his and Crisp Winds antlers slamming together with a resounding 'crack'. "It has been too many seasons," he laughed as they stepped back.

Then, turning to me, he switched to Equestrian, his accent containing a hint of the languid pace of the inner sea provinces, as he said, "So, this be the lass. Word spread to the nomads that Reinalla had taken in one of the forsaken One Horns, but I didn't believe it till now. What were you thinking, cousin?"

"I was thinking that I couldn't let a filly be tossed out into the Taiga to fend for herself." Crisp Winds scowled, one hoof striking the ground. "We have been blinded by fanaticism for sixty-two generations, allowing the same coldness that infected the Queen to imprison our judgement. It needs to end, cousin."

"Aye, I know, I know," the stranger agreed. Then he turned to me and gave a short bow, introducing himself, "Greetings, fair maiden of the Sunlands, I am Thundering Trumpet, Raven of the Kuppa'jo nomads."

"Velvet Sparkle," I replied, shying back and looking to Crisp Winds for some support. "Where did you learn Equestrian? Your accent is different than the others."

"Ha-ha! That is because I learned from a one-winged pegasus. He had tried to fly over the Crystalspines, and it had taken his flight as punishment. Found him living like a rabbit near Three Prong Lake, about a month's travel to the east. Had dug a snug home for himself in a hillside. I gave him food to last that winter in exchange for him teaching me the pony tongue. The wraiths found him sometime before the next fall, sadly. His home was in tattered ruins and his bones lay upon his cot when next I returned. I made a habit of using your tongue. Find it fascinating. You only have one word for 'winter', for instance. One! Ha-ha!"

"Yes, cousin, as fascinating as your adventurous youth was, we have more pressing concerns. What do you have to report on the other tribes?"

Thundering's humour dropped in a flash, his eyes growing dark as his voice became a low rumble of discontent.

“It is worse than you know. There is a foul wind sweeping the North. Word spreads of the dead leaving their burrows. There is fear that a Necromancer walks the Tiaga, a shade black as the night that corrupts the land with its presence.”

“Really, a Necromancer?” Cadence gave a little laugh, making Tyr’s head bop as it rested against her side. “I believe you are just making things up now. There hasn’t been a Necromancer since the end of the last age. Certainly, I’ve never heard of one in my entire life.”

“Why would you, your Highness?” Velvet gave a taught smirk. “Afterall, this was in the Taiga, and there has been not a word from that land until these last few weeks.”

“I suppose that is true,” Cadence conceded, taking a little sip from her luke-warm tea. Frowning at the cup, she cast a quick spell, returning it to a nice, steamy warmth.

“What’s a ‘Necromancer’?” Tyr asked, taking a moment to blow her nose.

“You’ve never heard of a Necromancer?” Velvet feigned shock, pressing a hoof to her chest as she gave a sharp gasp. “You’ve never read ‘Daring Do and the Bones of Mount Guldur’?”

Slowly, Tyr shook her head, muttering, “We didn’t have the same books as you. Most are just history books. We did have a lot of plays, however.”

“Well, we’ll have to fix that!” Cadence said with a little, bouncy laugh. “Twilight loved the Daring Do series, and the ‘Adventures of Doctor Whooves’, as well. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them, too.”

“Maybe,” Tyr conceded, “But none of this tells me what a Necromancer is.”

“A Necromancer summons the spirits of the Dead, dear,” answered a smooth voice, the tone lilting in that peculiar Canterlot way, as if through inflection alone the speaker was conveying total superiority. “The last known practitioner was Lord Bleak Harvest in the year 12 B.E. He, and his apprentices, were destroyed by Celestia at the battle of Gallows Pass.”

Velvet hardly stifled a sharp intake of breath as her head spun around, a wide, joyful grin stretching from the corners of her eyes. Walking along the grass wearing simple travelling bonnets and cloaks were a pair of unicorns very familiar about the manor.

“Whisper Runes! Glitterdust! What are you doing home so soon?” Velvet cried joyously as she stood up to embrace the two mares. “Comet is going to be delighted.”

The first, Whisper Runes, was a plain looking off-white mare with powder blue mane and eyes. Little crows feet showed in the corners of her smile as she and Velvet shared a quick kiss on the cheek.

