Today I’ll be posting the Prologue and Chapter 1 of my book. I know you may have already read the prologue as I posted it about a month ago, but it’s changed a bit since then.
Comments are always helpful.
15 years ago…
If only he could stop time, Kei thought to himself as he held his wife close, their tiny daughter cuddled between them. Then, maybe, he wouldn’t have to send them away. He could freeze the world and change it to suit him. But he couldn’t stop time any more than he could keep Brynn and ‘Dri with him. He had to protect them, and that meant letting… making… them go.
Tilting Brynn’s face up towards him, he kissed her one last time, pouring his soul into it. He could only hope she understood what he wanted her to know, what he couldn’t find the words to say.
Grabbing hold of her arms Kei pushed her from him, feeling his heart break in two as he did.
“You have to go,” Kei insisted, keeping Brynn at arm’s length.
“I won’t leave you,” she replied, rubbing the baby’s back soothingly. Kei knew the gesture comforted her as much as the toddler.
The edge of Tambrain, the village which had been their home, was filled with such scenes. Women and children cried as they embraced husbands and fathers, all their worldly possessions in bundles at their feet. Animals that had survived the years of war were tethered nearby, ready to journey with the women and children into the unknown.
Kei looked at Brynn and yearned to let her remain with him. She was exceptional with a bow and would only be an asset in the upcoming battle, but it wasn’t to be.
“You have to. You know Dalen wants the Golden Ones as pet magicians or he wants us dead, and I couldn’t bear to see you hurt.” Gently Kei stroked his wife’s cheek. “Give me ‘Dri,” he said, reaching for his daughter. The bubbly toddler shifted easily from Brynn’s hip to her father’s arms.
“Daa,” she cooed, leaning forward to slobber a kiss onto his bearded jaw. She had her mother’s blue eyes and his own dark hair. He hoped she would someday live in peace and prayed he would be around to see it.
“Go horf?” she asked, her eyes bright with excitement.
“Soon,” he told her, nuzzling his face into her soft tummy. Her bright peal of laughter echoed through the clearing, a stark contrast to the silent tears everywhere else.
“This plan is the best chance we have,” he told Brynn, cuddling his daughter close. “Galinna will take you and the others through the waterfall to Gretherain. Tambrain will be lost as surely as the rest of Broane has been. You can’t stay here. You can’t come fight. You have to go.”
“Can’t you join Galinna’s group of Golden Ones to protect our move? Explain that we need you!” Brynn pleaded, her warm brown eyes begging him not to leave her.
Kei gently shook his head, regret coloring his tone, “I can’t, Brynn. You know I have to lead the men. Family or no, I’m a Golden One and it’s my calling to protect our people. You have to watch over our baby girl. She’ll need you in the years to come.”
“She’ll need you, too!” Brynn objected mulishly. It was clear she was torn between staying with him and protecting their daughter. It was equally clear which would win.
Leaning forward, Kei kissed Brynn’s forehead, “If there’s any way I can come back to you, you know I’ll find it.”
Brynn nodded as she took their daughter once again, tears slipping down her face. Kei pulled her close, sheltering his wife and daughter within the safety of his arms. Searching for the calm beneath the turmoil of his emotions, Kei sought the source of his powers, the heart of his gift.
Drawing upon it, he let the magic flow from him into Brynn and ‘Dri. The magic joined them, connected them from soul to soul, and then it was gone. “Go,” Kei whispered, “Go with my love.”
As Brynn backed away from him Kei raised a hand to the sky. Flame shot from it, scorching the air above him as he shouted, “It is time! We will give Dalen a fight he will never forget as we buy our families time to flee. Tonight we set the world on fire!”
Cheers exploded from the men, all were preparing to die and all hoped they would live. As the men of Broane swelled the ranks around him, Kei looked beyond them for one last glimpse of his wife and daughter. Brynn was walking swiftly away with the other women. Though he waited, she didn’t look back. Adrianna’s small, tear-stained face watched him from over her mother’s shoulder. She was too young to understand, he thought. He hoped her mother explained it to her one day. Maybe then ‘Dri would realize he did this for her.
“I love you, Adrianna,” he whispered into the muggy air, his words too soft to be overheard by anyone else, “Grow up well. Some day the world will be in your hands.”
Adrianna smiled and closed her eyes against the soft glow of dawn, enjoying the light breeze that rippled through the clearing. She could hear the leaves of the old oak tree she had slept under rustling above her, and delighted in the perfect smell of the wind: grass, earth, flowers, and just a hint of sunshine. She loved that smell – it was the smell of freedom.
