The Eirian Chronicles
Book One: Broken Ties
Copyright 2004 by J.E.D as Common Law Literary Property.
Muldora swept through the grand entryway, her heels clicking on the polished marble, she strode purposefully toward her destination. Servants ducked their heads and scurried into the shadows as her gaze slid over them.
A tight smile curved her blood red lips at the abject terror upon their faces. A cruel laugh bubbled up slipping past those dangerous lips, reverberating along the cold stone walls and sending chills down the spines of those within hearing range.
The doors to the throne room slammed open at her approach, and a small hunchbacked man scurried into view. His greasy hair hung in lifeless clumps around his ghastly face. Dark, glassy eyes trailed the curves of her body in a mix of lust and revenant fear as a smile twisted his fleshy lips.
"Welcome home, my Queen." He dropped to one knee before her, lifting the hem of her velvet dress and pressing his lips to the gold trim.
Muldora turned her head from the disgusting man, her eyes lighting with glee at his submission. "Enough Oark. You know how I feel about your…Displays."
Lifting her hand she slapped him full on the face. His cheek immediately turned an angry red. Oark wore the mark proudly, straightening as much as his disfigured form would allow, he peered at the bundle resting in the crook of her left arm.
"Please, Mistress. Let me look upon him."
Muldora rolled her eyes, heaving a great sigh. "Oh, very well. He is, after all, your son."
Bending at the waist she pulled the blanket aside and allowed Oark to look upon the babe.
Round, jet black orbs stared up at them. Oark gasped, gripping fistfuls of his filthy shirt.
"Oh, Mistress, he's perfect, just perfect. I am gracious to have this opportunity to please you." He bowed, wiping a tear from his cheek, leaving a trail of clean skin among the grime.
"Does my son have a name?"
"I have named him Sama'el. Our deliverer." Muldora's eyes gleamed as she lifted the child into a shaft of sunlight.
Oark pressed his dirty hands as he once more looked over the child. "His name brings to mind images of kings, my Queen."
Muldora smiled at the babe, moving toward a large ornate iron crib.
"He will make a fine King." She ran a finger along the child's cheek as he drifted toward sleep. Ignoring Oark, Muldora continued to stare at the child. She had worked so hard for this child; put forth so much of her magic. She was tired, so very tired. She knew she needed rest.
"Mistress? Your promise?" Oark shuffled forward, twisting his hands together.
Muldora straightened to her full height, turning her piercing gaze upon him, lifting an eyebrow. She crossed her arms over her breasts as she stared down at him.
"Mistress?" Oark whimpered, retreating a step.
"Yes, I did promise you a reward for a job well done. And I always keep my promises." Her voice held a menacing lilt as she towered over him. Her dark eyes went white as she concentrated on Oark, placing her hands on his crooked shoulders.
Oark gasped as snake like vines of white light poured into his body. He screamed as she brought him to his knees, her nails digging into his skin, drawing blood. She smiled a gruesome smile as his face began to contort and his body convulse. His scream increased in pitch as his body shuddered.
Twitching and stretching, he shrieked as he pulled himself into the fetal position. Muldora stared down at him as his lank, greasy hair sucked back into his bulbous head. His back began to straighten, his hair grey in glossy black curls. In a matter of moments the transformation was complete. His skin was a glowing olive complexion, his eyes bright. Slowly, he stood standing tall for the first time in his life. He looked down at his hands, strong hands, touched his face. His eyes filled with tears as he crumpled to his knees, pressing his face into the hem of her dress.
"Oh, thank you, Mistress." Oark sobbed.
Muldora stroked his glossy black hair, staring happily at her newest creation. Her body wanted to tremble with exhaustion, but she ignored it. It wouldn't do well for a minion to see his Queen tremble.
"You did well." She patted his head, then turned and started toward her chambers once more. Stopping, she looked over her shoulder at the half naked man sitting on her polished marble floor. Her lips curved into a vicious smile. There were all kinds of ways to rest.
"Come to my chambers in an hour." The clicking of her heels echoed as she strode from the room.
