Birth Stone: Hidden Gem Series Book One, страница 1
Birth Stone - Copyright 2017 by Kate Kelley
All rights reserved. This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.
Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The air in the ancient throne room settled around Techni in the unsettling way air does after a violent storm, as though nothing had changed. His silver robes hung statuesquely from his willowy frame, the fabric mirroring the blue sunlight filtering through the large stained glass windows. Auburn hair hung in limp curls around a chiseled, feminine face. He appeared as angelic as ever as he stared into the portal with warm eyes. The task was done. He knew soon the door would open. His brother would burst through, he would see the disbelief in his eyes, would witness the slow blood rage boil to the surface. And oh, how he would smile.
He detected Terrin’s movements through the veins of the hallway air, just beyond the heavy oak doors. At that precise moment the door exploded in a flurry of wood splinters and smoke. A large man stepped over the rubble in one determined bound. Dark hair jetting from his head, eyes ablaze, he turned to Techni, then to the portal into which Techni gazed, just through the shattered stained glass windows. Techni inhaled deeply, turned, and smiled at his brother.
“Where is she?” the dark-haired man asked in a low voice that rumbled from his chest like an avalanche, his eyes glued to his brother. Techni’s eyebrows shot up smoothly.
A chilled smile spread slowly across his delicate face. “You doubt my abilities, brother? You know she's gone. I am stronger than you, surely you see now.”
“You will die for this.” The oath ripped from Terrin’s throat in a collision of rage and agony, yet he stood in place, eyes swinging to the shattered window above him.
Techni sneered. “No, my dear, brute brother, I will not.” His calm mocked Terrin’s chaos. “I am king now, as it is.”
“No one will serve you, Techni, not once they realize what you’ve done.” Terrin wiped a hand over his face and swore. “Iris! Our sister!”
The last word was overtaken by the sound of Terrin's fist slamming into the window closest to him, smashing it into tiny crystallized pieces that sailed out through the warm churning air. This second act of destruction against the windows did nothing to cool Terrin’s ever-increasing rage. Blood dripped from his knuckles.
A lithe figure appeared at the entrance. A tall, yet slight woman with regal brown eyes and white, flowing hair stood ethereally, her presence seeming to brighten the small, dark space of the archway and missing door. She leaned on the stone door frame, gazing at the large golden throne situated just behind Techni. Terrin and Tenchi both turned to the door, Terrin rushing to the woman’s side.
“Mother, you...you should lie down.” Terrin’s voice cracked, unshed tears glimmering in his eyes.
His mother shook her head and began stepping over pieces of wood to get closer to her sons. “No,” she said softly, “I know what has happened here. I felt her leave. He banished my daughter. His own sister…” Her dark eyes took on an otherworldly light as she stared into the invisible void her daughter had slipped through just moments before, a black tunnel of air churning just through the shattered window. She was staring as if she could see Iris fading farther away. “She is locked away somewhere unreachable.” The woman inhaled shakily, eyes fixing onto Tenchi.
“Son, you know not what you have done. This cannot be forgiven.”
Techni’s ice blue eyes narrowed on his mother as he offered up an explanation he believed reasonable. “Rhea, I promise no harm will come to her. But it had to be done. She was not fit to rule this land--”
“The throne chose her, Techni. The land knows as we do not. You think to disobey the land?” Their mother closed her fluttering eyes, began stretching her head to the left and right, her thin hands opening and closing in fists.
“Not a single royal has disobeyed the throne’s choice since the beginning.” Her words were hushed, incredulous, as if she was speaking to herself rather than to Techni.
Terrin began to firmly turn her away from Techni, his eyes not wavering from his brother's face, the bloodlust in them all too apparent.
“Mother, you should go lie back down. I will take care of--”
Rhea stopped him with a frail hand. A small, withered, but powerful hand. A hand that had wielded her Aura for over two hundred years.
In between heavy breaths the aging Queen began speaking, “I am not as I once was, but I must do what must be done.”
Jumping away from Terrin with a vitality she hadn’t shown since before the sickness befell her, she brought her long arms out in front of her toward Techni. There was a fraction of a second where time stretched and then broke, giving way to her command.
“Fara,” she whispered. The word was short but heavy. A silent, blinding light filled the room, stretching into the far corners and shaking the walls. Techni’s face froze, a terrible twist of features belying shock and fear.
Terrin darted to his mother to catch her just as she fell back with the force of the magic. Looking up, he saw that Techni was gone, a faint scent of acrid magic the only trace of his existence, and Terrin knew what his mother had done. Horrified, not for his brother's sake, but for his mother’s, he looked down at the fading woman in his arms. Her skin shone like melting wax, her watery blue eyes pleading with Terrin to understand. Her thin, purple lips moved as she whispered her last order as queen and mother,
Then the light left her eyes.
Holding his dead mother, Terrin let out the harrowing bellow of a man who had at once lost his entire family and gained an entire kingdom. His voice shook the room, expanding to the tips of the lofty castle, and reaching out to the land that had already begun to change.
