I am told one should start at the beginning. Or, many people have set that example in fiction, text book, and history, so shall I follow.
Few have heard of the little town of High Burbank. It was once, as the name suggests, high on the banks of the Burr river. At High Burbank, the river was in the lowlands. For much of the year it ran cool and shallow, a refreshing place to settle by in summer heat. During autumn, as rain fell on the highlands, it would begin to rise until the rain turned to snow, the fish within escaping to lower, deeper waters, and in winter it very often frozen solid. But in spring, the iced-up river melted, the snow thawed, and the river became a swollen, freezing mass of ice blocks and rushing water. High Burbank would maintain a patrol, in spring, checking the river for dams formed from once-melted, now refrozen and fused blocks of ice. When one was spotted, the men gathered near it with long, stout poles, attempting to break the weaker, fresh ice and free the water behind it before it flooded our village, and others.
This was frequently the most excitement we'd see all year. Or so Heriad tells me. My memories of before are at best somewhat blurred.
It had the usual village dramas, I know. There were parents and children, marriages and affairs, arguments and feuds. We had festivals and fairs, traveling traders, a tanner, blacksmith, carpenter, and shoemaker; a miller, shopkeeper, baker, temple-keeper, innkeeper and inn; there were poor and well to do, and farmers and woodsmen who came from further afield. We were thriving, but not expanding. Happy, but content.
We also had a barracks.
High Burbank lived on the eastern bank of the Burr, in the very west on Grenden. On the other side stretched out Tyrridon. High Burbank was a border town, and when I and Heriad lived there we were a hundred years after any war. The soldiers at the barracks were recruits and older soldiers in their years before retirement. Many of the elderly, some husbands and some wives, of High Burbank were retired soldiers. The widows and widowers of the village liked to find an old soldier that wanted company - their pension guaranteed them a small but welcome income.
The village used to have defenses, but the stone walls had been allowed to fall into disrepair, all the wooden gates rotted away long ago and never been replaced, and the ditches filled in with fallen leaves and all manner of household rubbish. The old houses were stone, but few retained their tiled rooftops, replacing them with cheaper thatch when the time came. Those homes and buildings built in the hundred years since the last war were wood and thatch. The village
What happened next was, therefore, inevitable.
High Burbank burned.
Heriad will tell you it began shortly after noon, when we were in our house eating a lunch of bread and soup. We were ten, and our parents had only ever had the two of us. Our mother had us when she was young, and perhaps the strain of twins had damaged something within her. She was bedridden and ill long after our births, and never conceived again. We were, as any might suspect, pampered children -
Heriad will tell you it began shortly after noon. The first sign was a hallo by the river, and mother went to see if we had traders in town. She left at a walk and came back at a run, with a face Heriad says was whiter than sunday linen, and ordered us to hide in the cellar. I am told that Heriad protested and I pulled him after me. We hid behind two stacked wine barrels in a corner. I remember them, two wide and two high, and the sweet citrus smell of mother's soap on Heriad's clothes.
High Burbank burned in screaming agony. The barracks tried in vain, losing all but two men, and those lived long enough only to tell their story to the first responders. Those first people were nothing more than the farmers who once visited, but they were decent enough to search the wreckage of burning timbers for survivors.
They would find none.
They wrapped the dead in shrouds as they found them, and began the digging of a burial pit, even as soldiers fetched from the barracks south of us came. These soldiers took the count of the dead, and the stories the dying men had told and, by all our good fortune, conducted a proper search of the village.
Four days after we heard our mother die, four days after our burning house collapsed upon the cellar door, four days living on whatever had been hug or stored there to be preserved - precious little, I can assure you! Our mother never trusted the damp cool of our cellar - the soldiers tore the black, crumbling timbers away from the trapdoor and found us within it.
I remember the light, blinding me. A friendly soldier put his cap over my head, for it was so large on me it fell over my eyes and stopped the light from hurting me. They called us miracles, the only survivors of High Burbank.
Ah, but they'd only found us because of our magic.
