Lord Bellvane sat upon his midnight-colored steed and looked down at the crudely wrapped package he held in his hands. The thin parchment was yellowed and tattered and simply held together with a woven braid of straw.
“The men and I thought you might find need of this, sire.” General Braxus was having difficulty keeping a straight face. Even his bushy red beard could not hide the fact that he was forcibly pressing his lips together, stifling the laughter that was trying to push its way out.
“Ah, is this a wedding gift then?” He carefully unwrapped the package.
“Sort of, sire.” The small group of men standing behind the general began to chuckle and he, in turn, could not hold his laughter any longer.
“So what has all of you going on about then? Is it a funny gift?” He unfolded a thick and flaxen-colored wool blanket, a blanket that had clearly seen much use and many washings. He furrowed his brows and held it up in front of him. “Surely you do not mean me to offer this rag to my betrothed?”
“’Tis not for you to give to your bride, sire,” the general was nearly doubled over at the waist and the laughter from the men grew louder still, “’tis for you to throw over her head.” Tears pooled in the man's squinting eyes as he struggled to catch his breath while the rest of the men continued to vibrate with hearty laughter.
Lord Bellvane remained silent, staring blankly at the unusual gift. The laughter from the men began to taper off when he did not join them in the frivolity. When the silence was such that you could hear a nearby humming bird’s wings beating, he let them out of their misery and gave them the belly laugh they had been waiting for.
“Please forgive us, sire.” The general walked over and stretched a hand up to him.
Lord Bellvane bent from his steed and accepted the man’s hand, grasping it firmly in his own. “Let us hope I have no need of this gift of yours. For if my intended is that ill-looking, I might just need another for my own head.”
They all laughed once more.
General Braxus motioned the men to silence, then turned to face his master.
Lord Bellvane watched the wrinkles fade from the corners of his friend’s eyes. They all knew the gravity of his mission and what it would mean for Liberon.
“Gods go with you, sire. We shall pray for you.”
“Thank you, my friend. I will need your prayers.” He turned his steed around, leaving his men cheering after him.
He rode off to claim the bride he’d never seen, and in so doing, procure the insurance he needed against the coming threat.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t known battle. He’d fought for causes before, but not at home, not in Liberon. The neighboring land of Pyria had not shown aggression to any peoples for as long as he could remember. Now, the threat of war hung heavy over the land. Liberon’s army was small and ill-prepared to fight a long battle. They needed strong allies. They needed the Apthians, and the only way to garner favor with the Apthians, was to align Liberon with the House of Kilgarn.
So he would ride, though dreading it. He would ride to claim a bride whose bloodline was worth more than silver.
Zehdra stood upon the moss-covered cliffs of Elbourn, her eyes fixed on the thundering tide below. Alone, with no concept of time or space, she swayed from side to side under the persistent push of the west wind.
The sky grew ever darker with each passing moment as the night and the storm moved in. She could feel the earth beneath her feet giving way from two days of unsparing rain and yet, made no effort to move back toward safer ground. The ocean crushed itself against the jagged rocks again and again. The sound rang in her ears like a thousand voices chanting, begging her to jump.
It wouldn’t be long now. Someone was sure to notice she was missing. They would come looking for her, she was sure of it, and they would find her.
Whether conscious or unconscious, she slid her feet backward through the slick, wet mud and away from the cliff’s edge. She shut her eyes tight and released the breath she had been holding. The wind danced with the tendrils of her drenched hair and she shivered under its chilly breath. Tears streamed into rivulets as they mingled with the rain on her cheeks as her quivering lips whispered a single word.
Her tears came faster but so did the rain. The snarled black clouds showed themselves through the lightning-streaked sky as they opened up and poured themselves out over all of Elbourn and her Dominions. Every tree, flower, and blade of grass rejoiced at heaven’s gift and somewhere in the distance a katta bird sang. Yet, here in the middle of lady nature’s joy, stood Zehdra Kilgarn; a single seed of sorrow, wet, cold, and alone in her despair.
It wasn’t until she felt herself sinking well beyond her ankles that Zehdra’s eyes flew open. She looked down and realized that it had grown too dark to see precisely where she was standing. She felt the contour of the ground change beneath her as a large chunk of sod freed itself just inches from her toes and crashed into the sea some fifty feet below.
