Tuesday Snippet – Shira

I will be the first to tell you that the more you practice, the better you get. This applies to music and it doubly applies to writing. I started out writing poetry.

I think the first poem I wrote officially was when I was nine years old and in the style of Robert Frost. I can’t compare the poetry I write now with the poetry I wrote then. It has been not quite fifty years and a lot more experiences behind me.

So last year I decided to go through the fantasy novels that I had published in 2010-11. The story structure was decent, but the descriptions and characters were thin. I know I wouldn’t have been able to critic my own work eight years. So I decided to revise and update my first novel, “Shira: Hero of Corsindor.”

And without further ado, here is a snippet:

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2Prologue

She glanced nervously at the lead-glass windows as the rain hit them in staccato bursts. The rain struck with such force that it drowned out the clanking of armed guards, roaming the hallways. The grayness and cold crept into her heart and chilled her bones.

In the midst of this war of elements, a newborn baby wrapped in white swaddling lay in a cradle. She gently rocked the cradle, whispering to the baby.

“You, poor sweet thing,” she said. His mother had not survived the birth. It was a miracle that this one was breathing. “She said she was in danger.” The nurse hummed and rocked. The baby smiled. It broke her heart. This child wouldn’t be allowed to live. He was born of the wrong woman.

Everyone knew that the woman who had married the king was not the king’s first love. This marriage had been arranged. The king had kept his mistress in the castle so that he could visit her during her pregnancy. It had been an embarrassment to the new queen. The kitchen gossip ran through the nurse’s mind.

The cook had sworn that she had seen the queen in the kitchen in the early hours, brewing up a potion. Then the mistress went into labor. The cook had connected the potion with the death of the mistress. The baby was supposed to die as well.

It was the baby’s smile that had changed her mind. Instead of announcing the baby’s birth, she wrapped the baby tightly in the new blanket. Hoping that the baby would stay quiet and wouldn’t suffocate, she tucked the blanket into a basket.

A silent prayer was on her lips as she walked firmly and confidently down the hall with the basket pressing against her arm. She nodded to a guard and walked past him. She reached the kitchen without being stopped. The warmth of the kitchen was a huge contrast to the coldness of the rest of the castle.

She set the basket down and warmed her hands on the flame.

“Has the baby been born yet?” asked the cook. She was bustling around the kitchen, beating dough with her hands. Two of the cook’s thralls were carting pots out to the courtyard so they could scrub them and clean the pots for the next meal.

“No,” the nurse said. “I’m going to the apothecary to get more herbs to ease her pain.”
The cook just nodded and went back to her work.

A tradesman knocked on the door. A kitchen maid opened the door and accepted the dinner meat. The nurse slipped past them and into the courtyard. A side gate that lead to a narrow path down the hill into the city was open.

It was slippery, but the nurse kept her footing. The rain had turned into a soft mist and she slid into the shadows. She looked back at the castle. It looked menacing in this light.

She shivered just a little and adjusted the basket. Her shoulder ached from carrying the baby.

She thanked every god in the pantheon that the baby hadn’t cried or screamed. She pulled back the blanket so that she could see his face. He was breathing. She let out a sigh of relief and hurried to a cobblestone road with two story buildings dwarfing her.

She slipped into a small alleyway that led to the market square. Then she hurried through the square. It was unusually quiet. The hard rain must have sent the merchants home early. It only made her shiver more and she thought that someone was following her.

Finally after going through a few more alleys, she found the one she was looking for. The shopkeeper sold beads and brocade from far away. Plus she knew him. He was her cousin’s husband.

“Welcome,” he said when she sat the basket on the counter.

He took a long look at the baby. The baby had soft dark hair and light skin. The baby’s eyes opened and they were a dark blue.

“Well,” said the shopkeeper. “It’s come to this.”

The nurse nodded her head.

He pointed to the curtain at the back of the shop. She followed behind him into the darkness.

An hour later the nurse left the shop with herbs in her basket. She headed toward the castle.

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Shira – Chapter Three

The mountains rose around him in sharp peaks. It was nearing twilight. The sun had painted the mountains and forest in red and yellow and was showing its final colors before it faded to black. Silas Forster huffed as he walked up a small steep path. The loose dirt puffed around his shoes.

