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“The land was stolen from us. It bleeds under the abuse of the Others. One will be born to right the wrong, the Jada-Drau.”
An ancient scroll predicts disaster for the country of Ardael. Lord Saulth wants to sire the one who will save it, but the fickle gods give him another daughter. He hides her away to grow up nameless, alone, and abused, until one night she is drawn to a strange sound.
Young Lord Cenith is the victim of an attempted robbery. When he tries to discover why anyone would want an old scrap of parchment, it yields unexpected results including a marriage forced upon him in an effort to keep the peace.
But matters only grow worse when Saulth discovers the truth of the Jada-Drau and will do anything, even murder, to fulfill the prophecy.
Warning! This Book Contains Adult Content. Not recommended for children!
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Summer, the year 410, Ardaeli Reckoning
A wayward summer breeze drifted through the window, ruffling pristine ivory curtains. Cool, late afternoon air dried sweat from the brow of the woman lying on the bed too late to provide any respite. With a sigh of relief, the midwife pulled a small, mewling bundle from the bloody linen sheets. Councillor Rymon let loose the breath he’d held. The child was alive; unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the mother.
The midwife cleaned the child’s mouth of birthing fluid while her assistant laid a clean sheet over the mother’s body, covering a once pretty face now distorted into a frightening visage by the throes of a horrific death. Rymon shivered despite the heat of the day. His ears still echoed with Lady Islara’s screams; bad enough when the child wouldn’t come, ten times worse when Saulth, Lord of the principality of Bredun, ordered his mistress cut open to save the babe. Rymon prayed to the goddess Talueth that Islara could finally find peace. Now if only…
“'Tis a girl, m’lord.” The midwife’s voice trembled as she wrapped the newborn in a clean blanket. Rymon’s heart sank.
The woman held the infant close to her breast, taking a step backwards, away from Lord Saulth. He faced the fireplace, both hands splayed over the grey stones. His fingers curled, as if trying to pull the rock from the mortar. He slammed a fist against the chimney. Rymon winced.
“A girl!” Saulth spat the word. “Not the one promised to me. More time lost!”
“My Lord.” Rymon braced himself for the coming onslaught, but the words had to be spoken. “The scroll does not say it must be a boy.”
Lord Saulth spun, his lean features twisted in rage. “What use is a girl to my plans, Rymon? Tell me that!”
“I... I...” Rymon gulped. No more words found their way past his constricting throat; none that could soothe his lord’s anger, anyway. Only time had a chance. Time, and for blessed Aja to roll his divine dice in their favour for a change.
Saulth strode to the door of the bedchamber and yanked it open, startling the guards on the other side. He paused in the doorway, then said, “Kill it. It is of no use to me.”
“No, m’lord! Please! She’s done nothin’!” the midwife cried, clutching the child and turning from her lord.
“And will do nothing! Useless, like all her gender.” Saulth moved back into the room, heading for the midwife and the infant.
Without thought, Rymon stepped in his path, holding up his hands. “Please, My Lord! Wait and see! She may yet be the one you seek. The scroll gives no hint as to the gender of the...”
A powerful backhand sent Rymon sprawling, crashing into the stone wall of the bedchamber. The tapestry he hit did little to cushion him. Pain exploded in his left arm and hip. Saulth reached his side in seconds, pulling Rymon up by the front of his tunic.
“I have read the scroll. A thousand times.” Saulth’s calm voice belied his anger. “Do not presume to know more than I do.”
“I do not, My Lord! I only wish to remind you that all is not clear! There…” Rymon gulped and licked his lips, forcing his voice to come out as more than a croak. “There is the missing part. It may reveal additional information. If you kill the child, and she proves to be the one…” He tried to shrug. “What would it hurt to keep her? At least until we know for sure.”
Saulth let him drop to the ground. Rymon stifled a groan. I am too old for this! He glanced at the midwife still cowering in the corner near the bed, her assistant beside her. What the woman thought she could do if Saulth tried to take the babe, Rymon didn’t know.