“For the love of everything in the heavens, what am I doing?” she yelled to no one. She clutched at her muddy robe to lift it away while desperately trying to pry herself loose.
With a little struggling, she managed to lift one foot out, but left a torn satin slipper submerged in the muck. She plunged her bare foot down into the mire again and tugged furiously with the other foot. It was useless. Before she could free her right foot the left sank to the ankle once again. Fear thundered its way into her chest as she pulled first with one foot then with the other, twisting her body this way and that way. The more she struggled the deeper she sank. Finally, in one all out effort, Zehdra summoned every muscle in her body, promptly lost her balance and fell backward onto the muddy ground.
The rain was pelting her face so hard that she could scarcely keep her eyes open. Somehow she managed to roll over onto her stomach but lacked the strength to support herself against the swallowing mud. She lay face down on the ground unmoving, exhausted and unable to breathe. She contemplated staying precisely as she was, after all, what difference would it possibly make now?
She thought of her father. She was all he had left and no matter what, she knew he loved her. But what would he say if he knew? What would he do if she told him she had inherited the very same power that had destroyed her mother?
Fear overtook her at last and she quickly raised her head and made an effort to wipe the mud from her eyes with an equally muddy hand. She struggled to get back up onto her elbows and lifted her face to the sky to let the rain wash it clean. It fell steady and hard and it hurt as it pounded down upon her.
“What have I done? By the gods, what have I done?”
Blinking away the rain from her eyes, she turned her gaze back toward the earth just as the lightning flashed, illuminating everything around her as if it were daylight. That’s when she saw them. There was no mistaking the glistening black riding boots not more than ten inches from her nose. #
Thanks for reading: Continue below for a sneak peek at Fire's Children - Book II in the Fire Through Time trilogy. I tried to pick a section to whet your whistle while not spoiling the first book in case you haven't read it yet. And if you haven't read it yet - why the heck not??
“Myella, I do not like this.” Zehdra paced back and forth across the morning room floor while she watched her aunt prepare her mysterious concoction of herbs. “Are you certain that it's safe?”
Myella crumbled the last of the cinnamon-colored leaves into the steaming liquid and gave it a good stir. “Certainties I cannot give you, child. Now come, sit beside me, for I do not know exactly how I will respond to it.”
“Now you are frightening me.” She took the chair next to her Aunt. “I don’t want you to do this, Myella, I have already made the decision to go. I will leave Gillam in the hands of the Physic… and you, Myella. I trust you to watch him for me. I will ride to help Rayelle and Roche. I cannot sit idly by any longer while they are in peril. Besides… I don’t think Gillam even knows that I am here.” Tears burst from her eyes and flooded her cheeks.
Myella reached for her hand. “I had a feeling you were going to say that and that is why it is even more imperative that I try to see what you are getting into.” She patted Zehdra’s hand for reassurance before letting it go. “I am old, child, I would rather you lose me instead of your one true love or the two lights in your eyes.” She picked up the steaming cup of tea and took a cautious sip.
Zehdra watched her swallow the liquid with wide eyes. No, she did not want to lose the love of her life, nor could she go on living if anything happened to either of her children, but she did not want to live without Myella either. She was the closest thing to a mother she had. She was her confidant, her one constant under the heavens.
Myella raised the cup to her trembling lips a second time.
“Must you take another drink? Maybe we should wait a little longer.”
“I know what I am doing child.” This time she took an longer sip, consuming nearly half of the cup’s contents. She set the cup down gently on the table and looked at Zehdra. “Take me to the chair over there, child… the softer one.”
Zehdra flew to her feet and did as she was told.
Myella simply sat with her hands folded in her lap while Zehdra turned the other chair to face her.
“Give me your hands, I will hold them fast.”
“You are a good child, Zehdra, and I could not love you more.”
She watched her aunt’s eyes fill with tears, all the while holding on tightly to her hands. She watched Myella’s eyes get the far away look she had seen on many occasions. “Do you see something?”
“Shhh.” Myella began to shake.
Zehdra tightened her grip.
Myella continued to quake and her eyes became black as night. Then all at once, she cried out, ripping her hands out from under Zehdra’s grip. She rocked back and forth in her chair and shook her head from side to side before grabbing for Zehdra’s hands again and digging her nails into her palms.
“What do you see, Myella? What do you see?”
Myella did not answer. Her whole body vibrated and her teeth chattered uncontrollably.
