The following is an excerpt from chapter 1 of my upcoming fantasy novel, Silevethiel. To read the first chapter in its entirety, go HERE. I hope you enjoy!
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The Vaelinel Trilogy, Book One
Irewen’s bare feet slapped against the cold stone floor as she ran down the hallway. The news of her father’s murder during the night pierced her heart like a knife.
She approached the king’s bedchamber, ignoring the guards’ mournful expressions. She’d seen many heinous injuries during the few times she had helped in the infirmary, but nothing prepared her for the grotesque scene that met her eyes when she burst into the room.
Her royal blue skirts fell still about her as she stared at her father’s mutilated body. Stabbed more times than she cared to tally, his torso was nothing but a chaotic mass of ripped flesh and tissue. Large amounts of blood had already congealed into dark sticky pools among the tattered remnants of his light green sleep shirt. The king’s heart, torn from his chest, lay draped across his forehead. Dried rivers of blood trailed into his unseeing gray eyes.
This can’t be happening!
Her hands trembling at her sides, she gaped at the scene before her in horrified disbelief. Closing her eyes, she willed herself to wake from the hideous dream. She struggled to push the horrid image of the king’s body from her mind, but it continued to hover behind her eyelids like a demon from a nightmare. The fetid smell of death permeated her nostrils; wincing, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes. It was not a dream. It was real.
A strong arm suddenly wrapped itself around her shoulders. Unaware of the man’s identity, she nevertheless allowed herself to be pulled into the sanctuary of his muscular arms as they circled her slender waist in a comforting embrace. She buried her face in his chest, her warm tears soaking his fine silk tunic. Overcome by the brutal finality of her father’s murder, her choked sobs drove away the penetrating silence enveloping them both.
“Forgive me, Irewen.” Her cousin Elthad’s rich sympathetic voice infiltrated the dense haze obscuring her senses. “You should not have been subjected to such an appalling scene. Come to the sitting room and join me in a drink. It will calm your nerves and aid in purging this distressing image from your memory.”
She did not resist as Elthad gently escorted her from the king’s bedchamber. Her pale blue eyes stared into nothingness as he slowly guided her through the expansive castle. Her spent tears glistened on her fair cheeks like tiny droplets of morning dew clinging to the delicate white petals of a rose.
She took no notice of her surroundings when they entered the lavish sitting room. Elthad led her to a settee where she perched uncomfortably on the edge of the velvet cushion, her skirts ballooning around her. A servant poured the wine. The clear ringing of crystal on crystal echoed off the stone walls, an unwelcome merriment invading her sorrow.
“Have a drink, my lady,” Elthad said, handing her a goblet from the tray.
She looked at the crystal wineglass uneasily; the dark liquid within matched the intense redness of her father’s pooled blood.
Elthad sat next to her and held the goblet to her pale lips. “Please, Irewen,” he pleaded. “At least take a sip. Your father’s murder has come as a tremendous shock. The wine will help your mind relax.”
She didn’t protest when Elthad carefully tilted the goblet to her lips. The velvety liquid trickled into her mouth and rolled against her tongue. She savored the strong earthy tones of the wine and relished the vintage as it slid down her throat, coating her insides with its rich, comforting warmth.
She took another sip, and her senses began to clear, the heavy fog rolling aside in her mind. Like the sun banishing rainclouds after a storm, the wine freed her from her daze. She could think clearly for the first time since bursting into the room housing her father’s mutilated corpse.
Tucking a stray raven curl behind her ear, she peered closely at Elthad, now fully aware of her cousin’s presence. His light brown hair framed his face in soft waves, falling just below his strong jawline. His rugged features, deeply tanned from the countless hours spent outdoors, displayed prominent battle scars covered by day-old stubble. Gazing intently at her through thick tawny eyelashes, his warm amber eyes offered what little comfort they could. He waited patiently for her to speak on the horrors plaguing her mind.
“Who?” she asked, her voice cracking like thin ice covering a pond. “Why?”
Elthad shook his head, appearing burdened by weariness and sorrow. “I do not know, my lady. I have questioned your father’s personal servants, as well as the guards and sentries who were on duty throughout the night, but I have not received any beneficial information. No one seems to have heard or seen anything out of the ordinary. I have not even ascertained if the murderer is still within the walls of the city.”
Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks. “Irewen,” Elthad said softly, taking hold of her hands, “until the murderer is discovered and we are able to establish his motives, your life is in danger. It is no longer safe for you to remain in Dürgeld or anywhere else in Dargon. You must leave. Travel north into Mistwood. Seek refuge with the Wood Elves.”
“No, Elthad. My duty lies here.”
“My lady, the people of Dargon cannot risk you suffering the same fate as your father. Although we have not had any recent dealings with the Wood Elves, Mistwood remains one of our most powerful allies. Lord Brandir will provide you with his protection until we have captured your father’s assassin. Once I am assured the city is safe, you will return to Dürgeld and take your rightful place as queen.”
Tense minutes passed while she considered her cousin’s words. She was an only child. The safety of the kingdom of Dargon was now her responsibility. She didn’t want to flee, yet Elthad had a reason for his concern. Until the murderer was found, she would live in a constant state of fear and trepidation. She knew in her heart that she would be of no use to her people until her father’s assassin was captured.
“Very well, Elthad,” she finally conceded, seeing the worried tension disappear from his face as he let go of her hands. “I will do as you wish.”
“Preparations for your departure will begin at once,” he said. “I’ll send our fastest rider to the elven city of Silverden to inform Lord Brandir of the situation. Five of my best men will accompany you as your personal escort. You must remain on your guard, especially while traveling through the vast farmlands to our north. There are few places that will provide protection against unwanted eyes.
Pausing to sip his wine, Elthad scrutinized her features. “Secrecy and haste are your best defenses,” he continued gravely. “Your long, black hair and fair skin are quite distinguishing characteristics, especially among those native of Dargon. Until you pass the southern border of Mistwood, keep your hair pinned beneath a head scarf. Wear poorer clothing, and conceal as much of your face and arms as possible. Let my men do the talking. You are to speak to no one. We cannot risk someone recognizing you, especially while you remain within the city walls.
“Whatever you do, you must trust my men explicitly. They will recognize signs of danger that you will not. Darkness is this maniac’s ally. You must be well outside the walls of the city before sundown. With luck, your movements will go unnoticed.”
She answered her cousin with an almost imperceptible nod. Letting her gaze fall to her hands resting delicately in her lap, she mulled over Elthad’s words. The entire situation felt totally surreal. She wondered if she would ever believe it to be anything but a nightmare.
Despite what reasoning told her, she didn’t want to leave. She felt comfortable in Dürgeld. It was familiar to her. It was home. In the twenty years of her life, she’d never ventured outside the stone borders of the city. She rarely even stepped foot beyond the castle grounds. She knew nothing of what the rest of the world looked like aside from what she read in books or learned from her father.
Even though she didn’t want to admit it, her cousin’s argument made sense. Anyone else would think she was asinine for wanting to remain in the vicinity of an assassin rather than seeking safety, but it was true. Like a baby bird preparing to fly for the first time, she was scared to venture from the security of her nest. But just like the bird, she had no choice. Even though she outranked Elthad, he had made his decision. She knew him well. He would hound her until she agreed to leave.
Like a thief in the night, she would flee to Silverden, abandoning her duties to her father and her people.