When the Stars Shone Not Upon Lunara


An Agemonia story by Mike Pohjola

On this day the stars shone not upon Orrery Hill, a Benemite town known for its proud knights and wise stargazers. On the top of the hill was High Eye, the greatest observatory in all of Benem. Just below High Eye was Bryndel Castle, home to House Bryndelion, who ruled Orrery Hill and the entire state of Glammet.
In Bryndel Castle’s ballroom, Lunara Bryndelion knelt before her father, holding her sheathed saber, her long tail flat on the stone floor. Lord Felim seemed shaken and disturbed as he stood on the stairs slightly above Lunara.
“Lord Father,” Lunara spoke, “I have horrible news.”
House Bryndelion was ruled by the Magus Selenna Bryndelion. Lunara was her third daughter. Her eldest sister was in the capital Starhaven taking care of family business and politics, and sitting in the electoral college. The middle sister, now expecting her first child, was at home in Orrery Hill, researching magic and helping their mother rule.
Lunara would have been interested in cosmography and magic, but as the youngest sister she was trained as a knight. If war came, she would lead the Bryndelion armies.
One evening, some weeks before she knelt before her father in the ballroom, she was summoned to meet her mother in her stargazing chambers in High Eye. Lunara entered the observatory and the cosmographers took her to her mother. The main room was filled with star charts, telescopes, and bookshelves, but the key features were the large windows which showed the night sky.
Many of the constellations were visible, as was the double spiral of the galaxy which they called the Eyes of the Night.
“I wonder if they call us nihteegri nighteyes because of the galaxy,” her mother said, admiring the Heavens, her tail turned to Lunara, “or if they call the galaxy that because of us.”
“I always assumed we are called nighteyes because we love looking at the stars,” replied Lunara, walking up beside her mother.
“The cosmographers tell me it is going to be a very clear night,” Lady Selenna told her daughter. “I intend to stay here all night looking at the Eyes of the Night.”
“Be careful lest the night looks back upon you,” Lunara joked.
“I would welcome it!” her mother said, laughing so happily her sharp teeth showed. “But that is not why I have summoned you. Come, Lunara.”
She took Lunara to her private bedroom. On top of the luxurious bed of black quothian silk was a large package wrapped in blue linen.
“It is for you. Open it.”
Lunara cut the strings and removed the linen. Inside she saw a beautiful shield, not a dent or a cut on it. The borders were bronze but the center was black, blacker than any metal she had seen. She touched it, and it was warm.
“It’s not metal.”
“Nay,” mother replied.
“It’s guivrenscale!”
“Aye. I had it repaired for you. Your grandmother wielded it once, and her aunt before her. The knights of our house have always carried it. Guivrenscale protects its wielder from magical attacks.” Then she added ironically, “and, you know, the shield protects you from regular attacks.”
“Aye, that much I know,” Lunara smiled.
“Take it. It’s yours.”
She thanked her mother, and took the shield. It was light and warm but not hot, very pleasant to hold, and it felt as if it was part of her arm already.
Lady Selenna looked at Lunara for a while, smiling. Then her gray face grew more serious. “There is something else. You remember Virgon Gramask?”
“The Magus of House Gramask? That absent-minded old buffer?”
“Aye. And the ruler of Runedale, and one of our staunchest allies. In any case, he has suggested I marry you to his son Bo.”
“I’ve never even met him.”
“I know. Other than that, I am inclined to agree to the proposal. But you’re right, you should meet Bo Gramask first. Which is why I have arranged a meeting for the two of you in Starhaven. You will meet him in four days at their city mansion.”
“I would have to leave tomorrow morning!”
Lunara had had other plans, but it was to no avail. Loyalty before everything, that was their house motto, and she tried to live by it.
But there was one thing she could do before riding out in the morning. With that in mind, she bowed before her mother and exited High Eye.
Mother could decide whom Lunara would marry, as she had with her elder sisters. But mother could not decide whom she loved.
She rode down the hill through the busy artisans’ quarters, past the Bluefire station, and down into the serfs’ quarters with their unpainted wooden shacks.