“Five years I searched for the pieces of the scroll.” The Lord of Bredun’s pride might be mollified, but his anger still raged. “Another two to interpret the four I did find, three more to track down a woman with enough of the Blood in her to fulfill the requirements, and this is what I get. A female!”
Saulth moved toward the women. The midwife turned away from him, sheltering the child, while her assistant tried to protect them both. Two grey-haired women against a trained fighter, who also happened to be their lord. Brave, but foolish. Rymon struggled to his feet helpless to assist them even if he dared. He fought to remain standing, grasping the wall to steady himself.
Just before reaching them, Saulth spun toward the window. He stood, feet apart, his hands behind his back. Long moments passed while he stared at the city of Valda spread below him, a living tapestry of stone and wood. Beyond the city, green and gold plains stretched to the steep purple-white mountains of Dunvalos Reach, a distant, hazy backdrop. Rymon didn’t need to look out the window to know what Saulth saw; he’d spent the better part of the last three days leaning on the casement, trying to ignore Islara’s pain.
No one moved; the women too afraid to remind their lord they were there, Rymon too weary in body and spirit. Why the babe didn’t make a sound, only Talueth knew.
Rymon shifted his weight from his sore leg. He’d seen forty-seven summers, and yet he felt twice that old, all due to an illness he’d suffered as a child. Lord Saulth’s tall, straight body darkened the window for what seemed an eternity. Nineteen years younger, Saulth was blessed with a health and vigour Rymon had never known. Life is hardly fair, but at least I have had a life. He prayed that the girl would have the same chance.
The women didn’t move. They appeared to barely breathe. Their fear showed on their faces, in their stance. It was plain they thought their Lord harsh and cruel, but Rymon knew Saulth did what he felt he must in order to save Ardael, their beloved homeland.
“I was so sure,” Saulth whispered.
Rymon started, Saulth’s voice slicing like a sword through his thoughts. He pushed himself away from the wall and limped closer to his lord, closer to the women. Saulth continued to stare into the darkness the window showed him. When had the sun set?
“Where did I go wrong?” Saulth spoke to the burgeoning night. Rymon kept his silence. “I performed the ritual exactly as instructed every time I lay with Islara. It should have worked.”
Saulth turned from the window, his face set. “We are running out of time, Rymon. Our country is in danger, but the fools on the council will not listen to me, and I dare not tell them about the scroll. The idiots would only laugh. The Jada-Drau is our one hope, but he must be born soon. If not, Ardael will perish and Bredun along with it.”
Rymon shuffled his way between Saulth and the women, resting a hand against the window frame for support. His arm and hip ached, but he forced the pain aside.
“Find me another woman of the Blood, Rymon, and quickly.”
“My Lord, it was difficult enough to retrieve this one.” She’d been found far to the south and had cost Saulth much in both money and men to steal her away from her father.
“How many others were traced back to the Old Ones?” Saulth folded his arms, transfixing Rymon with his gaze.
Why does he ask? He knows the answer. “Ten, My Lord, only three of child bearing age, but they are even farther away than…”
“Then I suggest you send for them now,” Saulth said, his eyes piercing Rymon’s soul.
“All three, My Lord?” Saulth’s wife, the mother of his two other children, would have a fit. Islara was bad enough, but three concubines? “Lady Saybra…”
“Saybra will complain, but she will not risk her position. If I had known the Jada-Drau’s mother had to be of the Blood, I never would have married her.”
Only when Saulth had located and translated the second part of the scroll, and the last to be found so far, had he discovered the Jada-Drau was to be one born of the Blood, a descendant of the Old Ones. They discovered Saulth himself bore some of that blood, through his mother’s line, fuelling his desire to father the Jada-Drau. Rymon had witnessed the wrath of his lord when the details of the mother’s lineage was discovered, for Saulth and Saybra had been married for two years and his first child, a son, already born.
