Once upon a time there was a land called Mercoria. It was a temperamental land occupied by constantly warring clans. There were the Jinabites, short, witch like people whose men and women alike grew long and tufted beards. Then there were the Lillimots, quite the opposite, who were so tall and graceful that they almost gave the impression of giraffes, and the Berubabels who had the advantage of wings and might call to the mind of a human a creature rather like a fairy. The Cormlins went largely unnoticed among the other clans because they liked to keep to the craggy wastelands that none of the other peoples cared too much about. But the Niamows, the soft skinned bipeds were always stirring up trouble and brewing up the newest and most cunning means of overpowering their rivals. Having no natural protective armour of their own, they spent immeasurable time and energy on developing their defences.
Each clan felt that the realm of Mercoria rightfully belonged to it, and that their wise men were the only leaders capable of ruling justly. Sieges, attacks, plots and deception had raged for 5 long years and the only result had been countless losses and a land scorched by violence. Eventually, the surrounding nations had become so unsettled and enraged by the uproar that they had agreed that King Perdurus, a respected leader amongst them, should set up his own palace in Mercoria and attempt to bring order to the land by governing over all the clans. And so it was. From within his courts, King Perdurus quietly began to plan his strategy.
Now, King Perdurus had a son, Clemius, who had just celebrated his 13th birthday at the time this tale began. He loved his son more than anything in the world and could not part with him so Clemius came to live in the royal palace of Mercoria. He was an adventurous youth and full of courage. Everyone who met him felt strangely drawn to him because of his childish curiosity and interest in them.
And so it was that one day, as Clemius was flying his kite, a birthday present from his uncle, a gust of wind rudely lifted the play-thing and tore it clean out of his hands. Clemius yelped, partly with surprise and partly with a rush of excitement at the chase that had now developed. He ducked under nearby branches, staying low, but glancing constantly upwards through the chinks in the trees to keep his coloured kite within his sights. He feared it might get caught in the topmost spines of the towering Goldcrest trees but on and on tumbled the kite. Eventually Clemius found himself in the bright light of an open field where chasing became far easier. But alas, the kite was climbing ever higher. Surely it could not go on rising forever? Clemius stopped for a brief moment to catch his breath, leaning forward and jamming his hands into his knee caps to prop himself, but the thought of surrendering never crossed his mind. When his throat no longer burned he stumbled on, realising that his kite was gradually descending. It was definitely far closer to the tops of the mountains than it had been 10 minutes ago. He was so concentrated on it that he barely noticed the growing difficulty with which he was lifting his feet from the sludgy ground. It was definitely becoming wetter and every footstep caused the earth beneath to squelch and froth like a compressed sponge. With a sinking feeling in his gut, Clemius realised that his kite was going to land right in the middle of a muddy little lake straight ahead of him. He heard it hit the surface with a dull thud and collapse like a dying water bird. It appeared that the wind was now causing the kite to drift towards the left hand bank and so Clemius headed cautiously in that direction.
All of a sudden he heard faint but distinct whispering and a poorly suppressed giggle coming from behind him. Clemius whipped round in surprise.
“Who’s there?” he said, far more curiously than threateningly. But nothing came back at him. Clemius strode towards the spot from which he guessed the sound had come. As he peered into the bushes and his eyes became accustomed to the details, he was able to pick out the whites of 2 little eyes. He wasn’t afraid of them. For starters, Clemius had never really known fear, but more than that, these eyes were smiling. He smiled back. “Hello” he ventured, holding out one arm to his side, as if to encourage the eyes out into the daylight. They blinked and glided from side to side and gradually revealed themselves as set in a narrow, heart shaped, pale face. No wonder Clemius had been so unable to detect this creature, her clothes as they were, reflecting every colour of the surrounding foliage and transforming from dark to light and back again as the wind rippled over them. Clemius had never seen anything like her. He’d been told that the clans outside the castle walls were difficult, trouble, even dangerous, but this (this girl?) surely was none of these.
She stepped forward lightly until she stood square on to Clemius. He realised she was at least as tall as him but her bare feet were tiny. “Is that your kite?” she asked, nodding towards the lake. “It’s pretty”.
Clemius had forgotten momentarily all about his kite but now turned and realised it had floated to a completely unreachable spot near the centre of the murky water.
“Yes” he replied, “it was mine. But I don’t see how I’ll get it back now. And it was new as well.”