The day dawned bright and warm. Birds sand and flittered from tree to tree. The sun warmed Alwen’s cheeks, rousing her from her dreams. She blinked trying to rid herself of the last remnants of the dream, but it wouldn’t budge. It was then she noticed Rikard’s arm wrapped around her waist. A smile pulled at her lips as she listened to the steady beat of his heart. The rise and fall of his chest was comforting, and yet their closeness filled her with a budding desire.
Closing her eyes she slid her hand up his chest, resting it above his heart. She jumped slightly when his fingers closed around hers, causing her to look up into his honey brown eyes, her heart tripping in her chest at the smile hidden there.
“Morning, Love.” His voice was rough from sleep, the light wind ruffling his curly hair. He leaned forward, kissing her softly.
His actions shocked her into silence. She must still be dreaming, and yet the gleam in his eye was real enough.
“Good morning.” She stuttered, reluctantly pulling herself away from him. Pulling her knees to her chest, she wrapped her arms around them, watching him. They’d been close before on their journey, but this was the first time they’d ever slept together. She hoped it wouldn’t be the last time.
The wind picked up then, lifting her hair and throwing it back into her face. Without thinking Rickard leaned forward and brushed the wisps away, tucking them behind her ear. He let his finger tips brush along her skin, amazed at how soft her skin was. She smelled of a spring night, her scent clinging to his clothes. He longed to pull her close and kiss her, to just hold her in his arms and call her his own. We’re so young, how could I bind her to me now? What if she should change her mind? His eyes clouded over at the thought of her leaving him, his heart clutching. He couldn’t imagine his life without her in it. Until her could be sure of her heart, and his ability to provide for her, he would have to remain her friend and nothing more.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, better than I have.” Alwen smiled over at him, puzzled. His voice had changed, for a moment it was touched with emotion. But it was gone so quickly she must have imagined it. The horses nickered and shifted restlessly.
“I suppose we should get going soon. Will we reach Maringanoh today?”
“We should, unless something comes up.” Rikard smiled at her, stirring the coals of the fire to life.
The morning passed smoothly and the scent of biscuits soon filled the air. Camp was broken down quickly now, as they were well into a routine, and soon they’d put a few miles behind them. The forest began to thin out the further south they traveled, the spaces between the trees growing more prominent.
“I’m going to miss the forest. My tribe traveled a lot, but we always kept close to the forests.” Alwen looked around sadly at the sparseness of growth. Brisa snorted and bounced her head, as if in agreement.
Rikard flashed a smile at her as Carbon danced along the road. They would have to pick up the pace soon, or the stallion would never be happy. He chuckled and patted the horse’s strong neck.
“Don’t worry, Alwen. The cottage isn’t far from the wood. You can still frolic in the trees.” He regretted the words as soon as they left his lips. The image of her dancing in the woods at sunset was all too appealing.
Alwen giggled and shook her head, her long pale hair glinting in the sun.
“Do you think my healing skills will be useful? I’ll need to find someone to continue teaching me how to control my empath abilities.”
“Grandfather said there was a healer, but I don’t see why she wouldn’t take on an apprentice, especially someone as skilled as you. And I could always help you with your empathy, if you would let me.”
“I would like that, Rikard.” Her heart pounded at the thought of the closeness that training would require. She couldn’t have wished for a better teacher.
“Carbon looks, restless. Shall we pick up the pace?”
Rikard beamed at her, his eyes flashing as he gave the stallion his head. Dust trailed behind them as the horses flew over the road. Time was forgotten as Alwen lost herself in the ride, the fluid movement of her mount.
The sun rode high in the sky when they stopped to rest the horses. A shaded area by a small pond made a perfect rest stop, and they broke for lunch.
She couldn’t see. Smoke blurred her vision, burned her lungs. Screams surrounded her, filled her with panic. Her heart slammed against her ribs, beating a painful tattoo. She couldn’t move, couldn’t run, trapped in a world of pain and terror. And then laughter. A harsh, bone chilling sound that crept into her very soul. Hands with snakes for fingers reached for her, enveloping her in death itself.
