Daughter of Benik [Prologue]
Year: 1589, the tenth year of the dynasty of King Ephesus II
Place: Castle of Mer, the oceanic city of Zorr, in the kingdom of Korda.
Queen Ishi, dressed as a peasant, quickly gave kisses to her triplet children. Princess Enka, the eldest of the three, was handed to the king’s best friend and bodyguard, Lord Bhodar. Prince Illac, the second child and the eldest son, stood with his tutor, Professor Garian. Lastly, Prince Benik, the youngest of the three, was brought to their nurse Merri. Dressed in peasant garbs like their mother, all three children looked at her with fear and sadness. The queen slipped a bracelet on Enka’s wrist; then she gave Illac an emerald ring. Lastly she came to Benik, her youngest, and placed an aquamarine pendant around his neck. The little prince watched the queen move away from him as she gave her last instructions to her servants:
“I give you my authority in taking these children with you. Leave this place through secret passages on the east and north. The horses are saddled and ready for you there. Be careful that they do not follow you. Do not worry about me for the High King is watching over me as he is watching over all of you. If something happens to me please raise these children as your own and keep their royal blood a secret, for those who serve Beliar may still seek their blood. My blessings are with you. May the High King lead you to safety. Now go! We must leave this place.”
The paired groups scattered, disappearing through various corridors to leave the castle. Merri, out of fear, anxiously ran down the secret stairwell with little Benik. Benik felt his face painfully hit the wall as his nurse tripped on the bottom step accidentally landing on the prince. The prince wailing in pain, Merri quickly got up as she took the little boy into her arms. She wept apologetically as she carried him to the hidden exit leading to the stable. It began to rain as the pair safely left the castle on horseback.
A black-cloaked army reached the castle; with them they brought torches that flapped in the wind like blazing banners. Like a sea of darkness and flames the army silently surrounded the castle. Rain poured in buckets putting out their torches. They brought out their gleaming black swords and lit their blades, eerie blood-coloured flames blazed under the darkened sky. One of them, who rode on a black stallion wearing a mask of death, turned to a group of them commanding them to search the castle, making sure that no one escapes.
Moments later, the group returned reporting that the castle was deserted and because of the heavy rain they could not find the tracks of the fugitives. The leader commanded the army to set the castle on fire so that no one would be able to return to it. The cloaked followers lit the castle as their leader watched gloating over their victory.
Meanwhile, Merri rode through the woods as she calculated a plan. Prince Benik sat obediently in front of her on the saddle, his face pale with fear and anxiety. She wanted to ride through the woods crossing the border into the next kingdom, yet, she knew it would be impossible because of the mountain roads sealed and guarded by the followers of Beliar. What’s more, even if they did attempt the risk of crossing the mountains on foot the weather would make their journey even more arduous. The woods grew along the side a huge steep hill, the rain would make rivers off of mudslides due to the exposed surfaces, and riding across this hill would be just as dangerous. Hearing the pounding of hooves off in a distance behind them, Merri quickly changed her plans.
The nurse slid off her horse and helped the prince off. She slapped the horse on its rump making it gallop through the woods in the opposite direction, praying that their pursuers would follow the horse. Then, taking the prince’s hand in hers, Merri ran – praying for an escape. Hearing the sound of horses, they hid in a nearby cave. Pressing themselves against the cave wall, they watched the cave entrance listening as a band of black-cloaked people rode past them.
Oh, Ishual, she prayed, is there any way for us both to escape. If not the both of us at least save this child – for my sake. Tears streamed her face with the rainwater.
The band stopped not far from there. She panicked; unsure of what to do she held her breath. Then she heard a snarling sound behind her. Horrified, she turned and came face to face with a bear. The bear snarled again.
Merri begged quietly, “Please. If you are to eat one of us, please eat me, but not the child.”
Benik buried his face into the drenched cloak of his nurse.
The bear looked at the two intruders. Then pointing his snout towards the entrance he sniffed the air outside. He again looked at her, only this time his eyes were gentle. To the nurse’s surprise, the creature turned and headed towards where the riders were. Then, she heard a still voice from within her.
Follow the tunnel of his den with your hand on the wall at your right, you should come to the back entrance. Exit from there. The nurse hesitated. Go! Now! Before they come!
Taking the boy by the hand she ran, following the mysterious instructions, through be a dark tunnel in the den. Trusting that they could make to safety they ran further and further down into the tunnel. Then, they felt the route suddenly going up and up.
“Nanny Merri,” said Benik, “I could hear the waters rushing.”
