Sixteen years ago…

In the dark of night, three war horses sped through the forest behind the castle, carrying with them three hooded figures. One brandished a broad sword, another huddled a bundle close and the third was a child. The distant screams and sounds of metal hitting metal was drowned by the sound of hooves hitting the forest floor. Branches snapped and scratched exposed skin, desperately trying to snag the cloaks that hid their faces and bodies. They only stopped for short, quick rests; rarely slowing down once they started going again, travelling until darkness slowly turned to light. It was dusk when they finally reached the distant mountains.
The boy looked at his surroundings as the horses trotted along a wide, well trodden path beneath the trees. The spirit of the old forest seemed to bear down on them. The age of the trees evident in their wide trunks and tall stature. Invisible eyes seemed to follow their every movement sending shivers down his spine. Only the presence of his parents assured him that there was no danger. The rustle of leaves being crushed as heavy footsteps approached them made them stop below a gigantic tree. His young heart started beating in his chest like a drum. Sweat trickled down his back as his eyes darted in fear. A shadow appeared on the ground and his eyes grew wide as his eyes rested upon the creature that stood before them.
“I am glad you made it,” a female voice smiled at them.
“Miath,” his father replied, ” we need to go someplace safe.”
“I know, Commander,” Miath replied, “everything has been arranged. Come, follow me.”
The small group moved deeper into the forest until they reached a small pond surrounded by brilliantly coloured flowers. It’s surface was so still, the sky appeared to be on the ground as it captured its reflection. A giant tree with a wide base stood on the northern side of the shore.
“It’s beautiful,” his mother whispered.
“Indeed, it is,” Miath replied, “yet even as we speak the vivid colours of the flowers fade and the brightness of the sun dims. You must escape while you can. Once you step inside, it will feel like you’re falling, but do not fear, you shall land gently on the other side. Someone will meet you and show you the way to Ilandry.”
“But…” the Commander started.
“There is no time, Commander. Go,” Miath interrupted even as she shoved them gently towards the tree, “I have seen to everything. The enemy will not find you. And remember that we shall wait for your return.”

His father led the way, holding the baby in his arms while the his mother kept a tight grip on his hand as they walked into the cool mist. He felt his eyesight blur as his head became foggy. Suddenly they were falling and all he heard were his mother’s screams and the baby’s terrified cries. The pressure of their descent seemed to stretch his face, pulling at his lips and exposing his teeth. His ears seemed to pop even as it felt like someone was pulling at them. The fall seemed to be endless. Then just as sudden as they felt themselves fall, their progress slowed until they floated onto solid ground.
“Where are we, father,” the young boy’s voice echoed within the walls.
“We shall soon find out, son,” his father replied, “follow me. We need to find the person who shall show us where Ilandry is.”

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