Here we are, a little closer to the full story collection being up and ready, and available. Below is an extract from one of the featuring short stories!
Saera let down her weapon, laying both hands on the pommel. The golden eagle cowered beneath the weight of her palms, and she eyed the turret closely. She knew he would be there, hiding, as he always did. She could see his eyes piercing the shadows.
She hoped he was afraid. She wished the counsel of his peers and the guardians of his realm were whispering, telling him lies, filling his mind with false hopes. For only their filthy words would be enough to have him step outside. And the moment he would, he would be hers.
Wind from the Ice Mountains came crashing against the fur of her cloak. She felt a tinge, something of a wince, hair rising against her back. It wasn’t out of fear or contrition, it was knowledge – the certainty she was stronger now than three months ago; a titan, compared to the frail lamb she had been not even a year before. She had been naïve and she had been weak – he had made it all disappear.
Her lips twitched, forced beyond help to reminisce – the touch of his fingers, the warmth of his hand against her cheek, the promises of fools. A shadow crept to her mind; she recalled the room only with blurred edges. The firelight was vivid though, as fierce as her mind was now. There will be no more skin against skin, no more warmth, and no heartache. This, he had chosen, would end today.
‘We’re ready,’ Munval whispered in her ear. The old man pressed a reassuring hand on her arm, and moved away. The Seventh War hadn’t dented his faith in men, nor did the Battle of the Greats that cost him an eye and two fingers, but the last few months had turned him against everything he had once held dear.
Spears bolted into place at Munval’s command, a sharp yet sullen noise, echoing briefly throughout the lands surrounding Castle Marys. It was time. Her brains motioned her forward but there was some hesitation she hadn’t expected, something sudden and quickly gone. It was too furtive for anyone to have noticed; yet she would know. Her greatest weapon was her mind, and it was now being poisoned by the longings of her heart.
A flash of light, a memory, jerked from her brains to her eyes in an instant. Images like this, she would never forget, acts like this, she could never forgive. The blood had never left her hands, no matter how hard she washed, there was no cleansing of one’s soul from the evil of this world. And he, once so small and gentle, was the reason for all this.
She strode forth, her gait assured. At each step she swept away an image. Him, barely nine years old, rescuing her from the Ironsmith’s sons. Him, his locks yellow and bright, swaying as he trained her with swords and daggers, out of his master at arms’ watch. Him, laying a changed look on her, lowering his lips to hers, whispering in her ears, sharing his fears of ever becoming king.
She chased everything away and stood at the foot of the iron gates. She eyed the turret’s slit window one more time. It was on the fourth floor. The little one before the alcove at the top, where they had rescued doves and hid them from the cook who would lay his hands on just about anything.
She saw it. The glint in the darkness. He was there.
‘Ryen!’ her voice bellowed farther than her might, carried by some hatred too powerful to contain. She had had enough of this. The lands had wept and bled enough, and if he had any sense of dignity, he ought to step out of the shadows at last.
Her footing firm and flat, she moved to the first guard she saw and took him out with a flash of her dagger, leaving his body by her feet. Two others came to her quick, and seven bowmen appeared at the top of the gates.
We will have them killed before they can even draw their next breath… she thought, and waited. But nothing happened. All right, suit yourself. She moved to raise a hand to Munval when command was shouted from behind the wall.
Enough, he thought to her.
She remembered once she was a child, thinking there were no greater bonds than this. The Twin Spirits of Andar was just a tale, and yet their minds were tied, close or far. How peculiar, she used to wonder, that a prince and a wet nurse’s daughter would share such an incredible gift. Not before, nor after, had they met anyone else capable of entering their thoughts, and be one beyond the tangible.
I don’t want any more bloodshed on my lands.
She scoffed. These are not your lands, Apprentice King.
Where? His thought was low, like a faint memory of some words he had kept from her.
Black Mountain. The Dormant Sun.
He didn’t think it, but she knew him well. Every fibre of his being winced as he heard her. She gazed one last time upon the dark window of the turret, echoes of her children’s shoes resurfacing in vain, playing memories again, but only their ghosts were now running up and down those stairs.
She turned her back on his castle of lies. A moment of weakness perhaps. Another one she couldn’t afford and should have been mindful of. The blade reached through every layer of her flesh. The pain was sharp and sudden, something she knew all too well. In a moment of fright, pushed by the ache in her shoulder, her knees caved slightly. Her ears rigging, she saw with agony, thousands of men and women sliding downhill, bolting towards the castle gates. The archers took place on the ramparts. It all came too quickly. A flurry of arrows jerked up and arched overhead, as she watched, powerless, her friends and brothers at arms struck by this rain of death.