Alwen woke screaming. Her heart pounded in her chest as if trying to break free. Placing a hand to her damp brow she struggled to control her breathing.
Her heart jumped again when her door opened and Rikard walked in. The flickering light of the candle he held cast shadows across his handsome features, teasing shades of blonde from his thick hair.
“Are you hurt?” His voice was soft, warm and gentle as a lovers caress. It was strange how a voice alone could fill you with such longing.
Alwen shook her head not yet trusting her voice. Her body shook, whether from the remnants of the nightmare or his closeness, she wasn’t sure.
His honey toned eyes remained on hers, worry filled. She reached out a trembling hand to his cheek, felt the night’s growth of beard.
“Just a nightmare.” Her voice shook despite herself, and because of it she squared her shoulders.
He caught her hand when she would have pulled it away, and pressed his lips to it, sending her heart tripping.
“I could feel your pain. It broke my heart.” He left his lips against her skin, sending chills climbing up and down her spine.
“That’s what happens when you live with an empath.” She chuckled softly, her pulse beating rapidly at the slow, absent movements of his thumb on her wrist. Some part of her wondered if he knew what he was doing to her. Their eyes met, and she caught the mischievous glint in his honey depths, she knew.
“Yes, but fortunately for me, pain is only one of the stronger emotions you project.”
It was then she realized he was shirtless. The candle light flickered over the hard plains of his abdomen. Color flooded her cheeks. She tried to pull away, but he held her wrist in an iron grip. Velvet lined, but iron none the less.
“Alwen, I-“ She shook her head, placing a finger on his lips. For fifteen years she’d been praying to hear the words she feared he would say now. She’d expressed her love to him when she was a child of thirteen. The year before her world fell apart. Now she was a woman, and smart enough to know things uttered in the relief of night took on a different hue come morning.
“Have you had any more visions?” Alwen asked quickly, toying with the blankets pooled around her waist, avoiding his gaze.
Rikard scowled and stood to pace the room. He pulled his fingers through his hair, the muscles in his arms bunching.
“It will happen sometime soon. Something important. Vital. But I can’t get any more than that. It has something to do with the full moon.”
“Women give birth on a full moon.” Alwen said absently, pulling at a loose thread. She looked up when he stopped moving.
“Midwife, remember? Full moons tend to be busiest. Something to do with the force of the moon.” She shrugged, her white blonde hair cascading down her slim shoulders.
“In my vision I keep seeing a round ball. An orb of some kind. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! The full moon. It’s going to come to pass on the full moon!”
“What is? Rikard, how can we prepare if we don’t know what’s coming?”
Grinning, Rikard leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“I know. It’s in here.” He tapped his temple. “Somewhere.”
With that he was off, leaving Alwen confused, amused, and alone.
Alwen stood on her small front porch, watching the sun climb up from behind the hills to its anointed position in the sky. She warmed her hands with a cup of herbal tea. The scent of jasmine and chamomile calmed her. The night had been restless for her, plagued by her nightmares and Rikard’s closeness had left her hormones raw.
It was a new day full of hope and promise. Maybe today she could forget the pain, lose her deamons in the quiet mist of the hills and valleys of Maringanoh.
“And maybe pigs will fly.” She muttered, shaking her head.
“I once knew a magician who claimed he could do that.” The quiet playfulness in his voice had her spine going stiff. It didn’t seem to matter to her hormones that she’d lived with the man for the past twelve years. His scent alone made her heart skip several beats.
“Good morn, Alwen.” His breath was warm against her skin as he pressed his lips to her shoulder. He smiled at her, his eyes soft and warm. Did she know? He wondered. Could she know how beautiful she looked standing in her white gown with the sun rising around her. He could see her body through her night dress. The sight took his breath away.
He’d watched her grow up, personally protected her through most of his life. Was it any wonder he felt so strongly? She’d told him she loved him once. They’d been children then, and she’d scared the breath from him.
He thought, hoped, she still had feelings for him, but she’d never brought it up again, never said those words.
How many times had he gone to her in the night, held her while she slept? Done everything in his power not to push her, even when his body screamed for hers.