“Tell me what to do, I beg you.” Zehdra tried to pull her hands free when she saw tiny rivulets of blood dripping from the palms of her hands. She wanted to cry out, but did not dare to break Myella's trance.
Suddenly, Myella stopped shaking and she loosened her grip of her own accord. She looked down at her fingers, stained with Zehdra’s blood. She rose from the chair and calmly walked to the open window.
“Myella?” Zehdra wiped her sore and bloodied hands across her apron and ran to her aunt's side. “What did you see?”
Myella was still for the longest time. She simply stared out of the window and under her breath, softly sang the words to a long forgotten song – a song she used to sing when Zehdra was just a child.
Zehdra could not control her fear nor her tears. She had never seen her aunt in such a state after one of her visions. She dared reach out and touch the old woman's shoulder. “Myella?” she whispered.
“You cannot go, child.”
“What did you say?”
Myella turned to face her. “I said… you cannot go.”
“But you have not said why—”
Myella stopped her questioning by taking her by the shoulders and looking deep into her eyes.
Zehdra was more frightened than she wanted to admit. Her throat was dry and she swallowed hard. “Tell me.”
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Myella spoke. “If you go to find your children… death will follow you there.” #
The following excerpt is the prologue from my upcoming novel, Nobody's Child. A contemporary tale of life, love, and second chances.
“Daddy p-please! Why are you doing this? Please don’t send me away. P-please. Please. It’s not my fault.” The sobbing teenager rocked back and forth from one foot to the other while pulling furiously on the misshapen corners of her yellow knit sweater.
“Don’t stand there and tell me that it’s not your fault, young lady. If it isn’t your fault, then whose fault is it? Any daughter of mine should have known better. Damn it, Clancy, didn’t we teach you anything?”
“B-but daddy, please, it’s not that simple. I have to tell you—”
“This isn’t going to happen, Clancy. Not in my house and not in my town.” The red-faced man grit his teeth and marched up and down the creaking hardwood floor.
The irritating sound from the soles of his shoes resonated in the young girl’s ears with each step that his six-foot frame took.
“William?” A woman spoke up softly while she slowly walked across the living room toward her fuming husband. “Maybe there’s another way.”
“Another way!” The blood rushed to the man’s face once again and he turned to his wife with clenched fists. “What way would that be?” He flung his hands into the air and shook them furiously. “What way would there be that could keep every tongue in this town from wagging? Tell me, Elizabeth, just what way would that be?”
The petite, dark haired woman shrank away from his bellowing. She glanced back at her daughter with a fearful and helpless look in her eyes.
“Mamma, I don’t wanna go away. Please, mamma, don’t let him t-take me away from you.” Tears streamed down her face and she dropped to her knees, hands clasped tight together.
The woman dared to step forward again, arms outstretched toward her daughter.
“Don’t make things worse, Elizabeth.” The man’s large and slightly overweight body pushed its way between the two of them and he grabbed his quaking daughter by the arm.
“We settled this, Elizabeth, she’s leaving tonight. Now go and get her bag. The taxi will be waiting.”
“No!” The girl struggled under her father’s grip, trying her best to find reason where her heart knew there was none. “Please, daddy, no. It’ll be okay, I promise. Just let me stay here with you and mamma, please.”
The taxi was indeed waiting and with his daughter in tow, William Wilson picked up her suitcase and tucked it under his arm. He pulled Clancy through the front door and down the concrete steps and cracked sidewalk to where the taxi sat on the quiet and dark street. After handing her bag to the driver he forced her into the back seat. He gave one brief look around the silent and sleeping neighborhood before taking his seat in the front of the cab.
“I don’t want to hear another word from you, young lady.” He stared straight ahead as he spoke. “Not one word, is that understood?”
She answered him with silence and simply looked through the window at her mother in the doorway, sobbing and hunched over, barely able to keep herself up. Somehow deep down inside Clancy had the strangest feeling that she might never see her mother again. All she could do now was cry silent tears. She was afraid, more afraid than she’d ever been in her life. She knew that begging and pleading with her father for his understanding was useless. He had made up his mind and no disgrace of a girl was going to change it.
There was a time when she'd been important to him - knew she was important to him - but that closeness was shattered in a mere heartbeat. Now all he cared for was the town and what everyone in it would think of him. Now, she was truly alone. Now, she was nobody's child.
Thanks for Reading!