Saulth unfolded his arms and strode to the door. Rymon motioned to the women to remain still, then joined his lord. The babe had yet to cry, and he wondered if there was something wrong with her. Just what the poor thing needed, with no mother and a father who didn’t want her.
“The Jada-Drau must be born as soon as possible if we are to have any chance of saving this wretched country,” Saulth said. He stopped in the open doorway. “Retrieve the women, Rymon. Now.”
The infant chose that moment to whimper, then let loose with a full blown wail. The midwife tried to soothe her while choking back tears. Saulth looked in their direction, a scowl deepening the worry lines on his forehead. Rymon’s heart skipped a beat. He stared at the man he’d served for eight years, willing him to let the child be.
“I already have a daughter. Aja only knows why I need another.” The Lord of Bredun paused a moment, the expression on his face hard, cruel. Rymon feared his lord’s next words. “It may live.”
Rymon sagged against the curtained wall.
Saulth waved a finger in the child’s direction. “But only under these conditions. There is a small storeroom near the kitchen that holds sacks of flour and potatoes. Have them moved. It will live there. Find a wet nurse. No one is to teach it anything beyond what is necessary for safety and cleanliness. If it proves to be the Jada-Drau, I will teach it what it needs to know. I do not want to see it, and I especially do not want to hear it.”
The midwife gasped; her assistant uttered a quiet oath. Saulth left the room.
“My Lord!” Rymon called after him. “What shall we call her?”
Saulth’s callous voice echoed back from the hallway. “It will have no name until it has earned one.”
Rymon closed his eyes. A harsh sentence for merely being born female, but at least the girl would live. For now.
“Councillor Rymon?” The newborn’s wails threatened to drown out the midwife’s tremulous voice. She stuck the knuckle of her little finger in the child’s mouth. Sucking noises replaced the cries.
Rymon hobbled back to the women, his left leg a solid ache from knee to hip, his arm not much better. There’d be colourful bruising, not to mention the other aches and pains that had yet to manifest.
The midwife nodded to her assistant, who pulled back the cloth shadowing the child’s face. A cap of black fuzz covered her head. Eyes closed, she sucked greedily at the midwife’s finger. The babe seemed tiny, even for a newborn, but Rymon knew little of these things, with no wife or family of his own.
How can one so small cause such problems? Rymon rubbed the stubble on his chin. The past three days had been long and hard. Food, a bath, and sleep would improve matters, but the child had to be looked after first.
“Do you know of any blue eyes in Lord Saulth’s family?” the midwife asked.
Rymon had grown up in Bredun castle and had studied Saulth’s ancestry extensively while searching for traces of the Blood. “I have never heard of any. Why?”
“Lady Islara was of the Calleni. They only have brown eyes, like Lord Saulth.”
“And?” Rymon wondered what she was getting at. They both knew there was no question that Saulth was the babe’s father.
“The child’s eyes are blue.”
Rymon gently pulled back one of the tiny girl’s eyelids. Bright blue, just as the midwife said. The child began to fuss and he removed his hand.
“It could be chance, or the colour may change as she grows older. ‘Tis happened before,” the assistant said.
Rymon nodded. Or it could be a sign of the Jada-Drau. I simply do not know. If only we could get the missing piece of the scroll, it might hold some clue.
“There’s a woman who lives near Fish Market Square. Her own babe died of fever not four days ago,” the assistant offered. “I’m sure I can talk her into nursin’ this little one.”
“Send for her,” Rymon said. “And keep the child hidden from sight. The less Lord Saulth is reminded she is around, the better it will be for her. I will check in when I can.”
The midwife nodded. He took up Saulth’s former position at the window, finding small comfort in the familiar scene. The two women prepared a bath for the child, then the assistant left to find the wet nurse.
Blue eyes. The one Rymon had seen was bright and clear. Their pieces of the scroll hadn’t mentioned eye colour. The child seemed normal, but would she prove to be the Jada-Drau? Only time, and possibly the missing fragment, might reveal the truth.
End of Chapter One, hope you enjoyed it!