Leaving town, she directed her mount through the fields and into the forest. The togrel stepped softly on the woodland path, its thick antlers occasionally ripping a dead branch from a tree. After half an hour’s ride, they arrived at an old hunting cabin that saw little use these days. But it suited Lunara’s needs perfectly.
She dismounted the togrel’s big, shaggy back, and tied the animal to a tree. The light of candles and sorcerer’s lanterns shone from the window. She entered without knocking and put down her shield, saber, and cape.
A man was kneeling before the fireplace, trying to get a fire started. His tail moved as he puffed into the wood. His silk suit was covered in soot and ash.
“Why not use magic?” Lunara asked Rhaedon Highweld.
He glanced at her, and grinned sheepishly. “I thought this would be more romantic.”
“I certainly like the view, if that’s what you mean,” she said, petting his tail. He purred softly. “But it’s the middle of the night and it’s a bit cold in here.”
“Besides, I’m not much of a magus.” He started puffing on the fire again.
“You’re not much of a knight, either,” she teased.
He got up to face Lunara. “I always figured myself as more of a lover,” he said. Lunara pressed herself against him, her fingers on his face, their tails gently intertwining.
“I think we have found your true calling,” Lunara said.
They fell together on the furs in front of the cold fireplace, removing garments from each other slowly at first, and then ripping the last ones off when they could no longer bear the anticipation.
The stars shone upon the cabin that night.
Afterwards Lunara leaned naked against the fireplace, chopped a few sticks, and lit them with a candle. Soon she had a fire going.
“I wanted to let you do it so you can show off,” Rhaedon joked.
“Much appreciated.”
They sat in silence for a while looking each other in the eye, listening to the sound of the fire, and the occasional low yowl of the togrel outside.
“Listen,” said Lunara, “remember how I was supposed to ask my mother for permission to marry you?”
“I have a vague recollection,” he grinned. Oh Heaven, did he think this was good news?
“Well… It is too late now. She wants to marry me to a Gramask.”
“Did you tell her nay?”
“I promised to meet the boy.”
“Can you refuse?”
“Stars only know. But this thing between you and me… Do you honestly think your mother would ever have given her son to her worst enemy?”
“This thing?” he said, angry now. “You mean our love? I care not what our families think. I love you, and I know you love me!”
“Aye. I do love you, Rhaedon. But if you care not, why have you not proposed?”
He couldn’t find a good answer. His bravado disappeared like the stars at dawn.
“Are you telling me it is over?”
“I must be loyal to my family. If I marry Bo Gramask, I can no longer see you.” She let that sink in. “So I’d say we have to make love as often as possible before then. Otherwise I can’t take it.”
His hurt feelings overshadowed his desire, but not for long.
Returning from the hunting cabin the next morning, Lunara met her squire Gianna Maddark at the Bluefire station. She gave the reins of the togrel to Gianna who walked the animal to a stable.
As nobles they rode Bluefire in first class for free. Lunara took the shield from her back and put it next to her on the bench. The agura powered engines glowed blue and hummed a pleasant, low sound. The monorail whizzed out of the town, past forests, rivers, out of the state of Glammet, and to Starhaven, the capital of the Republic of Benem.
The Bluefire monorail had been built by the Ancients, and only had a few stations, Orrery Hill and Starhaven were among the lucky ones. Travel anywhere else took much longer.
They got off the monorail. Starhaven’s Grand Station was busy as always with warlocks, food vendors, families, street urchins, beggars, cutpurses, prostitutes, korallian pirates, quothian silk merchants, four-armed pattangan porters, Amethyst Order officials, priests of the Fifth Eye, cosmographers, monorail drivers, guards, and passengers of ships, airships, and the monorail.
They took a togrel-drawn carriage to the Gramask town mansion located on the Celestial Bridge which united two continents. The house was fine but not extravagant. Made of marble and painted with pictures of the glory days of the house.
A cosmographer was in the hallway to meet them.
“Ah, star Lunara Bryndelion. Welcome to Starhaven. I am Gishley Skyfford, adjutant to star Bo Gramask. Would you like to freshen up?”
