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Prologue A Chance Meeting?

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A Chance Meeting?

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Margaret Furrier sat on the bank of the stream, daydreaming. She was of average height but very thin, and as she sat looking into the water, she couldn't help but notice that her hair needed washing. It hung in lank, brown curls around her mousey face, which also needed to be washed. Her cheeks looked bruised, but it was just the grime that seemed to stick to everything in this part of the world. Margaret's eyes were a muddy green color that her father often referred to as fecal-green. Even with her curls hanging around her face, she couldn't help but notice her overlarge ears sticking out. The only part of her face that wasn't misshapen or ugly was her nose. It sat small and perfect in the middle of her face, almost as if to show the rest of her features what flawlessness looked like. She hated her ears, her hair, her entire face. But the thing she hated the most was that perfect little nose. 

Margaret picked up a small pebble and watched as the ripples were swallowed by the water flowing into and out of the small pool. The pool was in the shadow of a bridge her father had built years before she had been born. It was safe to let her mind wander here. She knew this to be fact, for she had lived in this glen her whole life. Margaret had been coming to this same stream alone for twelve years, since her fifth birthday, when her father had decided she was old enough to "pull her own weight".

She had never seen any sign of any kind of predator. There was barely any prey here for them to come after. Margaret's father was a trapper, the best in the kingdom, truth be told. Unfortunately, Victor was also a terrible drunk. Not only did he get violent when he was "in his cups", as her eldest sister, Cynthia, referred to it, but he would often forget to check his traps (or sometimes even remember where the traps were) until the animals had already rotted. The meat and pelt would be ruined and worthless. They very rarely had any money. When they did, her father spent it on booze or lost it gambling at Vrrnin's Tavern. To make matters worse, most of the people in the town nearest to them, Krantz, knew of her father's condition. No one came to visit and she was left to take care of him by herself. She felt alone. 

She knew nothing of her mother. Margaret would often imagine that her mother was a queen and had moved to some rich kingdom. One day she would return and rescue her youngest daughter. But that was all fantasy and wishful thinking, Margaret's mother had died giving birth to her. Margaret did not even know her mother's name. Victor refused to speak his wife's name and forbid his older daughters from talking about their mother for as long as Margaret could remember. Besides, who would come and rescue someone as ugly as her.

Margaret's three older sisters had all left home within the last year. Megan, the second born of the four Furrier daughters, had left first. She had married a miller from Garn, a prosperous kingdom that was a week's ride to the east.

Cynthia had left next. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Cynthia left home though. She had always been the most pious of the girls. She prayed to Pelor morning, noon, and night. Pelor had begun granting her spells and powers last winter. When spring came and she travel without the hindrance of snow, Cynthia had packed her bags, hugged her sisters, and left, travelling in the direction of the rising sun. She was most likely a cleric in a church in some grand city. Or perhaps, off protecting heroes as they fought the evils of the world. Regardless of where Cynthia was at the moment, Margaret knew where she wasn't. Cynthia wasn't here and most likely would never return.

The last, Olivia, had left only four months prior. Olivia had always been the most carefree. That also made her the most flighty. When the traders left following The Harvest to carry the goods of Krantz out into the world, Olivia had left too. She had not even told Margaret that she was leaving.

Margaret had gotten up the day after the holiday and the house was empty. She had checked around, but there was no sign of her father or sister. She knew where her father would be found. Margaret had travelled to town to collect her father from Vrrnin, along the way she inquired about Olivia. Not one person she talked to that day had seen her sister that morning or the day before. In fact, the last one to see Olivia was Patrick, the brother of Margaret's best friend. He had seen Olivia two nights prior going into the tent of one of the traders around dark. Since the trader was now gone, and Olivia along with him, Margaret was left with nothing else to do except get her father and return home. She could not stop the wave of lonliness that washed over her that day as she made her way to Vrrnin's tavern. Now she could not help but feel the way she felt about it. At least before they had left, she had someone to talk to. She couldn't believe they had all left her here alone. 

Margaret was hurt by the fact that no one seemed to care about her. They had left her here to take care of a man who had not cared for anyone, not even his girls or himself, since the day his wife had died. They were all off living their lives. Meanwhile, she was left here to rot. Alone. Without anyone to talk to for days and days while Victor was off on a "hunt". 

On the far side of the stream, a knight approached, but Margaret, lost in her own thoughts, didn't notice him. He was following the same path Margaret and Victor used to get from their house to the road to Krantz. The knight was in the open and made no effort to mask the sound of his footsteps. He did not want to startle the young woman on the far side of the small, obviously handmade, wooden bridge.

He carried a bucket in his hand. He had only stopped because he was still a few hours from Krantz and his horse, Blackfoot, needed water. He had been hearing the stream for the last half hour. When he came to the path leading in the direction of the sound of the running water, he knew a brief stop was necessary. He would still get to Krantz before the gate was shut for the night. 

The knight reached the end of the path and still the maiden sat staring into the water. He stood there, a slight smile on his face. The knight couldn't help himself from admiring her. Even though he was old enough to have been the girl's father, he had always liked his women young. He always made sure they were of age, lest he suffer the ire of his superior's and more importantly his god. Heironeous had stripped him of his power once before. It had taken him twelve years (one year for each year the girl had lived before meeting him) to atone for his sins and regain his power. Now at 38, he hoped this girl was seventeen. 

"Excuse me, fair maiden," said the knight, his voice was deep and gravelly, "May I bother you, my horse needs a bucket or two of water, if you would be so kind."

