The Curse of the Ebon Maw Chapter One by A. S. Raithe

Mira fluttered around her room. Today was the day. She was going to help watch the family’s shop with her big sister, Dina. The puny five-year-old zephyra— a good natured though naïve race of winged humanoids —was more determined than ever to make her parents proud.

She’d spent the whole morning getting ready. Her gray-brown feathers were freshly preened. Her sandy blonde hair was pulled up in the tightest bun her little fingers could manage. She’d even picked out her most serious turquoise dress. She needed to look like a grownup businesswoman, and as she examined herself in her mirror, she felt confident she’d succeeded.

Adjusting the belt around her waist, she started for her bedroom door.

“But Mooom!” Dina protested down the hall. “Why do I have to babysit her!?”

The little girl’s feathers bristled at the distress in her sister’s voice. Her fingers froze on the doorknob as she strained to listen.

“She’s a total disaster!” Dina continued. “Like a… a walking, talking hurricane!”

“She’s five,” their mother countered.

“Yeah! The klutziest five-year-old this side of the Aernors!”

“I seem to recall another girl who managed to get her head stuck in a hollow log when she was first learning to fly…”

“Yeah well,” Dina sputtered. “I may’ve got my head stuck, but she would’ve busted it in half somehow!”

Their mother sighed sharply. “This isn’t a negotiation, young lady. You are taking your sister with you. And you better not go flirting with every other boy who walks in again. I mean it this time, missy! But,” doubt entered her voice, “maybe keep her away from the pottery.”

A frustrated groan echoed through the house. “Come on, Aurelia!” Dina called down the hall.

Mira recoiled at the sound of her personal name. She hadn’t had a chance to do anything bad enough to merit hearing that… yet.

Her wings hung slack. An icy wave washed the excitement from her features. She hadn’t realized her hand had slipped off the knob. Her chest rose and fell against silent sobs. She felt her honey amber eyes desperately trying to form tears, but she wouldn’t let them.

Looking back to her mirror, she locked eyes with herself and nodded. I’ll show her. I’m not a klutz. She adjusted her dress and forced a smile upon her face. “Coming!” Her lips pursed. “Lerna,” she added, stressing her sister’s personal name in retaliation.

The zephyrni eyrie they called home bustled with activity as they made their way to the family shop. Grownups flew across the many levels of their mountaintop home, running errands. The other kids in their neighborhood were playing a spirited game of kickball; they, like Mira, were still too young for more than light fluttering and short range gliding.

But there was no time to play. Not that the other kids usually invited Mira. She did have a reputation after all. Besides, the Ashwood girls had work to do.

Their parents ran a moderately successful general store in the eyrie’s lower east tier. It wasn’t far from their house, just a few glides down, but Dina wasn’t making it easy on Mira. A single tier drop was one thing, but the doubles and triples Dina was doing made the little girl’s flight muscles scream. She could hardly hold her wings open by the time they reached the shop’s tier, but she wouldn’t, couldn’t show weakness.

It was a slow weekday. That was why their parents had entrusted the shop to them while they tackled the more serious matters, taking inventory, negotiating contracts and the like. There was a particularly volatile issue with the dwarves that supplied their flatware that needed smoothing over.

Mira busied herself filling customer orders while Dina tended to the till. Or at least while Dina stood at the till flirting with every boy that walked in.

When the shop bell jingled, Mira thought nothing of it. She turned to greet whoever it was, but as she caught sight of Charek grinning wickedly at her, she felt the pit crash out of her stomach. He was the biggest jerk on their tier, and not just to Mira. Bigger than any kid his age— so big, in fact, Mira couldn’t believe he could glide —the resident green haired neighborhood bully had yanked out more than a few flight feathers over the years.

She shook with anger at the look on his face, but she had no choice. Swallowing her pride, she forced a smile upon her face.

“Welcome to Ashwood’s, how can I help you?” said Mira, the sweetness in her voice tasting like poison on her lips.

“My mom sent me to pick up some stuff.” Charek sneered at the younger girl as he held a list out to her. “Make it quick, would ya.”

Taking the list from him, their fingers barely touched. A spark sped through the girl’s mind. A most unwelcome one. It wasn’t a sudden crush or any remotely pleasant feeling for that matter. Something was wrong.

Her brow furrowed as she studied his face.

“Well?” he insisted. “What’re you waiting for? You need me to read it to you, or are you trying to figure out the best way to wreck this order, too?” An evil smirk filled his face. “Speaking of, has your dad finished repaying the elves for all those crystal goblets you broke yet?”

She clenched her jaw to repress the rage burning in her heart. Without another word, she hurried off to fill his order. The sooner she did, the sooner he’d be gone. Straining beneath the weight of a bag of flour and other essentials, she made her way back to him.