“Nay, thank you. Take us to star Bo.”
“Aye, star,” the cosmographer said and bowed.
He led them up the stairs and into a simple chamber with soft chairs and a ceiling painted to look like a particularly beautiful night sky. On a table there was wine and cakes.
“I shall tell star Bo that you have arrived,” Gishley Skyfford said.
“I hope star Bo is as eager as his adjutant,” Gianna quipped after the cosmographer had left.
Lunara smiled wryly. “When Bo comes, I want to be alone with him,” she said.
“Of course, star.”
Soon enough Gishley Skyfford arrived, and said, “May I introduce star Bo Gramask.”
Bo Gramask was roughly her age, with a fair complexion and dull eyes. Easy enough on the eyes, but would sparks fly between them as they did with Rhaedon?
“Star Lunara, it is a pleasure to meet you,” Bo said.
“And you, star Bo.”
“I trust your journey was pleasant.”
“It is not a very long journey.”
“Nay, I suppose not.”
Sparks certainly did not fly immediately.
“Star Gianna, may I show you the garden?” said Gishley Skyfford. Gianna agreed, and they left the potential couple alone.
“I have not seen you in any tournees,” Lunara said, “I take it you are not a knight.”
“Nay, I am more interested in commerce.” He certainly was not interested in this conversation.
“Oh! That sounds very interesting,” Lunara lied politely.
“Aye.” Bo said. He then took a small bell from the table, and rang it. He got up and walked to the door through which he had entered.
What was this? Had Lunara walked into some sort of trap? She got up and put her hand on the hilt of her saber.
Almost immediately the door opened and in walked two big ignisaur guards, their armor bearing the insignia of house Highweld. Assassins? Nay, they were followed by an older nihteegri lady in very expensive robes. By Heaven All-Seeing, it was Phaewiss Highweld, the daughter of the Supreme Arch-Magus, and a member of the electoral college.
“Thank you, star Bo,” she said. “You may leave us.”
Bo Gramask bowed to Phaewiss Highweld and left, without giving so much as a glance to Lunara.
Phaewiss Highweld sat in the chair opposite Lunara, and poured herself a goblet of wine. The mortal enemy of Lunara’s family and the sister of her lover, alone with her and two strong ignisaurs. Lunara did not sit nor did she take her hand off her saber.
“Please sit, star Lunara,” Phaewiss said.
“I would rather stand.”
“Why? So my guards won’t kill you? Worry not, star Lunara. If I wanted you dead, my assassins would have shot you full of poison arrows by now.”
Strangely enough, that put her slightly more at ease. Perhaps she was not in mortal peril. At least not an immediate one. She sat down and poured herself a goblet, too.
“How may I help you, Elector Phaewiss?”
“You are a military woman, star Lunara. So let me explain this in terms you can understand. Your family is allied to House Dengault, and sends plenty of soldiers to protect the trade routes that pass through their lands.”
“Elector Phaewiss, it is I who commands those soldiers,” Lunara said. Clearly Phaewiss Highweld thought she was an idiot.
“Fine. You send those soldiers there. I suppose you also know that those trade routes arrive from the free city of Mossport, which is Benem’s prime trading partner?”
She nodded, but in truth had not known that. Commerce did not really interest her.
“It is very honorable to protect one’s allies,” Phaewiss said, sipping wine.
“House Highweld needs those trade routes, and the Dengault ships will be sunk. As a gesture of good will, I wish to warn House Bryndelion, and advise you to have your warships elsewhere when that happens.”
“You know my eldest sister takes care of politics,” Lunara said. “Galanna Bryndelion? I believe you sit next to her at the electoral college.”
“Aye,” spoke Phaewiss as if she had a sour taste in her mouth. “Your sister is married to a Dengault, and is unlikely to withdraw her support from her mother-in-law.”
“Nevertheless, she speaks for our family in these matters.”
“Yet you, star Lunara, command the Bryndelion armies. And it is precisely a military issue I wish to discuss.”
“Nay, I think you already spoke to my sister, were denied, and now set up this elaborate plan in order to have a secret audience with me.”