“Can’t you swim?” asked the girl, surprised.
“Swim? I don’t know. I suppose I could. It’s a long way though and the water looks pretty muddy and freezing cold.
“You’re a wuss!” teased the girl. I don’t feel the cold and I don’t care about a bit of mud. I’ll get it!” She broached the side of the lake and, as Clemius called after her that she needn’t bother, it wasn’t that important, she might get hurt, and anyway, he could do it himself, she waded into the reeds and plunged into the lake. Clemius hurriedly followed, concerned that this fragile looking creature might get into trouble and need his help. But he stopped at waist height, shivering under the sun, and watched with curious amusement as she glided smoothly over to the drowning kite. She tied the tale of the kite around her waist and it followed her in graceful meanders as she made her way back to the bank.
“There” she said. “A couple of hours in the sun and it’ll be fine”.
“Thanks” Clemius replied with slight embarrassment. “Um, that was really good, thanks, you didn’t have to.”
“It’s ok” she laughed. “I love swimming, any chance I get I come here. But I’ve never seen you out here before.”
“That’s cause I’ve never been here before!” joked Clemius sarcastically, recovering his confidence. She slapped him on the shoulder with the back of her tiny hand. “Anyway, I’m Clemius. And thanks again”
“I’m Erudita” she replied. “But just call me Dita”.
After that, Clemius would regularly make his way down to the lake where he and Dita would swim or fly his kite or just climb trees and tell stories about their lives, the lands they had grown up in and their families. Each was a curiosity to the other and both were in need of a friend. Their lives were so different. While Clemius lived in safety and abundance, secure amongst his loved-ones, Dita had only her elder brother left since the death of her parents and younger brother at the hands of the Jinabites some years before. The two of them struggled to survive and regularly and repeatedly lost all they had worked to build up in the crossfire of bitter rivalries. At times, as their confidence grew, Clemius would venture further out into Dita’s world than he’d ever gone before, half believing, half doubting the tales Dita recounted. And Dita in turn followed Clemius closer to his home. As the winter drew in it became icy and bitter, too harsh to spend long hours out of doors. Clemius couldn’t bear to leave his friend to face another perilous season and so made up his mind to go to his father and see what could be done. Knowing his Father so well, Clemius felt sure he would want to do anything he could to help. What he wasn’t sure of was just how happy the king would be about his adventures beyond the palace grounds. Nevertheless, one evening, after dinner when the king had retired to his workshop and uncovered the sculpture he was tirelessly chiselling from a solid weight of ochre stone, Clemius broached the subject. The king said very little about the matter that evening but thought long and hard about it all through the night as he worked. The next morning he looked at Clemius over his piping breakfast and said simply,
“bring her here next time, let me meet her.”
When Dita finally agreed to come into the palace (with fear and trembling it must be said, despite all Clemius’s lovely stories about his father) King Perdurus welcomed her most heartily but also watched her most closely. He soon came to realise just how fond the 2 young ones were of each other and how much happier even than before Clemius seemed in her company. She had a fierce defensiveness about her but nothing at all malicious. She was grateful for every kindness shown her despite clearly having felt the bruises of much unkindness in her young life. With every visit, the king grew to love Dita more and as he did so, a glimmer of a hopeful idea also dawned on him that perhaps Clemius might come to love her more than he yet realised. But he kept this firmly to himself. He also found it harder and harder to watch her venture out to the struggles of her daily life every time she left. So, one day he came to a decision and called Clemius and Dita to his chamber where he sat, pondering over a large tome and a collection of letters. That afternoon he invited Dita to come and live with them in the palace as a special guest. He told her how much he had come to care about her almost as his own daughter and that he wanted to give her a good life. He knew how much hardship she faced beyond the palace grounds and was afraid that one day she might not make it back to visit them again. She would be treated like a princess.
Dita didn’t know what to say. She blinked back the tears. They were tears of gladness but also mingled with tears of sorrow at the idea of leaving her brother behind, alone. Her brother however, when Dita at last brought herself to tell him the news some 3 days later, spared no energy in persuading her to go, to make the most of the opportunity for warmth and companionship and wealth and security. He felt inadequate to offer these things and afraid for his young sister. So, with this persuasion alongside her own desires, and with the reassurance that her brother could visit whenever he wished, Dita came to live under the protection of the king.