In the deep purple before dawn, a lone figure saddled a chestnut horse. Steamy breath from the nostrils of the steed warmed the young elf's shoulder in the chill sea air. Finally the tack was set; a brief pat on his mount's neck was answered with a whinny and a friendly head nudge from the big animal. Taking the reins in hand, the rider swung into the saddle with practiced ease. He guided the beast toward the lantern, which cast an eerie ballet of shadows on the walls of the stable. The rider leaned out and extinguished the candles flame with a quick breath. For a few moments he sat motionless on the horse, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness. With a click of his tongue and a gentle prodding of heels, the rider guided the horse into the courtyard of the House Ellisa-artix.
The moon, low in the sky, gave a faint iridescence to the walls. Above in the waning night sky the stars were still discernible. All in the house were still in bed, for came no lights from any window of the silent house. There was no familiar smell of talf to greet the rider as he rode through the still dew-covered yard leaving clear prints in the grass at his passing. The mount's footfalls echoed on the cobblestones as they approached a vine-covered arch; the rider grasped a handful of leaves as they passed under, and the aroma of the crushed foliage was sharp and strong. As his horse stepped onto the faint trail leading westward, the elf popped a leaf into his mouth. Savoring the tangy flavor explosion as he chewed. As he rode he carefully placed the remaining leaves in his vest pocket for later, knowing it would be some time before he stopped for a meal.
A deep thrumming disturbed his thoughts. The horse nickered.
"Ampur!" came the intense thoughts of Oren, the sword at the rider's belt. "We must go quickly. If you delay you will not be present for the event."
"Oren!" Ampur whispered, with a laugh. "You will give me a headache. We will be there in time. It's only a day's ride and we are leaving a whole day and a half before the vesting."
"Do not torment me. You know how much I love to be at the birth of a sword. Ride and don't spare this nag! He will walk slowly if you let him."
"Oh, we are testy this morning, aren't we?" Teased Ampur. "I do believe that my most worthy steed, whom I might add, is often more than most can handle, just might walk very slowly if you said that for him to hear." With a nudge of his knees to the sides of his horse Ampur left his ancestral home and headed on the faint trail westward at a brisk canter. He had begun his journey toward the Sacred Grove of Amber, a road he had traveled many times before.
The rhythmic beat of his mount caused Ampur's mind to wander as he rode. Soon his thoughts turned to Faustine. He remembered how she looked the last time he watched her, three months ago, on the practice field. Diligently she had worked through a series of complicated steps for a counter move that she and Cumbryn had worked long hours to perfecting. A smile came to his face as he pictured how her body had moved, how every muscle seemed to be under her complete control, how the perspiration beaded on her forehead as she pushed herself to get each step just right.
Pushed the thought from his mind, knowing he could not dwell on Faustine, for tomorrow she was to be vested. He had felt an attraction to her since he had first seen her when she was a very intense five-year-old elf, and he had been eleven. Being both first born, he had often been at events where he had seen her fencing skills grow and improve. As the years passed often had they spared together and though he had tried to not admit it to himself he grown quit fond of her until he found that his thoughts were more of Faustine than his own training. By tradition first borns almost never married another first born. On his vested day he had hoped that this would be an exception. But alas, time passed and she still had not been named as his mate. Nor had another been named for him. Now, the day before Faustine's own vesting, as he rode to meet the procession at the forest entrance, he knew that the last rays of hope were almost gone. Though he was happy for her and knew no one who deserved this more than Faustine, he still felt a tiny pang for the girl he had become so enchanted with.
As the sun began to glimmer on the horizon, Ampur breakfasted on bread and dried fruit and did not notice the mornings long shadows that began to creep across their path. The slight morning breeze effected these adumbrations, where the light struck the ground the dew picked up those rays giving the appearance of a sprinkling of gems strewn in their path. As the elongated umbrages played their slow dance across their track the gems appeared to wink on and off causing an ever-darker depth to the centers of the shadows. Matlon whinnied and began to shy away from the darkness. The sudden side step nearly unseated Ampur. With a steady hand on the reins and firm voice, Ampur guided his skittish mount through the quagmire of undulating specters that unnerved his mount. Though he was often teased over his horse's tendency to fear shadows, Ampur knew he would not trade Matlon any more than he could give up Oren.