We had always been aware we were special. Would normal children be able to tell exactly which direction their brother, twin or not, stood at any one time? Would they summon their own nightlights in the dark, or be able to share emotion, memory, and image when they touched? Play tricks on others if they only focused strongly enough, stir the wind and dust to dance and play with? Never. But father would not let us be taken away from them, to be tested and taught at the University, and no Master would come to apprentice one border town carter's child, let alone two.
We were told, later, that in our desperation we had been calling out, our magic drawing people in to one burned house out of many, and the soldiers had been arguing about whether it was a trap. They had put investigating this anomaly to a vote, and come out in our favour by only two. They were scarcely more than recruits themselves, the small unit sent to investigate a smaller fire.
High Burbank had not been the only place burned.
Millbank, to the south, with its larger garrison, had been attacked as well, and many smaller villagers even further south. It was here the soldiers held, and Millbank only half burned, and there were living witnesses who could attest to seeing the Tyrridon colours and armour, and hearing them speak a Tyrridonese language, and it was Millbank who led the call for revenge on Tyrridon.
In the eyes of history, it will be seen as nothing more than a border squabble. I fear there is a war coming as I write this, some eight years after our home burned, and I also fear that it was not Millbank or Jonston or Garrister that was the true target, but our little High Burbank -
But of course, they could not have burned an entire village over a little offshoot of the old Greymantle line. We were never so grand or great, merely ubiquitous to history as merchants and messengers, servants and guides. The stories mention us, in passing. We did not have the power and privilege of the Bloodcoins or the Featherwings. Pardon my foolish pride, in thinking little Burbank was special.
As I said before, I fear there is a war coming, and I may know why, and how to prevent it. This is why I must write, and if I act correctly, I will burn this book myself, and no one shall ever know. This is why I must record my words, my past, my discoveries, and my perspective, although if anyone else knew, it will condemn Heriad and I both.
As for Heriad and I, we were left to the mercies of a military War Mage. He tested our skills and found us impressive enough to send us directly to the University, who took us in as the orphans we were, a Greymantle line so distant from the rest we had not even fifth or sixth cousins to take us in. I will grant them this - they did try to find relatives for us, before they threw us to the wolves.
Or, rather, the Masters.
Twins are particular even at the rarified world of the University, let alone any twins with more than middle-grade potential. But no Master was allowed to take two apprentices, only one, and we refused to be separated. Fought not to be, at least once blasting a Master away from us.
Eventually a compromise was reached, without of our very limited control. The War Mage who had first tested us would claim Heriad, if his friend would claim me; they had been close friends from youth, when the Mage had been first assigned to his friend as his bodyguard, and when both were were away from their duties they lived at the same residence, a large enough manor cradled in the safety of the great bowl, the breadbasket of Grenden. If his friend agreed, Heriad would be trained as a War Mage - something that suited his protective nature - and I to be a Sorceress.
The War Mage was Goren Hildeson; his Sorcerer friend was the reclusive, mysterious, Armande Featherwing, first son King Armande the third of Grenden, long may he reign.
(But of course, since the turmoil of the last Bloodcoin's reign, no mage can rule Grenden. It's a matter of law, and what is right.)
Master Armande is not easily impressed. I have no idea how I managed it. I remember very little of our conversation, too distressed that Heriad had been seperated from me by half the University building, too far away to hear his thoughts. Our connection - and that, our carefully kept secret, was very obviously not normal even amongst magical children! - had only grown stronger the more we clung to each other, and I, terrified that I would somehow lose him, too, spent the first third-hour pleading to go to him before Master Armande finally managed to reassure me that he could be back soon. He distracted me with books, with tidbits of magical theory, and by the time Heriad came back within thought-range declared that he would keep me.
If only I knew which innocent, naive, childish words charmed him so, then I would use them again, and he would solve everything for me.
But he said he would keep me, and keep me he has, and Heriad and I have been so indulged as to write twice-weekly letters and be together for almost half the year.
And so this is the beginning.