Before the Gathering Dark
“I am sick of wearing purple,” Luna Queen Lyria said. “I can’t believe I would ever say it, but it’s true! And with Gathering Dark approaching, I know everyone is expecting me to once again wear the royal shade. I want to do something different,” she added. Her fingers nimbly flicked through racks of dresses, deftly separating ones she liked.
“What about white? Or green?” her friend, Aertis asked. Her voice was muffled from behind a staggeringly large armful of dresses, piled above her head.
“Goddess colors,” scoffed Lyria. “I said something different,” she added.
“Gathering Dark is a celebration of the day the Goddess burst forth from the great nothing, the day she began to form our world as we know it, and you don’t want to wear her colors?”
Lyria sighed. “I’m being a spoiled brat, I know.”
“Well, I can’t imagine Warrior Lyria, my best friend, ever complaining that her gowns were too Royal, too rich, too fancy,” Aertis said with a little laugh. Somehow she managed to give Lyria a little elbow in the side without knocking over the massive pile of dresses she was holding. “And perhaps I’m just overeager myself. It’s the first Gathering Dark since Lyle became Alpha of Winding Road! I want to look a fit Luna,” she said. Lyria detected the tiniest trace of nerves in her best friend’s voice.
Lyria chuckled. “Are those nerves, Aertis? I would never have guessed.”
Aertis tipped the massive pile of dresses onto a nearby counter, panting slightly with the effort. Lyria grinned at the slight frame of her friend as it appeared from behind silks and chiffons. Aertis had dark, silky hair and pretty, large eyes in a grey-blue color that Lyria had always envied. “I’m not nervous!” Aertis protested. “I am trying to be exacting so that nothing goes wrong.”
“Because something could go wrong, and that is a possibility about which you are…?”
“Aware,” Aertis said firmly, her eyes sparkling in jest.
“The silver,” Lyria said, pointing to one of the dresses. “It goes with your eyes,” she added. Aertis held it up, looking over the fine stitching and gossamer fabric. Then she nodded.
“Well, that’s me sorted, then,” she said. “But what about you?” she pointed to the much smaller pile of dresses draped over Lyria’s arm.
“I don’t know,” sighed Lyria. Just then, from the back of the shop came a woman holding aloft a beautiful blue gown the color of the night sky, which shimmered somehow despite the lack of jewels or glitter adorning it.
“I heard you say that you wanted something different for Gathering Dark,” said the shopkeeper, Krinnia.
“Oh, thank you!” Lyria said, rushing over to examine the dress. “It’s beautiful. And it is perfect.”
An hour later, Lyria and Aertis emerged from the shop onto the busy streets of Cyrrillest, the capital city where Lyria now lived as Luna Queen. Her guards stood watch outside, five of them gathered and casting wary eyes at the wolves who rushed to and fro along the busy, wide cobblestones.
“She said the dresses would be sent along by tomorrow, right?” Lyria asked. Aertis nodded. “Excellent. She does such lovely work. Perhaps the best thing that Mannon Windmere ever did for us was introducing us to Krinnia.”
“That and arranging for you to come here and meet your husband,” joked Aertis.
“For that, I credit Duke Greyfur,” laughed Lyria. “Not the traitor.” The two friends strolled the streets as they talked, not going anywhere in particular.
“Would you like to get lunch? I have to return to the castle soon, Wallace wants to have a portrait painted of us,” Lyria said. She laughed as she added, “Wyatt was to be included, but we can’t get him to stand still. So we will see if the artist can paint him from memory!”
“Of course,” Aertis said. “Perhaps the tavern with the excellent ham and cheese pie?”
“I like the way you think,” Lyria said. “I’ve been exceedingly hungry these past few days.” As they wound their way through the city streets, the people walking past moved to the sides, allowing their Luna Queen a wide berth. Her crown and her entourage of guards marked with the Palace crest announced her identity, but so too did her popularity among the commoners.
“Well, you are in luck then, if you can manage to sustain yourself until Gathering Dark!” Aertis said. The evening was famous for the feasts, the carousing, and the dancing. She looped her arm through Lyria’s, steering their steps toward the alley. It was a shortcut toward the tavern.
“I’m so glad you are going to be here for the festival,” said Lyria, who leaned into her friend’s warm embrace. “If there is any downside to my marriage to the King, it is our separation.”
“I agree,” Aertis said. “And I am not convinced it is worth it. After all, love is one thing. But friendship? Well… King Wallace cannot be an adequate replacement for me.”
“Never,” giggled Lyria, squeezing her friend’s arm.
“Good then it is decided, you’ll just have to move back to Winding Road and never–” Aertis stopped short as an old, frail woman barged onto their path, blocking the way through the narrow alley. Though it was midday, the high buildings on each side blocked out much of the sun. Still, Lyria could see that the woman was looking directly at her, and immediately knew that the woman had not stumbled into her path by mistake.
Aertis gasped softly as her gaze fell upon the woman. She was old, and her eyes were milky white and withered from years of study, reading the Voices of the Goddess, and bent in prayer in darkened rooms. Her hair was shaven.
The guards moved swiftly forward, hands extending out to push the woman backward and out of the Luna Queen’s way. But Lyria held up a hand.
“This woman is a Mystic Major,” she announced. It was the most vaunted position in the Keeping of the Shrine, an honor after a lifetime of service to the Goddess. Mystic Majors were blessed with the Goddess Sight, speaking both to her on the behalf of wolves in the Kingdom and on her behalf to the citizens.
The woman drew in a deep breath, her lips tattooed a deep black, like the void from which the Goddess was born. Then she spoke, her withered eyes never leaving Lyria’s face.
"I see his shadow, dark and deep, the power to make Kings weep. You think, as Queen, the danger passed. You'll save us all or be the last.”
Lyria felt her brow furrow in confusion and awe. “A prophecy?” she whispered. The woman nodded. Then, she stepped forward until she was close enough to touch Lyria. Extending one hand, she placed it on Lyria’s stomach.
“Protect the child,” the woman said. Before Lyria could react, the woman had turned, and she was rushing off toward the end of the alley.
A second of shock faded and Lyria rushed after the woman, but by the time Lyria reached the main street, Aertis and the guards just behind her, the woman had melted away into the crowd.
Lyria spun around, looking for the woman. She was gone. One hand still cradling the place on her stomach where the Mystic Major had caressed, Lyria felt faint. She put out a hand and grasped at Aertis just as the world spun around her, her eyes closed, and she faded into a gentle nothingness.