This story is a single journal entry in Book One, Ursus Borealis, in The Starlight Chronicles series. I found it rather fun to write a story within a story within a story. It nestles in a chapter featuring Kuliana Hada, a character that appears throughout the series, who is an Anurashin Captain of the Guard. Cynthia is her ancestress.
Cynthia’s story is incorporated into an actual historical account about the White Ship that sailed in 1120 as described. Its sinking changed history.
An End at Barfleur
I am Cynthia, a marked maiden, a human born with a destiny entwined with a race from another world. I was trained to fight alongside my mate Aldric and his pack with the guidance of my magus Zigan Meshara of the Order of Hala against three rebellious princes who were banished from the planet Anurash.
This sounds impossible, I know. But you will just have to take my word. That is, if you are from the realms apart from this hidden place beneath a volcano, and this missive makes its way to you as I hope.
My life started on a farm in the county of Anjou. Then it changed forever when I met a bear from Normandy.
After immersing myself in the astonishing world of my mate and the kingdoms of the shifters, learning there was life beyond this Earth and before reaching the heavens took only a few extra pints to swallow it down. That, and meeting Zigan. It turns out Zigan and I are old souls and have done this dance before.
How my soul was chosen for this repeated Earth-bound destiny is a mystery, but my magus spent much time over wine in our chateau sharing what he knew of our history or rather, the history of the prophecy of the marked maidens.
As for Zigan, up till we met… in this time, he had spent his life training with the Order, which included studying the records in the extensive archives and all forms of alchemy, in addition to being honed into a warrior. Even more astonishing, he could transform into a stunning feline I learned was called a tiger.
For eight years I experienced what it was to be part of the Pack, to be soulmates with its alpha, to be one piece of a wondrous whole, and we were successful in our purpose, keeping the machinations of the princes from the human population, and mitigating the damages.
This is the part at the end of our story and writing it down is agony because it chronicles the event that halted our purpose violently, tore me from those I loved, and marked the beginning of my slow and lonely death. Still, it must be told.
It takes place starting mid-morning of the 25th day of the month of November in the year 1120. We arrived at Barfleur near the coast of Normandy, after confirming the location of the current scheme of Aviel Enair, the oldest and most formidable of the three sibling princes. We lacked the details, but we knew his scheme would involve the sailing vessel known as the White Ship, renowned for its speed and beauty, and now carrying the only legitimate heir to King Henry I across to England.
Frustration gripped me, and I wrapped my arm around myself, trying to catch my breath after having run the length of the docks. I called out to my mate behind me, “It is just as we feared, Aldric. The ship has almost reached the Quilleboeuf!”
There were three hundred souls sailing away as I spoke, other nobles as well as the heir, and the loss would be catastrophic to the burgeoning English monarchy. When we learned the king’s seventeen-year-old son, William Adelin, desired to sail on this elegant vessel while his father sailed ahead of him, and that Aviel had set his sights on it, we considered the hazards the Anurashin prince might exploit.
The ship had a good reputation and so did its captain, Thomas FitzStephen, whose father had taken the prince’s grandfather, William the Conqueror, across the same sea. The only evident risk was sailing past Gatteville, where hidden rocks like the Quilleboeuf lay waiting for careless sailors. But FitzStephen was surely used to navigating such hazards.
I breathed in the salty air to sharpen my mind while I considered our options. The raucous calls of seagulls ebbed overhead as they congregated, fought, then flew off with morsels of fish as their prize. Despite the size and piercing eyes of the warrior next to me, we stood unnoticed among the throng of bodies rushing towards their duties on the bustling docks.
“You must call Zigan, my love,” Aldric said, drawing me to his side and offering his warmth as I shivered from the urgency of our task and the breeze cooling the sweat of my exertion.
Though we were French, our purpose as part of this prophetic trio was to protect the balance of power fated for this world. When the princes interfered, it fared badly for the indigenous populations, according to Zigan’s archives.
That meant we trained to take risks, and we discovered this scheme by becoming captives of the princes while each enjoyed inflicting painful retribution on us for our past successes. But Aviel allowed his brothers’ torment to go only so far, which we’d learned to count on, though we didn’t understand it, and our plan included an escape.