Glitterdust was rather attractive, her coat a purer white, and her mane alternating streaks of gold and magenta. Like Velvet and Whisper, her age showed in her periwinkle eyes and the tightness about her face.

“I wasn’t expecting either of you for another fortnight. How is our little Twily? Still adjusting well, I hope.”

“Twilight is Twilight, love,” Glitterdust giggled, her voice having a high, almost shrill, quality about it that most would have found irritating. “Half the time she looks like she’s about to yank out her own mane.”

“The other half she is yelling at somepony complaining about the change to the night sky. So, pretty much as we expected.” Whisper concluded as the mares all took seats around the table. “So, why are you telling our new grandfilly all about the dark arts, Vel?”

“Oh, that,” Velvet blushed, the blood making her cheeks go from grey to light purple. “I’ve been keeping her entertained with the story of my time in the Taiga.”

“Oh? Really! Oh, please continue! I’ve always been so dreadfully curious about those missing years of your life.” Glitterdust placed her chin on folded hooves and gave Velvet what could be equated to ‘foal eyes’, though the look lost some of its lustre coming from a mare in her thirties. "And you've always been so closed about it. Of course, you'll have to tell the foals. They're inside saying hello to their father. So, you'll have to be quick before they turn up and you're forced to repeat everything."

“Since I was going to continue the story regardless...” Velvet gave a teasing sniff, explaining the barest pertinent details so the two would not be too lost before delving back into her tale.

Crisp Winds and Thundering Trumpet continued for some time, talking the politics of the Taiga and sharing rumours and stories. I didn't pay attention, and only much later really understood that what they had been talking about that morning revolved around me. But, at the time, I was more concerned with watching a Snow Butterfly as it flitted and flapped about the wagon than listening to the adults.

Following the butterfly, I trotted around the wagon, stopping only as I bumped nose to nose with a colt. His antlers were shrouded in a soft greenish glow as he lifted boxes up into the wagon, the magic sputtering and dying as his eyes widened at the sight of me.

I’m sorry. Playing.” I said in my broken Halla, my cheeks burning like the arid deserts of the Mild West.

The colt frowned, his dark brown, almost black, eyes searching my face and trailing upwards to fixate on my horn, making me blush harder still.

“I’m not hurt, nothing is broken, I hope, so, apology accepted,” he said in a low, timid mutter as he picked up a box and placed it on the wagon. His accent was heavier than any other Halla I had met that spoke Equestrian. He had to repeat himself a couple times for me to understand what he was saying.

“I’m Velvet, Velvet Sparkle,” I hesitantly said, offering a hoof as mother had shown me.

“I know,” the colt responded, not looking away from his work.

A few, tense moments of silence lingered before I said, “It’s polite to tell a pony your name when they give you theirs.”

Giving me a look of incomprehension, I sighed and switched to Halla, saying, “I give name. You give name.

“Growler.” He stated, hardly looking at me as he concentrated on the boxes.

Seeing I was going to get little more out of him I started to wander back towards Crisp Winds, but stopped as something caught my eye. “You don’t have a Cutie Mark,” I said, pointing at his bare flank.

“Huh? ‘Cutie Mark’?” Growler asked as he placed the last box among its fellows.

“You know, your Mark! It shows your special talent.” I jabbed him a couple times on the flank, earning myself a scathing glare.

“So? I’ve not found my Fau’lla yet,” Growler shrugged, starting to walk away from me.

“But... you were using magic!” I protested, giving an exaggerated wave towards the wagon and boxes. “Like it was easy.”

This caused Growler to stop and give me a perplexed stare. “You are One Horn. Can’t you use magic?”

Instantly I was blushing again, my face puckering into a sour pout. “Unicorns can only do very little magic until we discover our special talents. Only the most powerful unicorns can do more than make their horns glow until then.”

“Really?” Growler took a couple steps closer, examining my horn in greater detail. “Master Trumpet says that the One Horns have the strongest magic. Much stronger than Halla. With spells that can, what is word... jump? Jump. Go from one place to another in poof.”

“Teleport,” I said, stifling a giggle as he struggled. “But Papa said only a few unicorns with talents related to magic can use that spell.”