She could see Phaewiss Highweld was having trouble keeping up that smile. Clearly, she had guessed right.
“We could make it worth your while, star Lunara. I could arrange a marriage between you and my brother Rhaedon. I understand you two have grown… close.”
How did she know that? This was a tempting offer, indeed. Ordinarily the distrust between their families would have made marriage impossible between them, and this was likely to be the only chance Lunara had for spending her life with her loved one. But would she be willing to work against her own family for it?
“And just think… Being married to the son of the Supreme Arch-Magus, you would surely take your sister’s place in the electoral college.”
This was not quite as enticing, as Lunara was not interested in political games. Clearly whatever information Phaewiss’s spies had gathered on her was incomplete. But it was enough to stop her from daydreaming. She would never betray her family. Not for anything, not even for love.
“I thank you for your offer, Elector Phaewiss,” she said politely, “but I must respectfully decline. If you wish to further discuss my marriage, you should contact my mother.”
Lunara turned her tail and walked out of the room to the antechamber where Gianna Maddark stood waiting. She was astonished to see Phaewiss Highweld and the ignisaurs in the room.
“Star Lunara, what in Heavens happened?”
“We will talk on the Bluefire, Gianna,” Lunara replied quickly. She strode away from the Gramask Mansion and towards the monorail station.
It was not until they sat in their own cabin on the Bluefire that Lunara would answer Gianna’s questions.
“You should not have declined, star Lunara,” Gianna said. “Those Highwelds cannot be trusted. The next time something bad is going to happen. I can feel it.”
“I will not sell my family or my honor, Gianna. Not for anything.”
“Aye, Star Lunara, aye.”
They were eating lunch in the restaurant car when they heard a loud bump from the train roof. Could it have been some large bird or a vespir?
Suddenly, the lofty views were obscured by dark clouds, which seemed to engulf the whole train. The passengers stopped eating and looked at each other in alarm. Soon the black mist entered the restaurant car itself, ensuring no one inside could see. They coughed at first, but soon noticed it was not smoke.
“This is not a natural darkness,” Lunara said.
“Is there a warlock on the train?” asked Gianna of the other passengers.
Their voices were drowned out by the panicked yells of the other passengers. Some fumbled around trying to escape the restaurant car, others screamed for help, or tried ineffectual magical remedies.
Then, windows smashed, and there were sounds of people jumping into the moving car. The cloud slowly drifted away revealing shadowy figures pacing the restaurant, and the passengers in various states of panic. Lunara hid her drawn saber behind her back.
“Evening, stars,” said a masked nihteegri man with long leather gloves and also wielding a saber. “This is a robbery.”
“No kidding,” Gianna replied wryly.
The cosmographers, businesswomen, and politicians in the car were still crying for help.
Lunara said in a commanding voice, “In the name of the Republic, drop your weapons!”
The bandit leader turned and lunged at her with his saber. She took a step back and parried with her own blade. They fenced for a while. The man was good for a commoner, but Lunara had trained for this her whole life.
The other bandits ran in to help, but Gianna managed to trip one of them, and then drew her own sword to help her lady.
There were more of them, but Lunara and her squire were still confident of victory.
“Leave your valuables and we may let you keep your lives,” the bandit leader said, still countering Lunara’s strikes.
“You chose the wrong victims,” Lunara replied. “Whatever magic you used to conjure up the mist, why don’t you use it to get yourself off the train? Otherwise I might get annoyed.”
“Oh, she might get annoyed?” the robber yelled to his comrades and laughed. “Well I’ll be. What are you, a magus? You don’t look like a magus.”
“You understand many of us are nobility? Our families will not like this.”
“Oh, we wouldn’t be robbing no common folk. It’s you lot we have a problem with. We’re not going to bother the ordinary passengers. Only you people eating your fancy food in this fancy car.”
Lunara had paid into the man’s arrogance, and sure enough, it gave her just enough edge that she could make him walk backwards against an upturned chair. He lost his balance, and fell backwards. Lunara stepped on his saber and pointed her blade at his throat.
“I told you to leave,” she said. “Now be prepared to lose your head and tail!”