“I do too,” said the nurse as they made their way up, the sound grew louder and louder to their ears.
They stopped and came before a waterfall. Merri looked around her, the path stopped at where they stood. She looked up. The way up was too steep and slippery to climb.
“Oh, Ishual! What are we to do?” she cried out.
She heard footsteps approaching them. Knowing that those were not the footsteps of a bear she frantically looked around for a way of escape. She looked at Benik.
Kneeling to his height she asked gently, “Benik, can you swim?”
“I swam in a rainy day once, but you’ve scolded me for that because I could catch my deaths,” replied the boy.
“Nanny will not scold you this time,” Merri said solemnly, “Could you dive and swim from here?”
The boy prince looked down the falls then at Merri. “I think so,” he nodded.
“Wonderful!” Merri embraced him. “Then, do that for your nanny.” She stroked his injured face and added sadly, “I’m sorry for hurting you,”
“It’s all right, Nanny. I’m a big boy now!” Benik straightened himself proudly.
The nurse smiled and embraced the little boy. She was going to miss her prince. “Then, go now, my little prince. May the High King be with you!” She said, quickly pressing him near the edge.
The boy looked at her then at the water.
“Go!” cried the nurse as she made her way back to the tunnel.
Benik hesitated as he heard his nurse screaming, a painful cry rang in the tunnel. He stood in fear. “Nanny?” he called quietly.
Suddenly, a group of cloaked men appeared with blood stained swords. Benik shook in horror as he watched them approach him. Stepping back, his foot slipped as he felt himself fall in to the cascade of waters.
* * * * * * * * * *
Year: 1800 AD
Place: Canadian Prairies (Canada)
Chief Gold-Bear rode on his horse as he and his men made their way back from their buffalo hunt.
“Wait till the elders see all the buffalo meat we would bring home, Father!” said Sky-Eyes to his father, White-Owl.
The men smiled in response. This was the first buffalo hunt for some of the young men like Sky-Eyes.
As the hunting band made their way towards a river, Gold-Bear noticed something near the water’s edge. Holding up his hand he halted the group and had Thunder-Voice examine the unidentified being.
Within moments, Thunder-Voice returned with a young boy in his arms.
“He looks like one of those people whom we’ve heard about – Whitemen,” said Earth-Hawk.
Gold-Bear looked at the boy. Noticing a chain hanging from his neck he looked at it. It was a strong gold chain that had a smooth polished stone on it – the colour of the sky and water in the shape of a seashell. The clothes the boy wore were just as strange. They were not made of soft buckskin, but something much thinner and softer. The boy’s clothes were covered in mud and water scum, hiding the colour of the cloth. Gold-Bear knew that this boy had come from a band of great people and somewhere else.
“Thunder-Voice, let him ride with you on your horse. We will take care of the boy and find out who he is.”
Benik opened his eyes and found himself in a tent. As he sat up and looked around, he saw a girl with black braids sitting near the fire stirring its embers. Seeing Benik up, she quickly left the place and returned with a strong looking man with flowing black hair.
“I am Thunder-Voice and this is my daughter, Autumn-Wind,” said the man in a deep strong voice, “And who do we have the honour of meeting?”
Benik looked at the man and the girl. “I’m Benik, son of King Ephesus II and Queen Ishi,”
Thunder-Voice looked at him with a confused expression. “Is your father a chief himself?” he asked.
“A chief?” Benik asked.
“A leader of his people,”
“Yes, I suppose you would call him that,” Benik looked at them just as confused. “Could you tell me where I am?”
“You are in my tent, in our village.”
“Yes, but where is your village? Is it in Korda or is this another land?”
“Korda? This is just a land we live on, the land which the Great Spirit has guided us to live upon.”
Benik sat there blankly. “This isn’t Korda?”
“We do not know a place called Korda,” Thunder-Voice replied.
Benik suddenly ran out of the tent.
“Where are you going?” asked Autumn-Wind.
Benik stopped suddenly staring at his surroundings in disbelief. I don’t recognize this place! he thought, This isn’t Korda!
A group of strange unfamiliar people stopped what they were doing and stared at the strange boy. Some children who were playing also stopped to stare at the young stranger’s foreign features and clothes.
Benik ran his fingers through his dark brown hair; scenes of his past came back to him. His mother, his sister and brother, his father, the people who wanted him and his family dead, Nanny Merri.... A painful blow shot through his head, Benik held his head as he cried out. Overwhelmed by the pain, he sank to the ground. A still gentle voice whispered in his heart, I will protect you and watch over you. You will be all right.