This small glade, high above her own hidden mountain village, was her sanctuary. From here she could feel the wind dance over the mountain, watch the wild animals who came here to graze or hunt, and listen to the music of the forest. She often escaped her duties in Gretherain to come up here. Here she wasn’t constantly besieged by requests or treated with deference. To the plants and animals here she was just a part of the world.
She’d always known she was different. She’d made friends with the wind when she was two. She didn’t remember it well, but knew she had been lonely and scared. She hadn’t understood why her life had changed, why her mother and the rest of her village had snuck out of their homes in the middle of the night and fled to a village hidden high in the mountains. She hadn’t understand why none of the fathers had joined them.
Her mother, Brynn, had brought her to one of the clearings where they grew food, and there she worked in the sun for hours, Adrianna playing with a rag doll in the shade.
“Ugh it’s hot,” Brynn had complained, wiping the sweat from her brow. “If there were just a hint of a breeze it would be easier.”
Watching her mother bend once more to the onerous task of harvesting rice by hand, Adrianna had asked the wind to come cool her. A gentle breeze had answered, blowing easily through the trees and clearing just enough to ripple the hem of her mother’s skirt. The breeze had stayed with them the rest of the afternoon, playing with Adrianna.
That first time had led to fifteen years of friendship with the air. The angry squall was as much a part of her as a gentle breeze, or a friendly zephyr. They had played with her, comforted her, watched over her, helped her and much more.
Although she’d discovered the wind when she was a toddler, it had taken five years before she convinced Brynn the wind was her friend. That was the last day of her childhood.
At seven years old she had been elevated in the eyes of the adults and alienated from the other children her age. The villagers would ask her for rain, or for more or less wind, and they would fight amongst themselves over the perfect weather that Adrianna conjure up year-round. The few times she had rebelled, calling angry gales or keeping the wind away for days, had led to scoldings by her mother and many of the village elders.
It had taken her four years to stand up to them, to announce that she would no longer regulate the wind. She would call rain if necessary, and send it away if they were in danger, but would not call the wind just to suit their desires. She wasn’t a tool, she was a person; and the wind wasn’t a toy, it was her friend.
That hadn’t gone over too well, but after much arguing her decision had been accepted. She’d had one blissful month of peace before her world had changed again. A number of the women in Gretherain were raising a new barn, having outgrown the old one. Spinning wool in the sun, Adrianna was near enough for Brynn to keep an eye on her while still being well out of the way. Occasionally she would jump up at someone’s request to fetch a tool or bring more tar.
She had been adding more wool to her spindle when there was a strange sliding sound and shouts from the barn frame. Adrianna looked up in time to see a large beam sliding down the roof supports and fall. It landed on three people, and Brynn was one of them.
Casting her spindle aside, Adrianna dashed across to her mother. Already the beam was being lifted from the women, but it was clear they were all wounded. Adrianna threw herself down next to her mother. Brynn was white with pain and blood flowed freely from a deep gash in her leg and Adrianna knew it was a deadly wound.
Adrianna had clamped her hand over the cut, pressing down with all her strength. She prayed as chaos swarmed around her; prayed to the gods, to the wind, and to Taneris itself for her mother to stop bleeding.
“Please mom,” she whimpered, her voice and body shaking even as she felt the warmth of magic spread through her, “please don’t die.”
Brynn opened her eyes and gasped.
Adrianna yanked her hand back, determined to do something though she didn’t know what. What she saw confused and startled her. It was the smooth, unblemished expanse of her mother’s leg. Thick ribbons of blood congealed on her skirt and thigh, but no wound, scar or mark existed to explain the presence of such large quantities of the sticky red liquid.
Looking at her mother’s face once more, Adrianna found her smiling, tears still streaming down her cheeks. Yet she saw a strange glimpse of sorrow and loss in her mother’s features that she didn’t understand. “What happened?”
“You,” Brynn had replied, love and sorrow thick in her voice as she struggled to sit up. “You healed me.”
Adrianna had shaken her head, “I can’t do that. I call the wind.”
Reaching out, Brynn caressed Adrianna’s cheek as a tear slid down her own, a mixture of pride and grief that Adrianna didn’t understand. “You can do both.”
She had been able to deny her people the wind, but healing was a different matter. That afternoon she healed the other two woman as well as her mother. She had since spent past six years tending to the people of Gretherain. She’d healed wounds, tended illnesses, soothed aches and took away pain.
That was what had sent her up here yesterday. She’d been too upset to return home and had ended up passing the night here. Phelan, one of the younger boys in her village, had badly broken his leg jumping out of a tree. It wouldn’t have been too bad had he not been Shela’s son. The ensuing argument had been one of the worst she’d ever had.
“You’ll not be touching my son with your witchy tricks and sneaky magic,” Shela shouted, standing between Adrianna and the boy.