“Good morning Rikard. There’s hot water on the stove. I can make you some tea?”
Rikard shook his head, offering a smile. “You don’t have to wait on me, Alwen, we’re not married.”
His words stung. Embarrassment colored her cheeks.
“I enjoy making you tea. And you’ve never before complained when I’ve cooked or done the wash!” Her white blonde hair fanned around her shoulders as she spun around. Tea sloshed, spilled over the rim, unnoticed. Her bare feet slapped against the floor as she stormed into the kitchen, reining in her temper just before she smashed the cup into the sink.
Her shoulders shook with frustration. She heard him step into the room, forced herself to take deep breaths.
“Alwen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I appreciate everything you do.”
She turned slowly. She wanted nothing more than for him to take her in his arms.
“Were you able to clarify your vision?” She kept her eyes lowered, her voice soft. Those two acts, simple though they were, caused Rikard’s stomach to drop.
“It’s a birth. Are any of the women in town pregnant?”
Alwen gave him an arch look, laughing softly.
“Only about five of them. A pregnancy doesn’t narrow it down by much.” She tapped her finger against her lips, her anger forgotten.
“The full moon is only days away, there are two women that should deliver around that time. Tsoka and I are supposed to go check on Lieria Jade today. I’ll know more after that.”
Rikard nodded, chewing his thumb nail in thought.
“Yes, keep me informed.”
Alwen smiled as he turned toward the back of the house moving toward his room, knowing she’d lost him. It was one of the things she loved about him. How completely focused he could be. She just wished he would turn that focus on her. Sighing, she walked to her bedroom to dress. Tsoka wanted her at the Jade’s today, and she had little time left to prepare.
Tsoka was waiting outside the large house when she pulled Brisa to a stop. Tsoka was a skilled if out dated healer. She taught Alwen a great many things in her first two years, and in turn Alwen had taught her. Alwen enjoyed working with the townsfolk every day.
Healing their wounds brought her feelings of joy. Before she knew it twelve years had passed, and in that time she'd delivered six babies, cured four small children of pox, and healed an old farmer's broken rib. Each night she made the two mile walk home feeling equal parts rewarded and exhausted.
She beamed down at Tsoka as she slid off Brisa, tying her lightly to a post.
“Good morn, Tsoka.” Her voice was cheerful against the older woman’s narrowed eyes.
“What’s good about it?” Tsoka spit rudely to the side, sniffing as she hitched her shoulder. “I just want to get this over with.”
Alwen rolled her eyes and fell into step with the older woman.
“The Jade’s aren’t that bad. Lieria is quite sweet.”
“Lieria isn’t the one I’m worried about. It’s her blasted husband.” Tsoka spit out the words, as if they left a bad taste in her mouth.
Alwen pressed her lips together, trying to keep from laughing. She struggled to get herself under control as Tsoka rapped on the door. Tsoka had barely stepped back when the door flew open reveling a tall, well built man. His hair was jet black, his eyes a brilliant green. His skin was a dusky gold, a mix of heritage and working outdoors.
“Eris,” Tsoka sniffed, looking up at the imposing man.
“Lady Healer, Alwen.” Eris inclined his head to each in turn, moving away from the door and ushering them inside. The room was dim and cool, the furnishing plush. Lieria relaxed on a chaise before the hearth.
“Tsoka, Alwen, I wasn’t expecting you today.” She struggled to sit up, her girth making it almost impossible without help. Tsoka tsked at her and hurried forward, placing her gnarled hands on either side of her massive stomach. Alwen stood to the side, looking around the room as Tsoka spoke softly to Lieria.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled, causing her to look around. She was shocked to find Eris’s eyes on her, his look piercing. She felt as if she were being undressed. She couldn’t understand the look in his eye. Was he really looking at her like that? Or was she simply unnerved by the intensity of his stare.
“Alwen?” Tsoka’s sharp voice broke into her thoughts, snapping her back to attention.
“I’ve just told Lieria I’ll be staying with her. I need you to remain ready. The birth could be any day now.”