His real mission was to load the mule with wood to take back to the village. His master, the town’s blacksmith, needed a large amount of wood to repair pots, pans, knives, and plows for the villagers. Not every village had a blacksmith. Badendorf was richer than most. Or at least that was what his master said. Silas wouldn’t know. He had never left the village.

It was the first time his master had let him go by himself in the dark forest to collect the wood. Usually the blacksmith would hire him out to the woodcutter. Silas, he would say, was too scrawny to ever be blacksmith. Silas wondered why he did not just sell his apprenticeship to the woodcutter. The blacksmith was too busy with his work to answer Silas’ question. He would tell him that he had promised his mother. He would hold his mouth tight like he was keeping a secret. Who knew what the blacksmith knew? Silas believed that he just wanted to keep the apprenticeship money. But what did Silas know. He never met his parents. He had been apprenticed almost before he was born.

Silas continued trudging up the path, breaking the tree limbs that slashed at him. He looked closely for the mule’s tracks. He would deserve a twitching this time if he did not find the mule. Although coming back without wood would probably be a night without supper. And, he would deserve it.

He trudged. Brown hair, brown eyes, and skin browned by the sun. Silas would have looked like another villager if it wasn’t for his height. He stood almost a foot over the tallest man in the village. The blacksmith gave him a hat and told him to slouch. Silas found this funny. The other apprentices were told to walk straight and tall. And, he was supposed to slouch. Although the slouch made him look shorter than the other men of the village, after the last growth spurt his pants had crept up his shins. And despite his slouch he was actually taller than most of the men. It was better not to be noticed.

The trail greens and browns started to bleed to gray. Silas looked up at the sky. The sun was slowly sinking in the west. Darn. He needed to find that mule. Who knew what kind of creatures crept around here after dark. Not only were there large cats and wolves, but there were also magical creatures that liked to creep in the dark forest. The forest was kind to dark dwellers. Silas did not want to be caught in it.

The last villager who had been caught after dark was found almost a mile from the village. His throat had been chewed through. Any animal with those teeth and claws should be feared. After this incident the children were told to stay indoors when the sun went down. Stay in doors. We don’t know what kind of monsters are sniffing around out there. Then the adults would glance at each other and look away.

Silas knew from the looks that the adults had a secret and it involved him. But Silas was big enough now to take care of himself. Even the blacksmith had agreed that he was strong enough and big enough to handle most predators.

The leaves near the path rustled behind him. Silas never heard the rustles or even looked toward the bushes. He was sure that he would see an ambush coming. In fact, Silas fantasized about hitting a stick or a sword. A sword would be fine. The blacksmith had made one or two. The sword’s edge had gleamed when the blacksmith inspected it in the sunlight. Silas wanted, really wanted to learn how to cut and parry. How to fight with its bright edge. But once again the men looked at each other and then hid the sword in the back of the blacksmith’s cottage, covered in a blanket. To have such a creation covered in something so mundane, Silas almost cried at the thought.

Silas walked a little faster. He could almost hear the mule’s footsteps as it stopped then started. If he walked just a little faster that he would have his hands on that recalcitrant beast.

Suddenly, Silas felt a net of pure energy envelop him. Where the energy touched his skin, he felt a burning fire. He screamed. In the corner of his eyes, he could see a dark figure approached.