“So, you can’t tell-e-port, then?” Growler almost seemed sad as he asked the question.

Slowly I just shook my head, and said in a low voice, “I don’t have my Mark yet. But Mama always said that just meant I have potential. I can be anything, or do anything.”

“Hmm,” Gaining a distant glaze to his eyes, Growler looked off towards the hidden horizon. “How do One Horn’s get their Mark?”

Brightening up, I explained all about Cutie Marks; how they would just appear when a pony discovered their hidden talent or potential, how you would just know what it meant, and, for unicorns, how your magic would be unlocked. He listened calmly, asking only a few clarifications as I told him about some of the famous Cutie Marks, like Celestia’s sun, or Star Swirl the Bearded’s vortex of stars. I even managed to get him to laugh as I talked about all the little adventures me and my siblings would have looking for our Marks.

“Why have adventures?” Growler asked, laughter making his accent even thicker, “When you can just take the Brou’alla? It is tonight, and all the youngsters are allowed to participate. Adventures are messy and dangerous.”

“Crisp Winds mentioned something about a Brew-la,” I said. “What is it?”

Growler’s laughter dropped, and he gave me almost a pitying look.

“The Brou’alla is when we find our Mark. You will see tonight. You must come.”

He gave a forceful nod, and I was about to ask for clarification. I was so curious to know how the Brou’alla would help me find my Mark. Papa and Mama had always said that my Mark would come in time, and I needed to be patient. But before I could ask, the Triplets came around the wagon, their expressions of concern vanishing into relief upon seeing me.

“Lady Sparkle, We have been looking everywhere for you,” they said as one.

“White, Red, and Violet,” I squeaked, my mane standing on end at their sudden appearance. “I’m sorry, I’ve just been chatting with my new friend.”

“While we’re certain that the Grandmaster will be pleased to see you making friends; he sent us to find you and bring you to the lodge so you may prepare for the—”

“Brou’alla,” I interjected, pleased that I didn’t mangle the word so badly this time. Skipping towards the Triplets, I waved and said good-bye to my new friend. As we walked back to the lodge, I said, “Growler was telling me all about it. Do you think that Master Crisp Winds will let me take part?”

“We are certain he will, Little One,” they responded, sharing a secret smile among themselves.

Dinner that evening was a splendid affair. The entire lodge gathered, and for the first time in months I felt a sense of warmth. Even after all these years that meal is still so vivid in my memory. The evening sun hung above the tall windows, casting everything in a wonderful, auburn glow. Everyelk was filled with laughter, the Triplets leading the others on with their jokes. Most spent their time jesting and guessing which of the youths would find their marks, and which lodge they would join. More than a few had already changed from their drab blue-black robes into more festive, autumn toned clothes.

The food itself was even more surprising than the glow of the company. It was something I had never seen before, or tasted. Covering the table was roast cabbage swimming in a gravy sauce, something referred to as Figgy Dowdy, corn glazed in spiced butter, succulent brussels fried with pre-boiled potatoes, and several other dishes I couldn’t begin to describe. For drinks there was rye whisky for the Masters, while the journeyelk had a pale ale. My mug was mostly water, with only a hint of the ale and honey. The air was heady and full of the rich smells, and despite the cooked bird sitting at the heart of the display, I found my mouth watering as I heaped my plate high.

As the last of the food was served, Crisp Winds stood, thumping an empty mug for attention. Like the others, he had replaced his robes, but instead of the fall tones, he wore a cloak of raven feathers. Perched upon his head, held firmly between his antlers was a mask made like the namesake of the lodge.

Attention, everyelk and pony, attention. Tonight is the Brou’alla, when the younglings follow in the hoofsteps of our ancestors. For the past cycle they have wandered with the old herds. The yearlings are weaned and have chosen their herds, and tonight those they replace will find their lodge. But before that, we feast! Before we feast, a few announcements.

“Smoldering Pine has been accepted as the new Raven for the Putta’Ti Nomads. Also, the Kuppa’Jo and Flask’Ah are splintering to form a new herd. Eagle Perched Fir is leaving the Flask’Ah to lead this new herd, the Waki’Nin, and has selected the Triplets as his Raven, or I suppose Ravens, in this case. Congratulations, all of you. Do our Lodge proud, and be cunning and quick in your new homes.