At this, one of the robbers made a magical gesture with her hands. Red sparks danced around her claws, and she mumbled some words. Soon a mighty wind blew the sparks in Lunara and Gianna’s direction, circling around them.
Gianna was frozen and bound by the sparkling red current, like a magical rope.
The sparks encircled Lunara’s arms, legs and waist, attempting to shackle her, too. She managed to grab her shield from the chair and place it in the middle of the current. The black surface of the guivrenscale sucked all the sparks into it, like they were crimson shooting stars in the vast darkness of space.
The sorceress was incredulous and stepped away in fear. Lunara kicked the bandit leader’s saber away and pointed her weapon at the magic-user. “I told you, you chose the wrong victims.”
Other robbers ran at her, sporting flails and maces. Tables were overturned, carpets bloodied, and glassware smashed, but she disarmed them easily, leaving them embarrassed but alive. The other passengers in the restaurant car were standing against the walls, shaking in fear. Half a dozen more attacked, but were similarly defeated. Most of them were nihteegri, but not all. There were at least one korallian, a quothian, and two pattangans in their ranks.
The bandit leader blew his horn, and the robbers retreated to the other side of the car.
“Right,” said the leader. “We’re leaving. But Kithia here is going to strangle your companion with her sorcerous ropes.”
The sorceress smiled and the sparkling ruby strings coiled up from Gianna’s waist towards her neck.
“Alright!” Lunara replied. “You got me. I have a full purse and a gold ring. How’s that?”
“Seems to me like that shield is your most valuable possession.”
“Aye. But I’m not willing to part with it.”
“Are you willing to part with your companion?”
Lunara looked at Gianna, the young squire who was cousin of her sister Drissy’s husband. She was not the smartest or the bravest squire she had seen, but she did not deserve to die at the hands of these brigands.
“I suppose you’re with the Sable Crown?” she asked the masked man. The Sable Crown was a group of criminals robbing nobles, cosmographers, Amethyst Order merchants, and priests of the Fifth Eye. The common folk apparently loved them, no matter how many times they were told not to.
“We’re not with the Sable Crown, we are the Sable Crown,” came the reply. “We want to give a voice to the silent and food to the hungry. So. Which will it be? Shall we kill your companion? Or will you give us that shield?”
The magical string around Gianna’s throat tightened. She was turning pale. There was no telling if the robbers would honor the deal, but on the other hand, they had not killed anyone yet.
She threw the black shield onto one of the few tables that were still standing.
“And the rest of it.”
She removed her ring and purse, and threw them as well. One of the robbers, a quothian, ran to the valuables, and then climbed out of the window and onto the roof.
The robbers discussed something quietly with each other. Perhaps if they should kill their victims anyway. But the leader made a gesture and the whispering stopped. They all climbed onto the roof.
Lunara ran to the window and looked up. She saw an airship leaving soundlessly, sailing away from the train.
“What in the Heavens was that?” asked Gianna, the magic having released its grip from her.
“We were robbed, Gianna,” explained Lunara, “by the Sable Crown.”
“Star Lunara, I told you not to trust the Highwelds.”
“I don’t think this was their doing.”
“You can never be too careful with them.”
Riding home from the station, Lunara was in a sour mood. She knew she would have to face her mother and tell her not only that the marriage proposal was a sham, but also that she had lost the shield. Her mother would probably forbid her from traveling without a retinue in future.
Lunara and Gianna got off the train and were preparing to walk back to the castle when they were greeted by Celestor Baetha, the cosmographer at Orrery Hill, an elderly man with white whiskers and a limp tail. He told her that her mother had asked to meet her at High Eye. He was heading to the observatory himself, and offered to share his palanquin with Lunara.
They were greeted by some of the other cosmographers who told them Selenna Bryndelion was in her personal stargazing chambers on the fourth floor of High Eye. Lunara ascended the stone stairs alone and, seeing no servants or guards, knocked on the finely painted wooden door.
There was no reply.
“Mother, it’s me. I would speak with you,” she said, knocking again. And waited. Was mother even in there?