Margaret jumpped and looked in the direction of the voice that had startled her back to herself. Across the stream from her stood a tall man in shiny fullplate armor. There was a white rose emblazoned on his chest. He was nearly six and a half feet tall. He had a handsome face with the full moustache and well trimmed beard common among the Knights of Light. His hair was dark, almost black, with just the slightest touches of gray near his temples. Even though he was almost the same age as her father, you could tell that the knight took good care of his body. She realized that she had not answered him yet and was afraid if she did not speak soon that she would look foolish. She just couldn't believe anyone had addressed her as fair. No one had ever approached her in any way that made her feel the warm tingle inside that she was feeling in this instant.

"Y-y-yes s-s-sure," she stammered, motioning with her right arm toward the water between them. "H-help yourself. The water does not belong to me."

Margaret hated when she stuttered. It was a flaw she had developed at an early age. Luckily, she only stuttered when she was nervous. Unfortunately, she was nervous all the time. It was just another thing for everyone to harass her for. Sure, they all called it "poking fun", but it never seemed fun to Margaret.

The knight could see her slipping back into her own thoughts and realized that she must spend a lot of time by herself.  Behind her he could see the small house that must be her home. It appeared clean and well-kept, yet there was a sense of loss and hopelessness hanging over the entire clearing like a shroud. It was like some vital part was missing and even the trees, grass, dirt and sky could feel the loss.

"Thank you very much miss, I'm sorry, I did not catch your name," the knight said, hoping to draw her attention back to him.

"My name is Margaret Furrier, sir."

She seemed to be finding herself again, for which she was thankful. The thing she feared worst in life was to look foolish or unrefined around the wrong people. Even though her family was poor, or perhaps because of this, she had learned that what people thought of you and the way you acted were what determined the pinnacle in life that you could achieve. And here was someone new, who did not know her father, or his ways. Though she may be dirty from hard work, she would not embarass herself anymore than she already had. If he looked down on her because she had to work hard, then that was out of her control.

"Veldrane Von Ravair, Master Sergeant of the Knights of Light, at your service, Miss Furrier. I do hope it's Miss," the knight implored as he crossed the bridge to where she stood.

Margaret couldn't believe it. He was flirting with her. She looked around to make sure her father had not returned from his latest hunting trip early. She would die of embarassment if he showed up now.

Nice to meet you, sir knight," Margaret returned, reaching out her hand. 

"IDIOT'" she screamed at herself inside her head, snapping her hand back to her side hard enough that when she removed her breeches later that night, she had a bruise the size of an apple. Men did not shake hands with women in noble circles, everyone knew that. She had made the gesture without thinking, there was something so entrancing about this man. 

The knight chuckled, "I grew up a peasant not far from here. It's okay. I won't tell anyone, if you don't."

He reached down and touched her hand.

"Do you mind," he asked quietly.

Margaret was sure he was going to shake her hand to try to help assuage her embarassment. She shook her head so slightly it was almost imperceptible.

Instead of the hardy shake (and joke she was sure would follow), Veldrane dropped to one knee and lifted her hand to his lips. He kissed it ever so softly on the webbing between her thumb and first finger.

"Please forgive me for being so bold, but there is something about you that I find captivating," the knight said in a voice barely above a whisper as he rose back to his feet.

Margaret felt her cheeks heat up. She was blushing. She could not help it. Margaret hoped the knight would not notice, but knew he did when he averted his gaze to give her time to compose herself. She reached her small hand up and touched his cheek. Slowly, she turned his face back toward her. Their eyes truly met for the first time. Muddy green and ice blue intertwined for a brief second, but in that second, Margaret realized she would go blindly into whatever future lay ahead of this knight if only he would have her, for as long as he would have her.

"It's fine, Veldrane, if I may? I won't tell anyone if you don't. If I may be so bold as you, I implore his majesty, may I travel with you? I need to get away from the monotony of this existence, and now may be the only chance I will ever get. My father is away on a hunt when a mysterious stranger shows up. One who is 'captivated' by me," she said.

Margaret was trying to flirt back by turning his own phrases and words back on him. She hoped this was how this worked, she had never had the opportunity to try flirting with anyone before, and now was not the time to say or do the wrong thing. Not when her sanity hung at stake.

When he didn't answer immediately, she continued, "Please, sir, even if you did not mean any romantic overtures, please be so kind as to let me travel with you until I gain enough knowledge of the world to make it on my own. She had never been so forward or felt so bare as she did in the few moments it took the knight to find his tongue.

"I would be thrilled for you to travel with me, but I have to be in Krantz by nightfall when they shut the gates, if at all possible. Can you grab your belongings you need quickly? Or perhaps I can stop back by in a fortnight when I head back to Shrain?"

"No, if I go back to the house I may lose my nerve.  I will get clothes and equipment as soon as I can make some money. I have a friend in Krantz who will lend me the few things I will need until then. Shall we?"

Margaret walked across the bridge and started up the path to the road without awaiting a reply. She had the answer she wanted and was not going to back down now. Behind her the knight knealt and filled his bucket with water for Blackfoot. He stood and followed her up the short path back to the road.

Margaret crested the hill beside the road. There she stopped to turn and smile down at the man she had just pledged herself to. For an instant there was a look of doubt on his face. There and gone, she tried to convince herself that it was a trick of the light as the sun passed in and out of the clouds overhead. Looking back though, she knew better.....

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