“Be reasonable girl,” Devan, one of the village elders, interjected over Phelan’s screams, “He’s badly hurt and Adrianna’s the only one who can help him.”
“He’s my son,” Shela snarled, glaring at Adrianna as though she had made him break his legs on purpose, “I’ll help him. I’ll not have her touch him! Her kind took away our homes and our men; I refuse to let her take my son as well!”
“I did nothing to your dad!” Adrianna shouted, stung by the accusation, “I’m younger than you and mine never came home either. What could I have done about it?”
“No,” Shela sneered, her cold fury whipping over Adrianna like the wind of a hurricane, “You didn’t do anything. You’ve never done anything to help me or mine. You’re a selfish cow. If you and your other precious magicians hadn’t existed, Dalen never would have cared about us. He wouldn’t have fought us, forced us from our homes, or sent us into hiding. Phalen doesn’t need you, and I don’t want you.”
An hour of arguing had brought no change in Shela’s mood though Phelan was visibly wilting without proper care. Adrianna had stepped forward to help him but Shela had charged her. Caught off guard, Adrianna called the wind without thinking, sending a violent burst at Shela which had knocked her down.
Though unharmed, Shela went livid with rage and had to be restrained by Osfred.
“That was poorly handled,” Brynn had said quietly as Adrianna healed Phalen under Shela’s hateful eye.
“I know,” Adrianna replied tightly. Shame and anger warred within her. She had been trying to do the right thing, but a careless slip had cost her more than she earned.
Unclenching her jaw, Adrianna sighed, mentally returning to the present. She loved the wind her ability to heal, but she sometimes wished they didn’t come with such drama. She would much prefer to simply use her magic as it suited her and be done with the rest.
Standing, she crossed to the edge of the clearing where a steep drop and tall trees framed a view of the mountains beyond. She loved cliffs, all of them. They were one of the few places in the world where she could stand and truly imagine she was flying with the wind, that she could be a part of the air she loved so much.
Throwing her arms wide she called to the wind. A violent tempest answered her. He rushed through the valley, whipping through the trees and over the grass. Running headlong into the cliff he blasted up to meet her. She stood there, her face to the sky as he whipped around her, tousling her long, black hair and molding her blouse and skirt to her slender body.
She smiled as her worries eased, whipped away by the tempest.
Feeling better, she bid farewell to the tempest and let him go. As the wind calmed once more Adrianna took one last look around then turned to leave.
Following the nearly invisible trail that led down the mountain to her village, Adrianna broke into a run. She leapt over a small brook and pushed herself to go faster, her feet barely touched the ground before propelling her forward. She never faltered, never placed her foot wrong; perhaps it was her connection to Taneris, the earth, that kept her from falling. She didn’t know.
She loved to run. Like standing on the cliff she felt as though she could be a part of the wind when she ran. She often imagined the wind as a physical presence, running beside her with wild delight in its heart. It was a race between them, one that never ended and had no winner.
“Outrunning the mad King again, eh Adrianna?” A young man laughed as she burst from the forest by his home. It was an old joke in Gretherain. People often teased her that if the King ever found them, she’d be half way to safety before anyone could announce the danger.
“Not today, Bryce. But you know as well as I that if I don’t practice he might catch me some day.”
He laughed harder and Adrianna tried not to make a face as she turned towards home. She used to like Bryce, but he’d made it clear he didn’t care for her much.
“Adrianna! There you are. I’ve been looking for you for an age.” Brynn scolded as Adrianna entered their small home. Her sharp eyes quickly traveled the length of her daughter, taking in the bits of foliage clinging to her only child. “The gods only know what you get up to when you disappear. What have you been doing, rolling about in the leaves? It will be a miracle if we get you cleaned up before the feast this afternoon.”
Adrianna knew better than to try to explain. She stood there, marshaling all the patience she possessed as her mother and a few other women from the village crowded around her. Quickly they stripped her clothing from her and began washing her with dampened rags until she was free of even the most minute speck of dirt to mar her fair and freckled skin. They chattered around her like magpies as they cleaned her up, but she ignored them, wishing she had stayed in the clearing. It never mattered there if her skirt was grass stained or if she had dirt on her face.
“Oh!” one of the women, Devan she thought, though she wasn’t paying attention, exclaimed. “Look at your hair!”
Grinding her teeth, Adrianna closed her eyes tight and balled her hands into fists as they all began to bemoan the state of her hair. She did her best to keep it clean, but when you called the wind tangles and debris were inevitable. It tended to get whipped around.
Randomly picking the number eight hundred and thirty seven she began to count backwards, promising herself that she wouldn’t scream in frustration until she reached zero. Eight hundred thirty six… eight hundred thirty five… eight hundred thirty four… ouch! One of the four women now fussing with her hair was wrestling with a snarl, sending bolts of pain shooting through her scalp.