She tried the handle and noticed the door was not locked. Lunara opened it. Mother’s chambers included a luxurious room with big windows and a small adjoining bedchamber. The main room was meant for private gatherings, meetings, and observing the stars and planets.
She could immediately see something was not right. A star chart lay tattered on the floor. Pedestals and telescopes were turned over. Next to them on the floor was Selenna Bryndelion, lying in a pool of blood, a gaping wound piercing her abdomen.
The sight was horrible, and Lunara froze for a while, trying to grasp what had happened. Her mother was dead. Murdered! She should do something, anything. It was too late to save mother, so she would have to avenge her instead. But revenge against whom? She must not cry or run away. She should take control, she was a leader, the third daughter of Selenna Bryndelion, and a well-respected knight.
Lunara did not know how long she had stood there when commotion in the hallway snapped her back to the present moment.
Celestor Baetha ran past her and knelt by his deceased mistress.
“The body is warm and the blood is still running,” he said, having examined Lunara’s mother briefly. “Lady Selenna was still alive fifteen minutes ago. Who has been in this chamber?”
“No one, Celestor Baetha,” replied one of the junior cosmographers nervously. “Well, except for star Lunara, of course.”
Celestor Baetha glanced at Lunara briefly, an examining look in his old, golden eyes.
“There is something under her,” said the Celestor. “Carefully move the body into her bed.”
The cosmographers did as they were bid. On lifting her corpse they saw what she had been lying on. It was Lunara’s guivrenscale shield, broken by mother’s magic but recognizable. How was this possible?
The Celestor looked at Lunara and then at the cosmographers. “Seize her!” he said, his voice breaking.
The weak and intellectual cosmographers looked at one another, none of them willing to be the first to lay their hands on an armed and armored knight, let alone the daughter of their lady.
“I realize what this must look like,” Lunara said to Celestor Baetha trying to sound calm. “But Lady Selenna was already dead when I arrived.”
“You would have me believe your testimony over my own eyes?”
“Aye. The shield you found was stolen from me not two days since.”
“You must admit that does not sound very likely.”
“I arrived here with you, did you see it on me?”
“You could have hidden it in your belongings.”
“This is the scene of a battle. Someone attacked mother with a saber and she defended herself with magic. Did anyone hear any shouts or incantations?”
“These stone walls are thick,” said Celestor Baetha pondering her words. “But it is not upon me to pass judgment, star Lunara. That duty now rests on the shoulders of your father, until your sister arrives from Starhaven.”
“Very well. I shall present myself in front of him right away.”
“I should very much like to accompany you when you do,” the Celestor said suspiciously. Perhaps he was afraid Lunara would try to escape.
“You know the motto on our coat of arms.”
“Loyalty before everything.”
“Aye. I will honor those words for as long as I live.”
With that she said goodbye and left. None of the cosmographers dared to try and stop her.
Lunara ran back home to Orrery Hill as fast as she could, trying to escape the questions in her head.
Were the Highwelds behind this? After all, they never ask a second time. If Lunara had agreed to Phaewiss Highweld’s proposition, would mother still be alive?
But how could the Highwelds get their hands on her shield? Was it possible the Sable Crown was working in unison with them? But that made no sense. The Sable Crown was working against the noble families, and against the Highwelds in particular. Arch Magus Hinwiss Highweld had declared a campaign against the Sable Crown, and spared no expense in trying to root them out.
And how did her shield get from the Sable Crown to them? Or had the brigands been Highweld soldiers masked as the Sable Crown?
This network of deceit and intrigue was not for her.
Back in her ancestral castle on Orrery Hill she ran up the many flights of stairs to find her father descending from one of the towers to the ballroom.
She ran up to her father, Felim Gaussard Bryndelion, who was still on the stairs. Lunara knelt in front of him, the way one did with their liege.
“Lord Father,” she started, “I have horrible news.”
She had to tell her father his wife had been killed. And of the crime scene. And then of what had happened in Starhaven and how her shield had been stolen.
She could hear Celestor Baetha’s slow climb to the ballroom, and the wheezing of his breath behind her.