Ten Years Later
Sand surrounded her as she sat fixed to the crest of the dune, her gold burnished hair blowing in the salty air. Absently letting her palm graze the smooth, cool surface of the sand, she stared out at the sea and where it melted into the gray sky. The terrible, great pool before her was foreign, if only but once a year. It's inky deepness unsettled her, reminding her of the sickness that enshrouded those on their deathbeds, a cavern of despair. It seemed inescapably deep, almost heavy. The rushing waves like tortured hands reaching for its victim again and again. Shuddering, she fixed her eyes to a pearly seashell half buried near her left foot. She dug it out with her fingers, admiring the opal tones, the delicate weight in her palm.
She preferred the steadiness of land. The rich soil and rolling green hills of her home village in the Mainland, just a two hour horse ride north of the Shore. Out here the land was harsh, sharp rocks jetting from dry land that struggled to harbor any form of life. And of course the vast, terrifying Harrow Sea that many of Mainland town folk lovingly referred to as “the edge of the world.” Looking out into the glistening surface, she thought of her brother sailing toward her now. She wondered what he would look like this time. Would he be just slightly more weathered, the creases at the edges of his eyes and mouth deepened just a little more? She noticed the change every summer when he came back to see her, to tell
Alec was strong, always had been, but that didn’t stop Lyra from worrying. As the eldest by one year, she always had felt the need to protect him. He was always on the run and getting into trouble as a child; he had boundless energy, was foolhardy. But he was also very clever. He had the brains to figure out what must be done, and the courage to follow through with the plan. He had helped many farmers retrieve their wayward cows and bulls. Their parents had said he was different, special. Which was why she supposed he was chosen to be part of the royal court. Their parents would have been proud of him, she was sure. But Lyra still worried about what he had involved himself with. Maybe today was the day Alec would reveal what he does for the King. What service had he pledged to the King in trade for his life and for his family on his fifteenth birthday? Would he finally tell her? An inkling of unease formed in the back of her mind, but she pushed it away as a particularly strong gust of wind blew a waft of sand down the decline of the dune. She watched the granules ride the wind, separate, then disappear.
Great, indigo storm clouds that had been wafting in from the distance for some time picked up speed, and there, as if out of nowhere was the speck she was waiting for: Alec’s ship. He was home. Standing abruptly, she wiped the grains of sand from her weathered cotton dress, a faded green shade that used to be color of clovers, and now matched her olive eyes. Wiping the wisps of golden, spiraled hair from her sun-kissed face, she looked on and breathed a sigh of relief.
It took a half hour for the great ship to dock. Alec, of course, was not the captain, but was the only passenger, save for the paltry crew. The King could afford such waste, she supposed, especially on one of his most loyal subjects. The thought of the King never failed to send a spark of anger deep in her belly. She hated the King with all her being. Always had. She hated him for taking her brother, for keeping him eleven months out of the year. But she could never say that out loud. It was nearly forbidden to speak of the royal family in such a way. A huge taboo, in any case. The acidic tinge of rage bubbled in her gut and crept up her throat, but she tampered it down with a deep breath through her nose, and waited.
Her brother made his way up the dune toward her, a satchel slouched over one shoulder. Bad feelings dissipated, and she couldn’t help the smile that erupted onto her face as she ran down the dune toward him, sand flying like mist around her.
“By the gods, if it isn’t Lyra, my kid sister grown into an old woman!” He caught her and squeezed, setting her down and ruffling her hair.
Laughing, she tried her best to evade the hair tussle. “By the gods, if it isn’t my valiant brother, sent by the King himself to reassure us all he isn’t dead, but merely immortal.” His rich laugh rang out as he picked up his bag and set a healthy pace in front of her, Lyra keeping up in step next to him. The sky grew even darker as they walked toward town.
“Did Aunt allow you a horse this time, or are we to walk again?”
Hitting his arm, she replied, “We didn’t walk the whole way, last time. You remember we walked a bit and took a carriage, and you can’t say you didn’t mind it. You found many fine ladies to talk to on along the way.”
“Ah, Haven Shore has such fine women.” She snorted and shook her head. Her stomach rumbled and she realized she hadn’t eaten since dawn. Alec pulled an apple from his bag. She took it without thanks, and sank her teeth into it, the juice running down her chin. Their strides matched, an easy silence blanketed their walk. It was as if he wasn’t gone eleven months of the year. They walked the rest of the way down the dirt road to a modest tavern where two large brown horses awaited them, tied to the wooden gate. Lyra began to untie one and nodded to the other for Alec to take.
Alec balked. “How did Aunt afford these beauties?”
Lyra shrugged, “I don’t know, really.” She grabbed the reins along with a handful of mane, setting her left foot into the stirrup and swinging her other leg over its back, straddling her mount. She always was less ladylike when she rode a horse, but it simply made more sense to straddle than ride side saddle.