It went perfectly, until we ran into a trap and had to leave our pack behind to fight, which also delayed our arrival, and a worry was taking hold in me that the last eight years of joy and strife might culminate on these docks. Still, I pushed on.
After placing the insides of my wrists together, my tiger appeared, first as an image on my skin, then as a man stepping out of a gray mist, calmly taking us in with fathomless dark eyes. His markings glowed bright gold against his bronzed arms, and his silky black hair waved in the breeze.
“We need to get aboard that ship, Zigan.” I pointed to the sails disappearing north along the coast to Gatteville. “Can you haze us there?”
“Yes, precious one. But I may not have the ability to get you back.”
Aldric said, “Let me go with him. If the ship were to sink and Zigan cannot return us both…” He let that thought trail off as he looked at me in that fierce way that melted my heart. The powerful love I had for this man, this larger-than-life Norman-born warrior who shared the spirit of a mighty brown bear, still overwhelmed me after all these years. We had not taken one moment of our time for granted, knowing the dangers inherent in my destiny.
Clutching his hand, I said, “But I must be the one on that ship, Aldric. We have no idea what is planned, and we need my instincts as a marked maiden.”
“You will be noticed. I can blend in and discern the situation. We must go now, as they approach the rocks.”
I stood on my toes and brought his face to mine, peering into his brown eyes to see his bear gleaming at me, a magnificent beast he could transform into at will. Our lips came together for an exquisite moment before I stepped back.
Zigan gripped my mate, nodded to me, and said, “I will bring him back safely.” They disappeared. I took shelter and waited. In less than thirty minutes they were back.
Aldric and I moved together without thinking, as we did after every parting, and he gave his report. “Nearly everyone on board was drunk on wine and betting on a race to beat the king to England. The ship sailed fast, pushing its limits. Not more than ten minutes after we arrived, it hit the rocks and foundered.” I gasped in dismay, but he assured me the king’s son made it to a lifeboat.
Without warning, warriors in the garb of another time appeared in a heavy mist that seemed to have blown in from the sea. We took battle stances as they surrounded us, Zigan and Aldric drawing their swords. I gave the cry of the Pack and raised my own blade. The sound of steel rang out across the harbor as bystanders rushed to get out of the way.
We held our own against a dozen, until my sword was knocked from my hand. Vice-like arms grabbed me from behind, and Aldric’s roar shook the planks beneath our feet. But the Anurashin warrior kept me from my mate’s reach, letting the others leap in between us, forcing Aldric to slice his way to me.
The warrior said in my ear, “The prince has his sights on you, maiden. Did you not think he would succeed?”
“No matter that he tries, I will never be his!”
Springing my knife from my sleeve, I lunged back, shoved it between the ribs of my tormentor and twisted. The warrior grunted in pain, but his grip did not loosen. Aldric dodged blades, slammed his fist into faces, and rammed bodies, while I struggled to pull free.
Zigan moved so fast; arcs of blood hovered in the air where he last appeared. But when he hazed close enough to reach for me, the warrior jerked us back and two others lunged for him. To my utter horror, dual blades took his head.
My knees gave out at the agony ripping through my heart, then my entire being, as Zigan’s soul was wrenched from mine with brutal force. Never had I imagined our bond could be so viciously severed, or that the warrior magus was anything but invincible.
A sickening realization plummeted like a stone in my belly. This was Aviel’s plan, why he let us escape before. He’d orchestrated the entire thing for this purpose. To kill my magus. To take me. To destroy the Pack de Normande.
What was left of my heart was crushed to pulp when Aldric stepped into the path of a blade to reach for me, not bothering with the pain, desperate to save me as he felt the agony of my loss, and our loss to come.
The mist I dreaded grew thick, and I sensed I was breaking into tiny pieces. None of this could be happening!
The devastated face of my mate told me he had come to the same incomprehensible conclusion while he watched me fade into bits, so close to him our fingers nearly touched.
I poured my heart and soul into my words. “I will love you forever!”
The sound that followed was the mighty roar of a broken and wounded bear.