A ruckus roar of laughter and stomping of hooves followed the announcements, the mentioned elks’ friends all giving them heartfelt and sincere congratulations. To my left one of the Triplets blushed under the praise one of her peers gave her. Unaware of the significance, but seeing that it was important, I joined in, stamping my hooves and hollering at the top of my voice.

It was as the sun began to kiss the horizon and dip below Ioka’s disc that we were lead from the lodge and up towards the town’s square.

The Halla of the lodge all wore cloaks adorned with black feathers and patterns of stern faced ravens. I wore the dress the Badger Mistress had made.

It wasn't the grandest nor the most beautiful of dresses, but it had an honest, earthy elegance. The auburn fabric hugged my small frame, with slits positions in such a way as to show that I had no mark upon my flanks. The collar was high, and I remember it itched. In my mane the Triplets had braided a few leaves.

Apprehension had replaced my earlier joviality. I would have tried to turn and run back to my room, but pressed in by the Triplets, with Crisp Winds in front, and the rest of the Ravens behind, I was pushed forwards. Head hung low, I was unable to see anything besides the tails of dresses and legs until we reached the gathering.

In a half circle stood all the adults and those too young to take part in the Brou’alla, except for the Grand-masters of the Lodges. Standing before the statue of their Queen, taken from the inner court of the castle, the Grand-masters were all dressed similar to Crisp Winds. It was like a group of were-ponies, or were-elk had stepped out of legend. Fox, Owl, Badger, Bear, Wolf, Eagle, and with Crisp Winds, Raven stood before the thousands of Halla.

To one side, garbed in cloaks covered in frolicking foxes, was a band. Drums and pipes mixed together in a slow, almost droning sound that created a gentle blanket over the gathering. Stepping forward, the Grand Mistress of the Fox Lodge, a slight, almost willowy, hind raised her head towards the rising moon as shadows and stars embraced the world. From her rose a song, high and piercing before swooping into lingering, melancholy notes. Supported by a choir, she swayed from side to side, eyes closed as magic began to dance like silver-blue flames along her antlers, the crowd silenced by her voice.

I felt my cheeks grow damp, and I did not know why I cried, only that my heart felt profoundly weary. For those several minutes as the lament twisted through the elder pines of the Taiga, I wanted nothing more than for my mother to wrap me in her hooves and hold me again.

As the last, tingling notes faded away like snow in the spring, the Grand-Mistress stepped back and Bright Briar took her place.

Duty, Honour, Vigilance,” Bright Briar spoke the words with a slow force that made me want to cringe and hide behind the Triplets. “We are the Halla, and since the time of the Thaw, when the great mother, Ioka, she who holds the world upon her shell, was still young, these words have been our guiding light. When we faltered, the world slipped back into Ice and Shadow and our Queen was lost, not to just us, but to all the races. And so, since the time of our failing, when the second age of ice threatened to drown all beneath frozen tears and the Windigos rampaged unchecked, we have refused to waver again. The Queen in Stone remains safe from the world, and the world safe from her.

Bright Briar retook his spot in the line of Grand-Masters, the head of the Owl lodge stepping forward.

It is the time of the Brou’alla, the time for you of age to learn your role, to find your place, and to meet yourselves. Step forward, and become Halla.

I found myself being pushed forward, and when I looked back I saw the Triplets giving me warm, comforting, and supporting smiles. Swallowing my anxiety, I skittered forward, keeping low between a couple of slightly older colts. Off to my left I saw Growler. He was wearing a fairly plain vest, and tugged at it occasionally as if it were too tight.

Along with nearly a hundred youngsters, I stood before the Grand-Masters as the Grand Owl continued to speak.

Will you be an Eagle, and learn to lead the fragments of Hir’Etirna? Will you be an Owl and give guidance and wisdom, preserving our history and upholding our traditions? Perhaps you are a Wolf, and it is your role to protect and safeguard the future. Are you a Bear, fierce and proud warriors of the Taiga, seeking out the enemies of the Halla? Maybe it is the Fox that calls to you, beauty and music coursing through your veins, song and dance and laughter ever in your heart? Or, is it the Badger where you belong, crafting goods, and maintaining the relics and lodges. If none of these speak to you, it may be the Raven where you belong, studying and discerning the mysteries of magic.

