She hurried along the path, carrying nothing more than what could hang from her belt or fit in the satchel strapped to her back. She dreaded the long, lonely, and dangerous journey that was surely ahead of her, yet she had no choice. Sighing heavily, she dared to look back one last time at what she was leaving behind. The castle that had been her home looked so beautiful sitting there, perched on a throne of rock and greenery. Such a peaceful scene, with the spring flowers waving to her on a gentle breeze, and the blue of the distant mountains blending into the depths of the sky.
But the serenity of the castle’s surroundings belied the turmoil building within its walls–the ravings of a king slowly succumbing to madness, and the treacherous whisperings of power hungry nobles. There was something else too…a moving shadow that lurked in the bowels of the castle. She had caught glimpses of its movements from the corners of her eyes, and caught whiffs of its scent. Pain…death…malice. Perhaps it was the shadow that was causing the king’s madness, she did not know. She only knew that she had to get away from it–away from him. She hoped one day to return with the power to save him–to save them all. But the road ahead loomed more with uncertainty than promise. Would she survive the journey and find the cure she sought, or would all be lost?
These concerns lingered in Ursula’s mind. But where should she go first? Home, her real home, held little prospect for the answers she needed. After all, it had been twenty-eight years since she left there to become the nurse for the then newborn prince. They had been happy days when she first arrived, and she found no urge to return to her home city. Why would she want to, the “Old” king had been kind to her, and Queen Hilda seemed more like a sister than a mistress. No, her ties with Lintea were too distant for there to be any help there.
It then struck her – Benopor – the ancient centre of her order. Surely one of the Abbesses or High Sisters would know how to overcome the dark Shadow. Forty leagues – it was quite a distance for a middle-aged nurse to make on her own. She had little coin, and no weapons, say for her wits, but it had to be the right destination.
She could not possibly afford the river journey, and the swamp-lands were not practical for her on her own. The forest path was the only option. Little did she know that the Shadow too had its eyes on that lonely road, and worse still it was aware of her intentions.