“Aunt just presented mine one day last week. This one’s a real beauty, “ she added, petting the horse’s lustrous coat, “She said yours would be waiting here for you so I’m assuming that steed is yours. I suppose Aunt saved her coins from the laundering.”
Alec’s eyebrows drew together for a moment, but smoothed a second later. His voice came out clipped.
“I guess it’s another perk to my job. I’ll have to mention your small living quarters next time. Maybe he will gift you a castle.” He mounted the larger horse easily.
Lyra’s face reddened. She swore she detected anger in her brother’s voice, but couldn’t understand why. “Why is that a bad thing? It’s one luxury. You should be paid a hell of a lot more than you are now.”
“They pay me just fine--”
Her voice rose a notch. “Alec, we only see you one month out of the year. One single, blasted month. And we don’t even get to write the other eleven months. We are kept in the dark on how you fare-- if you're safe, what your daily life is like. We hardly even understand what it is that you do for the King--”
“And best it is kept that way.”
Alec’s face turned dark, a stormy look overshadowing his usually bright features, matching the skies above them. A flash of lightning streaked the sky. He reached for his satchel and procured a flask, wasting no time to down its contents. Lyra caught a whiff of alcohol and berries. She wrinkled her nose at him. Alec only drank when he was highly stressed.
Yes, she could see the age now. He looked well-beyond his twenty-four years. Purple under his dusty blue eyes, five o’clock shadow at his jaw. Gray dusting at the temples of his mahogany wavy locks. His mouth a tight line. He looked at her then, dead in the eyes, and she could see the pain there. It was like a bolt to her heart. She felt his pain and tears stung her eyes. She suddenly sensed something larger, something almost sinister. Breath left her lungs in a vacuum, her mouth turned to sand, and a dead weight dropped into her stomach. She couldn’t explain her sudden dread.
Passersby glanced in their direction, but she didn’t offer a friendly wave or even a nod. She swallowed and raised her eyebrows at her brother, giving a brave face, silently demanding he give more information. Lyra felt a warm raindrop splatter on her cheek.
“Let’s ride,” Alec's voice turned weary as he replaced his flask. “Aunt will be waiting with supper.” And with that, he signaled his steed to move in front of her, dirt rising from the ground; he made his way down the road, Northbound. The drumming of rain mingled with the steady beat of his steed’s gallop until it drowned it out as a barrage of water fell from the sky. She followed, her questions lingering behind her in the dusty downfall.
Three hours into the ride and the sky was finally clearing, the afternoon sun peeking from behind fat clouds, hot and unwavering. Lyra felt her hair drying and bouncing back into tight spirals. They made their way into the Black forest; soon they would be upon the village's entrance gates. The forest was named for it’s rich, black soil, fertile enough to be remembered in songs across the land to the Northern folk on other side of the mountain. There were all manner of plants and trees, growing strong and pure towards the light of the sun. Meadows and clearings bursting with fruit trees, apple, pear, and orange. Streams and creeks, bubbling refuge for the woodland animals. The purest, more fragrant flowers peppered the trails. It was a giving forest, to those who would accept the gifts. Many of the older town’s people wouldn’t even venture into the forest, claiming there were witches and fae about, preferring to buy the goods at market.
“I have to take a piss!” Alec announced his voice slightly slurred.
“It can’t wait? We are less than a half hour to the gates,” a bemused Lyra shot back.
“If we do that I’m liable to wet my trousers. This is royal cloth, you know. Terrin wouldn’t take kindly to that.”
Lyra tamped down the jolt of nerves at the name.“Who's Terrin?”
Alec shot her a puzzled look. “The king, of course. Didn’t you know his given name?”
Her jaw dropped. The King’s given name. Her mind reeled. She didn’t know any who spoke of the king on such casual a cadence.
Alec forgets how the real world functions. He’s spent too much of his life at court. The brandy isn't helping either.
She stored that bit of information away for later. Slowing her horse, she pulled him to the side of the trail.
Alec swiftly dismounted and disappeared into the bushes. Lyra rolled her eyes again.
Men. Though, to be honest, she was glad for the break, even if they were close to home. Her bum was numb and her back ached. Her stomach rumbled. Only a bit of bread from the tavern had sustained her since dawn when she had woken to meet Alec. And now the day was coming to evening. She looked forward to sitting with her feet up in their modest, cozy cottage, eating their meal of what was likely Alec’s favorite--mutton stew with fresh herbs and hearty vegetables from their own garden. Apple pie with fresh cream for dessert.
Yes, they got along just fine without the King’s favor. Lyra contributed the most from her small teaching salary, and Aunt brought in what she could from laundering. It wasn’t the royal life by any means, but it was comfortable, which was more than most could say. Looking at the horses, she shook her head. It was quite strange that a King she had never met, let alone seen a picture of, knew of her, and was so close day in and day out to someone of her own flesh and blood. Turning and leaning against a large oak tree, the rough trunk supported her aching back. The leaves left moving shadow patterns on the forest floor, above her a living canopy shading her from the fading afternoon sun. She leaned her head against the sturdy trunk of the tree.