Alwen nodded, then said her goodbyes to Lieria, nodding once to Eris as he showed her out. She stroked Brisa’s neck as she untied her and led her up the hill toward home. Her mind wandered as she listened to the sound of the town around her. She couldn’t wait to see Lieria’s child. The poor woman had waited long enough to conceive. Alwen prayed that nothing would go wrong during delivery. She would do all in her power to make it so.
Three days had passed since she’d been to the Jade household. Her nights had been restless, waiting for a message from Tsoka. The fourth night was like any other night. She'd helped their neighbors, a lovely young couple, deliver their first child.
Rain pelted the ground and a bitter wind turned the drops into icy needled. Her cheeks stung from the onslaught and she was soaked to the bone. She'd hoped the storm would hold off until she'd made it home. She could just see the light of the lantern Rikard had hung outside when she heard her name being called. Turning, she tucked her rain soaked hair behind her ear, her eyes straining in the night.
"Yes? Hello?" She called out. She longed for home and the warmth of the fire.
"M'lady healer! Please!" A young man not fifteen summers old ran toward her, panting. He held his lantern higher illuminating their faces.
"Ian, what is it? It's a miserable night."
"Yes ma'am, but Leeonka's gone into labor. We need you."
Alwen sighed, pulling her drenched cloak closer. Leeonka wasn't supposed to deliver for a fortnight. Something must be wrong if Tsoka had sent Ian for her.
"Yes, of course I'll come." Her chill seemed to worsen as they reached the Jade house. Chills raced down her spine. The home of Eris and Lieria Jade was warm and brightly lit. The furnishings were just short of royal, the Jade house being the largest in town.
Tsoka was spooning amber liquid into a cup when Alwen walked in.
"Good, you're here. I've a need of you it seems. Watch him until I call for you." The old woman's lips were tight as she looked up from her herbs. Alwen's chills increased at the strained look in her eyes. Tsoka shot Eris a scowl as she shuffled past him into the back room.
Eris glowered at the older woman, and then stormed toward the hearth.
"Blasted old witch won't let me back there, says I'm in the way." He pulled a large tanned hand through his inky black hair. He was an attractive man, his brilliant green eyes held a soldiers horrors. His stance was military, and it was that same training that kept his voice quiet and remarkably calm.
"Bitty." He muttered staring into the fire.
Alwen eyed him warily, unsure. Beneath his calm exterior, the man was a bundle of nerves.
"May I offer you something, Sir? I could make a tea? Perhaps something for your nerves?" Alwen fought the urge to step back as the large man turned toward her. Her heart raced in her chest as she awaited his response. She couldn't understand her reaction to him. He wasn't overtly frightening, he was tall yes. And strong. There was a power about him, one that frightened her more than it should. She had a feeling this man could have anything he wanted. The look in his eyes at the moment made goose bumps crawl along her skin.
Eris stared at her. She was impossibly small, and soaking wet. Looking closer he noticed the dark circles blooming on her pale cheeks. Her white blonde hair was tousled and dripping and she was shaking. From the cold or fear? She was lovely, he couldn't deny it. Like an overgrown fairy. The child had to have elfin blood. His blood stirred hot in his veins, shaming him. His wife was laboring to bring his child into this world, and his blood stirred for this woman? He opened his mouth to respond when Tsoka stuck her head into the room.
"Alwen, I need you. It's time."
"Go." Eris whispered, his voice rougher than before, his eyes filled with emotion.
Alwen nodded and hurried after Tsoka. She couldn't think about the odd interlude just now. She needed her mind clear for the task ahead of her. She ducked into the delivery room, letting the door fall closed behind her.
Eris sighed as the door closed behind Alwen. He didn't know why, but he'd felt calmer looking into her pale blue eyes. Everything was pale about her, and yet she'd left such a vibrant image in his mind. He forced out a breath as he forced thoughts of her from his mind. He was a married man, a married man about to be a father. Pouring a glass of brandy, he looked once more at the door to the room where his wife labored to bring life into the world.
"Gods be with them." He toasted softly, tossing the spicy liquid back.