Charek stood at a jewelry display. The very bracelets Mira often found herself admiring. They were so pretty, but they were so expensive. Even with her family discount, they cost a whole months allowance: 2 pieces of silver!

“Here you go,” Mira grunted as she handed them off. “Dina can take you at the—.”

Her eyes flitted to the display rack. She’d studied it for so long, committed every bead to memory. Her favorite one, a stunning rainbow bracelet, was missing.

“Give it back!” she snapped at him.

“Give what back?” he said mockingly.

“The bracelet! You took it!”

“You can’t prove that.”

Mira lunged for his wrist only to be met with a heavy mass of burlap as he threw the flour sack in her face, knocking her over before bolting out the door.

“Thief!” Mira shrieked as she leapt to her feet and chased after him. “Stop! Thief!”

“Mira? Mira!” Dina called after her.

Legs churning, Mira pumped her wings as hard as she could to keep up. Her screams for help were met by no one. She was on her own.

Through the brightly painted streets, the two children raced. Darting between grownups’ legs. Whipping around corners. Mira’s little heart screamed at her to stop. But she couldn’t. Charek had gone too far.

Stabbing pain pounded in her chest as they plunged into an alley. She slowed to catch her breath. Dead end. He couldn’t get away.

“Guards,” Mira panted breathlessly. “Guards. Help. Thief.”

But there was no way anyone could hear her. She could hardly hear herself.

Smiling that awful smile of his, Charek stepped forward. He fished the bracelet from his pocket and dangled it just out of her reach.

“You really want this ugly thing, don’tcha?”

Mira’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not ugly. You’re ugly. Like a… a swollen up vulture!”

A sharp huff of a laugh puffed from Charek’s nose. “Well, if you want it so bad, take it. Come on! Get it!”

The girl leapt, wings pumping hard in pursuit of the bracelet. A flash passed through Mira’s vision as she was thrown prone. Charek’s fist had connected square on her cheek.

“Whoops!” A cruel laugh echoed through the alley. “Looks like you tripped again, Crashwood!”

A metallic taste filled Mira’s mouth. She spat a gob of blood and a busted baby tooth out and forced herself to her hands and knees. Not a moment later, Charek knocked the wind from her as he fired a powerful kick into her ribs.

“Must not want it that bad, huh?” he jeered.

He bounced the bracelet next to her face as she clutched her ribs. It was right there. Inches from her swelling face. She wouldn’t let him get away with this!

Resolve sharpening, Mira leapt up and grabbed his arm. The wave of wrongness flooded her mind once more.

“Aurelia!” she heard a woman scream. “Mira, be careful! He’s not what he seems!”

Her grip loosened at the sound of the strange voice. With a strength no child should be capable of, Charek threw her to the far end of the alley. Slamming into the dead-end wall, she shrieked as her wing snapped.

“Some champion,” a deep voice rattled from deep within Charek’s chest.

She forced herself to look up as he bore down on her. Tears flooded her eyes with a mixture of pain and panic. A horrible grin spread across his face. Wider. Wider! Wider than any creature should be capable. The breath caught in her chest. Light filled her eyes.



Mira startled awake. The steady rocking of the ox cart must’ve lulled her to sleep.

“You alright then, dame knight?” said the driver. “You was muttering something fierce.”

“Yeah,” Mira yawned, wiping the sleep from her eyes. “Yeah, just a… just a dream. Something that happened when I was a kid.”

He nodded and turned back to the road. “We’re coming up on Cawold now. Your order’s really sending you clear out here?”

“Mmhmm,” she said a little more enthusiastically than was typical of a knight. “Captain Therris was pretty eager to send me too. The whole barracks put in together to throw me a going away party. Only they got the dates all screwed up.” She laughed softly. “Those sillies thought I was leaving on the fifth not the fourth.” She shrugged. “It’s okay, though. I’m sure they had fun.”

The old driver’s face twisted. “Riiiight.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, we’ll be there before lunch.”

Cawold was a bustling thorp on the eastern edge of the Weremarch grasslands. The eastern most settlement in all of Welmin controlled a vital toll bridge over the Dolmnas River that connected the kingdom to the Kerrick Steppes. It was at this time of year, following the spring thaw, the importance of Cawold shone. The trade caravans passing through it were the lifeblood of Welmin’s economy.

Mira’s wings buzzed with excitement as she stepped off the cart. Dispatched for the first time as a knight errant, she could hardly contain herself. She bounced on her heels as she took in Cawold’s market.

There was no way the thorp was meant to handle so many people. Tents were set up to offload excess wares to lighten the merchants’ loads for their onward journeys. Camels and mules kept a wary distance between each other, neither sort of beast really accustomed to the other, but Mira was more interested in the beautiful textiles and strong aroma of spices perfuming the air than the disease of animals.

The young woman’s stomach guided her through the market. There was so much to see and taste. One small caravan had set up a food stand to sell dishes from their homeland. Mira couldn’t resist the lamb shawarma.