As the Grand Owl spoke several journeyelk of the Owl lodge moved through the crowd carrying draughts. To each youngster they gave a single sip before moving on. When the journeyelk reached me he gave me a cold glare, but offered his cup. Hesitantly, I took a sip, fire and ice leaping across my tongue. A warm, fuzzy haze spread through me, my eyes fluttering shut while the last of the Grand Owls words faded into shadow.

For a short eternity there was nothing but a slow, rhythmically pounding drum and an endless expanse of emptiness neither black nor white, just nothingness. I tried to step forward, but found my legs refused to answer. I tried to call out for Crisp Winds or the Triplets, but my voice was silent.

Then a sound reached my ears, a gentle pat-pat-pat of paws. The pounding drum began to speed as the paws drew nearer, and it was then I recognised the drum as the sound of my own heart.

Out of the emptiness emerged a She-Wolf, her fur a glistening white with a patch of gold between her ears. Eyes blue as the summer sky considered me as the drumbeat slowed. I can not explain why, but I knew no fear of this wolf as she approached, towering above me as she regarded my small form.

Velvet Sparkle,” the She-Wolf said in words that were not words, her voice both silent and echoing like the crash of a storm tossed ocean. “Long has it been since I have seen one of the Unicorns standing before me.

The She-Wolf began to pace around me, taking my measure with cold deliberation. Questions bubbled in my throat, but none found voice.

I see a past scarred by fangs. You’ve known loss, and you will know loss again before you can leave the Taiga. You’ve known joy, and you will know joy again before you’ll again walk the fields protected by She of the Sun. Yours is a cruel fate, to be a mother, but to not be a mother. It is among the Wolf you belong.

Lies and truth! She is a Wolf, but also more than a Wolf!” Screeched another voice.

From above descended a great raven, the bird spinning over the wolf as she cawed.

She is also of the Raven; magic is in her veins running deep and strong. Mysteries and secrets of Ioka will be laid bare before her, and she will pass them on. Spells not seen for an age will be hers to command. It is among the Raven she belongs.

The raven gave a stern flick of her wings as it landed between the wolf and I.

She is more than even the two of you.” rumbled a third voice, and out of the nothingness stepped a bear tall as the mountains, her fur rolling over her colossal frame. “Velvet Sparkle is a Bear. Foes will be laid bloody and torn beneath her hooves, struck low by unflagging courage. She has seen evil, and, in time, she will refuse to let it take root and steal from others as it stole from her. It is among the Bear she belongs.

The three spirits looked towards me, and in turn they spoke.

Wolf!

Raven!

Bear!

As one they continued.

You are all of us, and we are all in you. Three guiding stars, three purposes. Not at odds, but in unity. We are your Mark. Know us, and know yourself.

Their voice still echoing across the empty expanse, the three began to fade away. Upon my flank I felt a cool touch, like the caress of an icy winter wind whistling down the Canterhorn. As it passed, the nothingness grew up and swallowed me too.

Author's Note:

This took -ages- to write. Several times I got stuck and would take the story back to the point just after Velvet was taken the the Raven lodge. I just didn't know where to go or what to do with the story beyond a couple basic ideas that Velvet spends a few years in the Taiga and somehow, at some point, for some reason, releases Iridia from her stone prison. Hopefully it wont be months until the next part is finished.

Eventually I settled on really embracing this being an Adventure Story. Mostly do to watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Before the Adventure elements were going to be more subdued and really only present in the first part/chapter.

The Hobbit made me consider using a Necromancer as a villian, and with ground-work done on the subject in Myths (or maybe just Myths world-bible... I get the two confused sometimes) it is feeling like the right choice. Once that decision was made I naturally had to tip my hat to Tolkien with 'Daring Do and the bones of Mount Guldur'.

Something that I want to mention is that Velvet is making parts of the story up and mixing in truths and half-truths of what she experienced in the Taiga. It is one of the reasons I've chosen to write this story in this format. Wanting to try my hand at a Princess Bride style narrative also helped.

Lastly, the song that the Grand Fox sings was inspired by Dead Can Dance - Host of Seraphim.