"There is a difference between that beast and me, whom, I might interject, is a dumb animal, and will do almost anything I tell it to do. Where I, on the other hand am a part of you and not just a sword," Oren huffed.
"It was only a thought. If you had not been eavesdropping in my head you would not have heard what I was thinking," laughed Ampur.
"If you were not so lost in your thoughts this morning we would have been passing the time of day as is our usual custom. Would it not?"
"Okay, okay. You win. If you help with Matlon I will be more communicative."
"That is a very easy task."
Ampur allowed Oren to take control and the sword's ka enveloped both rider and horse. The steed, used to this transference, welcomed the gentle urging and as the shadows lessened, picked up his pace on the road. Matlon's even gait was a pleasure and with Ampur's easy seat and tall stature the two were well suited for each other. Without the need to guide his mount, Ampur was able to take in his surroundings with a closer eye. A few early flowers were beginning to appear, marking the approach of warmer weather. As the darkness of night continued to trade for lightening shadows, Oren chatted away. He shared every tidbit of news he had heard as the day slide by as did the miles.
"Finally Jaen's wielder is expecting," prattled Oren. "I am sure it will be a happy event. Tyen says they will be at the vesting and is glad we are coming. Fren misses us, but I told him not to anguish. We will be there soon. Copren admires Remoreth's latest workouts on the practice fields. They are very proud of his development the last few months. Boasts that when he is vested it will be a big spark. Raen is boasting again about his Jonspar as if he were the parent. He thinks his first born is the only one to ever get a tooth or start walking. I think he is just bragging. Zocen announced the mating of her wielder to Fabfen's second born."
"Oren, enough already," Ampur protested. "You rattle off sword names without giving me a chance to remember who wields whom."
Before Ampur could get another word out, Oren leapt in, "Jaen is wielded by Latna of house Jason-lavardac. Tyen's wielder is Koren of house Turbal-morcenx. You know that Lutman wields Fren for he is the patriarch of house Ampurias-gets."
As Oren's diatribe of who was who droned on, Ampur watched the sun crest the treetops to the east. The glint of sun shimmered off his silver hair in the bright morning light. Ampur looked around, his violet eyes taking in all his surroundings without missing much. He spotted a hedgehog rooting at the base of a clump of bushes and squirrel racing up the sunny side of a tree. Bird songs could be heard in the forest and he scanned the branches tiring to spot the warbler. Finally he sighted a small cannery, feathers proudly puffed out, near a nest determinedly trying to attract a mate. A splash of bright yellow on the side of the path caught his attention as he passed, where crocuses pushed up through the duller greens and browns of winter.
"Amper, are you listening to me?" Oren bemoaned.
"Yes, Oren I heard every word you are saying. " Ampur mussed.
Oren continued to babble on. "Copren is held by Lenoreth of house Cumbryn-auzon. The wielder that bears Raen is Arton of house Aprol-chagny. Zocen is wielded by Turan of house Turbal-morcenx. Callparra of house Parreth-tarnos wields Fabfen."
Ampur laughed to himself and let Oren ramble. He knew that Oren would continue for hours, and if stopped, the sword would just pout. The early morning sun provided little warmth and Ampur kept his cloak wrapped tightly around his body. Despite the early spring growth, the weather would not turn appreciably warmer until the summer solstice, still three months away on the first day of Floras, the fifth month. At least the afternoon would be warm and the days were already getting longer.
His mind again wandered to thoughts of Faustine. Gifted with sword and strong in body, she was a pleasure to watch on the practice field. Again an image of Faustine, hair damp from a workout, walked through his mind. Trying to take his mind off of Faustine, Ampur checked the height of the sun in the sky, and figured that he had about four more hours before he would stop for the night.
End of Prolgue to the Rite of the First Born.