Dedicated to all my friends in the Forward Motion chat room who are happy to cheer their fellow writers on from the first bite of a plot bunny to the last round of editing.

Chapter One

The fever spread from west to east, not deterred by deserts, mountain ranges or rivers. The sickness worked its way from village to village and on to town and city . . . and left behind dead in such numbers that some areas fell into ruin with no one left to care for homes, fields or flocks.

The fever took no notice of age or wealth. Young and old died; rich and poor; peasant and noble . . . King and Queen.

Of the royal family of Ranas, only Princess Sondra remained, and she a child of six years. The surviving members of the Council hurriedly placed both the government and the princess in the care of her mother's cousin who became Prince Regent Petrin. Petrin, a military man who never married, had no idea of how to deal with a child who wept for her lost parents.

Dark times came upon the land. The living buried the dead in mass graves, and the priests locked themselves in their temples and prayed -- and died there, alone and abandoned by man and gods. Religion ebbed with few priests and priestesses left to help the living or train the next generation.

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