“Lord Father, I ask for your judgment,” Lunara said. “I have told you the truth of the matter, and wish you to task me with finding the culprits and bringing them to justice.”
She looked up at her father whose face and beard were covered in tears. He was crying so much he could hardly even speak. Then the sheer sadness of everything that had happened finally struck Lunara, too, and she could feel the hair on her tail rise, and tears flooding her eyes.
“Lunara, my daughter,” father managed to say, “much of what you have told me and much more of what you left unsaid I already knew through the magical means in my possession. On this day, the stars shine not upon me.”
Celestor Baetha, still panting, walked up next to Lord Felim on the stairs, taking his place as advisor to the regent. He whispered something in her father’s ear.
Lord Felim let out a whimper which turned into a great grievous roar. “Star Lunara Bryndelion,” he said, “on this day in the name of the Republic of Benem, under Heaven all-seeing, for the crimes of murder, treason, and matricide, I sentence you to be stripped of your title, to lose your squire, and to be banished from the State of Glammet.”
“My lord!” protested Baetha, “for a crime like this she should be imprisoned and brought in front of the Arch Magus and most likely lose her head and tail!”
“Nay,” father replied. “The decision is mine.”
“My lord!”
“That is enough!” her father barked at the old cosmographer.
“Father, if you would only let me explain,” Lunara protested.
“That is all you have done for the past hour. Now be gone from my eyes. You must depart Orrery Hill before sunrise tomorrow or you will be declared an outlaw.”
Lunara understood it broke her father’s heart to judge her guilty, but he had no choice. Perhaps his mind had already been broken when he heard of mother’s murder. Or perhaps the whispers of Celestor Baetha had convinced him enough of her guilt for him to convict her.
Nevertheless, it was useless to stay and argue. She had better leave before they took away her saber. She would not even be there for her mother’s burial.
Lunara’s sister Drissy and her former squire Gianna Maddark helped her pack, and they said their goodbyes. Drissy was pregnant and Lunara blessed the baby in the name of the stars. Gianna would have to find another knight to squire for. Both of them seemed to believe her version of what had happened.
“Did you not say the guivrenscale shield would protect you from magic?” Drissy asked after she had cried for the loss of her mother.
“Then how could mother destroy the shield with her magic?”
Drissy was right, it was impossible! Whoever the murderer was, should have been immune to the magic.
“But we know it was guivrenscale!” Gianna said, folding Lunara’s shirts.
“Do we?” Drissy asked. “Do we know it was the same shield?”
“You mean it was a forgery?” asked Lunara. “Aye, of course! Someone made a shield like mine to frame me for the murder.”
“I told you, Star Lunara,” said Gianna. “I told you not to trust the Highwelds!”
The sentence had been passed, but perhaps she could wait until her sister Galanna arrived from Starhaven and became the magus of the family? She could reverse the sentence, free Lunara of charges, and task her with bringing the Highwelds to justice!
“Nay, sister,” Drissy counseled. “You know Galanna as well as I do. Have you ever known her to be lenient? For her, ’Loyalty before everything’ never meant loyalty to us. It meant we have to be loyal to her, or else.”
This was true. She might well reverse the sentence, but only to declare a harsher one. Likely the one Celestor Baetha had suggested.
“So I will live a life of exile,” Lunara acknowledged.
Drissy looked at her compassionately. “I will write to you,” she said.
The mood was somber, and they packed the rest of her belongings in silence.
“Wait,” said Gianna, “what if you found the real shield?”
The sisters looked at the squire in unison. “Think about it! It would prove your innocence. All you have to do is find the Sable Crown.”
“And convince them to hand over the shield,” Lunara added.
“Well… You can name that star when you see it.”
“Where would I find them? Should I just walk the highways with a large pouch of gold?”
“They say they have a secret base in the north,” Drissy said.
“Sister. We are the people they wage their rebellion against. We would literally be the last to know.”
Lunara Bryndelion smiled grimly, put on her backpack and bid final farewell to her sister and her squire.
As the sun set and the first stars appeared in the night sky, she left her home of Orrery Hill to begin her exile.

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