Eventually, she spotted Cawold’s bulletin board, but what she saw standing there nearly made her drop her lunch. Her feathers rustled at the sight of the beautiful zephyra woman with bright orange and yellow plumage and short blonde hair looking up at the board. Mira was on her in three flaps.

Gasping, the woman’s magenta eyes went wide as she stepped back, hand flying to her chest. “Oh my!”

“Oh no, sorry!” Mira hastily apologized. “Sorry, sorry, I just didn’t expect to see another zephyra in the flatlands.” She studied the woman’s magnificent wings. “You’re from the islands, aren’t you?”

“Y-Yes, yes I’m from Clear Water Cove,” the woman managed to stammer out, her voice ringing with the prim properness of nobility.

Mira’s jaw loosened with surprise. “Are you a,” she lowered her voice, “noble?”

The woman’s features fell as she nodded. “Supposedly anyway,” she sighed as she covertly displayed her signet ring. “I’m Duchess Echo of the House Zeerie, or at least I was.”

“My lady?”

Echo’s eyes watered. “I’m sure you’ve heard my father passed away recently.” Mira nodded despite not knowing a thing about the happenings in Clear Water Cove. “Well, you see, my uncle, Lord Dumal, he… he doesn’t believe women should hold station and, well, he stole my lands, my birthright. Marched his men right through my front gates, and sat himself on my throne. I barely managed to escape.”

The knightly zephyra’s heart went out to the duchess. Her face contorted in sympathetic pain as she shook her head.

“Oh, my lady, that’s awful! There must be something you can do?”

“I’m afraid not.” Echo produced a silk handkerchief to dab her eyes. “His forces are too strong. That’s why I came here. To raise an army to retake what is rightfully mine. It’s just that,” she sighed, “my uncle claimed my coffers for his own. I took what I could, but I didn’t realize ship passage was so costly.” She produced her coin purse and opened it to Mira. “Is this enough?”

A grimace passed across Mira’s face before she could think. There was barely enough silver for a night at the inn.

“As I feared.” Echo’s shoulders rose and fell against a series of sobs. “I was,” she gulped to steady her voice, “hoping to find work. There has to be something I can do.”

“Of course there is, my lady.” Mira nodded. “And I’ll be there to help you the whole way. As a knight of errant, I, Dame Mira Ashwood, pledge to restore you to your birthright on my honor.”

“Dame knight, you… you mean it? I just… I can’t ask you to serve another kingdom, much less a lowly landless duchess. If you could just spare a few coins so I could hire my own forces, I couldn’t possibly live with myself if you were to—.”

“No, no, my lady.” Mira pounded a fist to her chest. “I’ve pledged to you and that’s that. Now let’s see if we can find some work so we can raise a proper army to reclaim your lands.”

Mira scanned the bulletin board. There were so many postings for help with the trade caravan season. Bar wenches, stable hands, assistant smiths, none offering close to what they’d need. Her wings slumped as she looked for anything she could put her skills to.

“What of this?” said Echo as she plucked a pinned memo from low on the board and handed it to Mira.

Brave Adventurers Needed

Paying Top Gold

Interested Parties Should Inquire at Narsis’ Apothecary

Mira’s lips twisted as she read it again. “Not much to go on.”

“But it says ‘top gold,’” Echo countered.

“Yes, my lady, but it’s calling for adventurers, plural.”

“I’ve training in the arcane arts!”

“But my lady, I can’t let you put yourself in harm’s way.”

“Nonsense.” Echo stamped her foot. “How could I ask anyone to fight for me if I’m not able to fight for myself? I’m sure whatever this apothecary needs isn’t beyond our combined abilities.” She took Mira’s hand. “At the very least, we can hear him out. If you decide it’s not worth the risk we can refuse.”

A sharp breath escaped Mira’s lips. “I suppose. As long as I make the final call. Okay?”

The most infectious smile flooded the petite noble’s face. “I think I see the shop over there.”

Locking her fingers with Mira’s, she tugged the uncertain knight after her. Not that Mira was really resisting. Echo was so small— even by zephyra standards —that she made the five-foot tall and muscular Mira look like a veritable ogre next to her. All she’d have to do was plant her feet and the duchess would be stopped as a ship dropped its anchor.

Still, she had a point. They could at least hear this Narsis out. It wasn’t like an apothecary on the borderlands could possibly have much to ask…

Continue to Chapter Two.

About the Author

A. S. Raithe is a fantasy author living near Pittsburgh with his wife and children. Always the creative type, it wasn’t until high school and being introduced to a local bestselling author that he found his passion for writing. He took time away from writing to attend college before being convinced by his wife to pick it up again shortly after their wedding. Outside of writing he enjoys exercise, baking, gardening, folklore, music, and hiking.

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