The Omaja Stone

By: Jayla Jasso

ONE



Someone was walking slowly along the dusty road toward Stovy Farm. Two someones, upon closer inspection—a young man and a little girl. They were barefoot, Jiandra noticed as they started across the stone bridge that gave access to her land. It was early autumn, too chilly to go without shoes.

And something about their postures as they walked struck her as not quite right.

Her younger brother, Rafe, followed her line of vision. “Who is that, Sister?”

“I don’t know. Go get your brother from the barn.” Jiandra took his pail of raspberries and set it on the stoop as he ran to alert Elio.

The ragged-looking pair drew near, pale and gaunt. The boy looked about fifteen or sixteen and the little girl about seven. Their matted grayish hair and piercing silver eyes were unmistakable: they were Nandals, from the troubled country bordering prosperous Villeleia to the northeast. The girl stared up at Jiandra, her expression a mixture of fear and defiance. Now-dried tears had streaked through the dust on her cheeks, and dark circles ringed her eyes.

The boy spoke in heavily accented Villeleian. “Very, very sorry to bother you. We are lost.”

Lost. The word echoed in Jiandra’s mind, hung there like an omen. “Where do you live?”

He reached down to grasp the little girl’s hand. “Nowhere. We were living in a barn, but the farmer killed our father, and we fled.”

“Killed your father?” Jiandra’s gaze shifted to the girl’s face. She had the peculiar feeling she was seeing a reflection of herself from six years before when her own parents were killed.

Elio appeared at Jiandra’s side, towering over the Nandal boy. “Ho, there. What is your business here?”

“Do you need labor, sir? We seek shelter tonight in your barn. I work in whatever you need, sir. Also I know how to craft leather.”

Elio exchanged a glance with Jiandra. She was the eldest, and he and their other siblings looked to her for the final word on most everything.

“Wait here a moment.” She motioned Elio to follow her inside the cottage.

Elio closed the door behind them. “They look half starved. They’re Nandals, though.”

Nandals are not to be trusted, Jiandra could hear every neighbor for miles around screaming in her head. “He said their father was killed. They have no place to go. We could have been like that, Elio, if father hadn’t left us this farm.”

Elio nodded. “James had to leave for Wydefield this morning because his mother took ill.”

“So we’ll need another hired hand to help with grape harvest.”

“Do you think this skinny lad can haul a bushel of fruit or swing a sickle?”

She shrugged. “I imagine he’ll give it his best effort.”

“Well, I could use a leather worker to do something with those hides we’ve been storing in the barn.”

“Go and offer the boy a day’s wage for a day’s work. If he truly knows how to fashion leather, I can sell his goods at the market square in Kingston, and that will more than pay for their provisions.”

“Ever the soft heart, sister of mine,” Elio teased.

She pushed at his massive shoulder. “Just go.”

Elio opened the door and they stepped outside the cottage. To Jiandra’s dismay, the Nandals were gone.

#

That evening at Castle Villeleia, the annual Royal Autumn Ball was in full swing. Solange watched from the shadows of a dark alcove above the stairs as her older sister, Queen Riselle, sat high on a platform presiding over the affair with her usual demure expression. Clusters of eligible young noblemen stood glancing over one another’s shoulders, hoping to catch her eye. With her flaxen hair and crystal-blue eyes, Riselle was a renowned beauty even beyond Villeleia’s borders. Solange looked nothing like her sister, instead having inherited the dark hair and dark eyes of their late father.

Without warning, tall, handsome Sir Lyren of Caladia climbed the steps to Queen Riselle’s platform and motioned to the musicians to stop playing.

“Ahem! If I might have the attention of the guests here tonight, I have something to present to our fair queen.”

He knelt at Riselle’s feet, then reached into his coat and withdrew a sparkling bejeweled locket. “My Queen, please accept my offer of courtship.”

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