Six hundred thirteen, Adrianna thought, and even her inner voice sounded bored. Surely they couldn’t keep brushing and picking at her hair forever. Eventually she wouldn’t have any left. Six hundred twelve…
“… Dalen has been gathering his forces again.”
“What?” Adrianna asked, turning to look at the village elder, wincing as yet more hair was yanked from her scalp.
“Stop squirming,” Devan, who had been speaking, ordered. “The Golden Ones arrived earlier and told us King Dalen seems to be preparing for another war. As we’re between him and any other lands he may want to conquer, we’re to begin preparing for war again. He probably also wants another go at us, not that Ryan said as much.”
“But what more could he possibly want from us?”
“Ha! The greedy old bastard never did get the Golden Ones. He wanted their magic on his side so he can win his precious wars more easily.” Devan answered scathingly.
“It’s hard to believe his people don’t rise against a ruler who believes he was chosen by the gods to rule the world.” Brynn said harshly.
“I’d bet they’re more afraid of him than the rest of us,” Devan replied. “That or they believe it as well.”
“Do you think even he can find us here, in the mountains?” Adrianna asked, her voice betraying her worries.
“The Bricantans have been a good home to us, keeping us safely out of his sight and reach. But I think if he wants to find us, to finish exterminating our people as he started all those years ago, then he will.”
Adrianna struggled to suppress her shiver at Devan’s words.
“Never you mind,” the older woman continued, “The Broden are a stubborn people. We’ve evaded him for fifteen years, we’ll not roll over and die simply because he’s come around to try again. Remember, of all the nations who have fought him, we are the only people still alive.”
“Aye, but we hide in the mountains, exiled from our homelands. We’re a broken people, how can we resist him?” Adrianna argued as the fear inside her tightened its hold.
“Adrianna,” Devan said gently, turning the younger woman to face her, “We may be battered, but we are not beaten or broken. So long as the Broden have life in our limbs, we will fight him with all we have. Do not despair, we are stronger than you know.”
Adrianna nodded and went back to simply listening to the chatter around her. Despite Devan’s assurances, Adrianna could not suppress her fear of Dalen. He had forced them out of Broane, killed her father, hunted her people, and sought to destroy their way of life. How could Devan be so certain they would survive?
“There,” her mother announced, satisfaction ringing in the word as she set down the brush. “That’s better.”
“Indeed,” another woman said from behind her, “Who knew she had such lovely hair.”
Adrianna raised a hand to her hair and was shamefully surprised by how nice it felt. It was no longer a tangled mess with little bits of foliage scattered through it. No, the women had worked a miracle. Her hair now hung in silky black strands to her waist. She imagined it would shine like a black bird in the sun.
Her mother smirked at her expression of awe. “Nice, isn’t it? We’re not done yet. Time to get you into some proper clothes.”
Adrianna was quickly helped into yards of cobalt blue wool which was deftly smoothed into place as the back laces were tightened for a superb fit. The dress flowed over her figure like water from the gently scooped neckline, skimming her arms and torso like a second skin before falling in waves of fabric to her feet. She and her mother had spent hours weaving and dyeing the wool until it perfectly matched the color of her eyes. Yet more hours had then been passed as they pieced together a dress fitting for her ascension into womanhood and her trial with the Golden Ones.
As Brynn left her to go get the snowy tunic to further adorn this one, Adrianna wondered if she fully grasped the changes that would be made in her life. She had been so focused on the upcoming magical tests that she had given little thought to what it meant to become a woman. This dress was that of a woman. No longer would she be able to run wild in the clothes of a child. She’d have to devote more of her time to the chores of daily living, and think about accepting a husband. Days spent unproductively playing with the wind would be put behind her.
She continued to brood as her mother helped her into the brilliantly white wool tunic. It slipped on from behind, one arm into each wide sleeve, then laced in the front from her bust to her waist. Once laced the neck formed a deep V, showing off the vibrant blue dress underneath. The snow white tunic fell to her ankles as well, but large slits in the skirt allowed the cobalt peek through as she moved.
Clasping her daughter’s hands in her own Brynn beamed with pride and pure joy, “Your father would have been proud of you.”
Adrianna pulled her mother into a fierce hug, sniffling back tears. “I love you.”
Brynn hugged her tightly in return before shifting back. Gently wiping at the tear that spilled over Adrianna’s cheek she said, “You go show them who you are.”
Adrianna nodded as she pulled herself together. The upcoming test was the least of her worries. Why did everything have to change? It didn’t matter… she couldn’t feel bad about that now. She had to go out there and prove to her village, the Golden Ones, and herself that she was the best magician they would find. She had to prove she belonged.