Bodies fell in sullen cries, but Munval stood. He and his two sons lead the army forth, but not until he ordered five of his soldiers to take Saera into safety. They seemed like shadows as they ran towards her, lifting her up and moving her deep behind the first lines. She resisted, wriggling with all her might within their grips. They held her strongly, legs, arms and chest were protected by their mailed armours and shields they had raised all around them.
‘Take it off!’ she cried, struggling with one last effort out of their hold. They halted, shouted out for more men to surround them with shields up. They plunged her in darkness, alternating faintly with peaks of light. It was a dagger someone had thrown to her shoulder. A good aim, she had to admit.
‘Stay still’, Herard ordered, his voice muffled by his helmet. The lion’s head carved into the iron shown strangely under this lack of light. It reminded her of an old seer her mother had once seen. Her words were for the most part fantasies for the broken hearted, she had thought, but she had said something with a different ring. Something that made that old wrinkled lady, smelling of bad liquor and cigars, eye her deeply and stare a while. The Dove and the Lion are lost.
The Lion’s head had been the realm’s emblem for at least a century. But the dove didn’t make any sense to her. There was a twitch, the sound of something breaking, then Herard pulled the arrow out of the wound. A flash of pain blinded her a moment, her chest lowered, following the weapon being torn out of her. Two arms caught her and as her eyes adjusted to tears she was too proud to let go, she heard battle cries erupting closer.
Some hurried hand applied sacred ointment to the wound, and soon her body lifted in the air again. ‘Let’s move her now!’ she heard Herard say. At least she believed it was him, she couldn’t say for sure, for an instant later, she fainted.
Wooden swords clashed with each other repeatedly, steering her attention away from her body. Ryen was skilled, agile and quick on foot. But she was cunning, mindful of his blind spot. He was deaf in one ear. He had never told anyone, neither did his parents, or his priest and wet nurse. Agility and rapidity made him gain control in most fights. Adversaries, usually deterred, tended to fail for two reasons – either by the surprising blow of his sword, or by the fear of royal repercussion.
Saera never made things easy for him. She sensed his concern for his ear, though he never said a thing, and she used it, playfully at first but then to overturn the outcome of a fight. She never said she knew. And she never would.
Someone brought soup to her tent. The smell caught her nose before her mind adjusted to where she was. The wind outside was blowing hard against the fabric, having it billowing inwards. The posts groaned and loomed dangerously towards the ground. She winced as she straightened up, sitting on a bed of fortune lying on the dirt floor. ‘Is it going to hold up?’ she asked the shadow in the room. She had assumed it would be Herard, but as her eyes adjusted she recognised Munval’s tired gait.
Her heartbeat grew quicker. ‘What are you doing here? What about the castle? And Ryen?’
‘The battle ended quickly, Saera. A day and a night have come to pass since you loss consciousness.’
‘Who won?’ It was a murmur, a question asked for which she feared the answer.
Munval’s face grew stern and he rubbed his short beard before sitting down next to her. ‘No one,’ he said, ‘yet anyway.’ She frowned as he continued. ‘It lasted a few hours…we, lasted,’ he rectified. ‘But we had lost many. Mainly new recruits. Though they fought with all their might.’
‘Ryen says you required this war to settle by combat between the two of you,’his eyes paused on her, observing and quiet. ‘He wants to honour this agreement. And he is waiting for you to wake up, and meet him where you had plan to fight.’
Saera stood up with unexpected momentum, heart beating and head in a blur. ‘I’ll go.’
Munval got his feet as well, raising his hands with a weariness that made her realise he had now given up on hope entirely. ‘You know combat between the two of you means one of you is going to die.’ Before she could speak, he continued. ‘If he dies, you will be accused by the Sister’s Faith of ending the Lion’s bloodline, starting up a war much bigger than this, turning against us the Realms of Fallhaven.’ His eyes turned red now, as though fire had been reignited. ‘And if you die, we will lose our leader, our only hope.’
‘You’re our leader, I’m nothing but a figurehead.’
A weary smile accompanied his shaking head. ‘You stood up against him when no one felt capable. You rallied forces in all surrounding villages to end this world of privation and abuse. They see you as their last chance for a better life. If you die, the flame in them dies with you.’
She sat back down, slowly. Eyes misty beyond help. ‘We’ve lost so much; I can’t bear to see anyone else die because of him.’
‘We’ll find another way.’
‘No. There is no other way. I have to end this now. The last blood to seep through the lands of our fathers will be his. I pledge my honour on it.’
‘You can’t seek strength in honour, only fools do. Honour makes you blind.’
©2017 by Jane .W. King