As Silas fell, the sky turned from blue to gray to black. Well, well he heard in his head. A prince.

~~~

The back, side, and temples of Silas’ head exploded with pain as he gained consciousness.

“Where am I?” he moaned. He was tied, face down over his mule. He tried to open his eyes. The last bright burst from the day scorched them.. He moaned again, closing his eyes.

“Ah,” said a smooth male voice. “The prisoner is awake.” Silas could smell a sulpher smell like brimstone. The mule stopped. The stranger cut the ropes that held Silas to the mule. He fell. He was still a prisoner in his body because the bonds of the energy net kept him from moving.

He tried to lift his head so that he could look at the stranger. “Where am I? Who are you? Why am I here?”

The stranger lifted Silas to his feet. The man had a small downturned mouth in a face that had no wrinkles. The site of his face scared Silas enough that he started to tremble. How could a man age, but not age? The man showed his teeth in a parody of a smile. Silas shook harder. It was like facing a starving wolf.

“You are in the northern mountains above the Ahrah. You will make a suitable sacrifice. I am Rhali,” said the man. Rhali dragged him to a tree in a small clearing next to a gurgling stream. He lifted Silas onto a thick overhanging branch, then began to wrap a rope around Silas and around the tree. Over and under.

“While you were unconscious,” Rhali said. “I bound a piece of your spirit to mine. Anything that happens to me will happen to you.” He lifted an eyebrow. “If I die, you die. Unfortunately for you, the spell does not work the other way. I will not die if you kill yourself.” Rhali laughed.

Silas felt the hard bounds of the rope and tree. He felt the burning energy of Rhali’s net. His heart thudded. His stomach clenched.

“Why?” he asked. As if such a monster would answer a simple question, but Silas wanted to know what his death would accomplish.

“Oh, I need you alive now,” said Rhali. “You are meant to be a sacrifice. You will never know how good a sacrifice.” He hummed to himself as he completed trussing Silas to the tree.

“Don’t look down,” warned Rhali.

Silas felt that this was an unnecessary warning. He would have to strain his neck around the branch to see what was below him. If the ropes broke… he whimpered.

He felt rather than saw Rhali leave. The bark scratched against his cheek. He heard the whirl of the grasshoppers and the cry of a night hunter.

The moon rose, as beautiful as a young girl. It was round. It’s light glowed into the clearing. It was then that he felt the itching around his collar and face. To his horror, he knew that his hair was growing. He watched his bound hands change from human hands to paws with razor sharp claws. When he tried to cry, a howl burst from his lips. Too much. Too much. Too much.

The sun shone into his eyes—a new day. Silas woke to a violent headache. He sighed. Silas was still trussed up to the tree. Below he saw a horse and the mule munching on the short grass. Silas could almost touch Rhali’s gelding.

The ropes around his wrists were frayed. He jerked and jerked until the ropes broke. The rope slid down and he fell with them onto the ground. At the base of the tree was a note: “Bring the horse, mule, and backpack, and meet me at Hound’s Quarry.”

Silas watered the animals. He tied the horse and mule to the tree and rubbed them down. He put the backpack on the mule, saddle on the horse, and climbed onto the horse. He wasn’t used to riding something this big. Small villages usually had mules or feet. They couldn’t afford better transportation.

His options were racing through his mind. If he ran back to the village, Silas could expect that thing—Rhali to follow him and maybe kill many of his friends. Or he could follow calmly like a steer raised for beef. He did have a third option. He could plan. It was a long way to Hound’s Quarry.

He kicked the horse in the flanks and started up the trail.

The next few days gave Silas the time to think. It was an impossible situation, but there was always a way around it. He knew from experience that if his master the blacksmith told him that he had to have the wood cut by dusk that he had enough wiggle room to disappear into the forest for a half hour or so. Some days he had some time to himself. It was just a matter of listening and reinterpreting the instructions.

Each night at sundown Rhali would appear, demand food, and tie Silas to a tree. He would then disappear to some unknown location. Every morning Silas broke the ropes, read Rhali’s note, and finished the chores and then continued his journey.

After the third day, Silas reached Hunter’s Quarry, but even then without spending time traveling, he never seemed to have enough time to finish his tasks. Always it took the whole day to accomplish even the simplest task. Sometimes he did not remember completing the list. Once he read Rhali’s note, he lost control of his only defense—his mind.

The day Silas woke up with a rabbit’s heart clutched in his hand was the day he took control. After wiping his hand in the dirt, and then washing them in the stream, he took inventory. He had his mind—sometimes. He had his hands, his backpack, his clothes, and his mule. Well, he was rich. Snort. He had no idea of the layout of the Quarry. No idea what kind of hiding places were around him. He knew that he was getting closer and closer to the sacrificial time, but he didn’t seem to care. Now. Today. He needed to care.

First, tomorrow, he would not read the note until he had searched the entire place. Today was too late. He needed to have the fish roasting over the fire before Rhali showed. Then he needed to take the time to make his decision. Rhali had not threatened his village, Badendorf. It was just a matter of time.

Probably, Silas was already the threat to his own village. He changed every night of the moon into that creature. It wouldn’t be long before the moon turned from its crescent light to dark. Then, he would not be a night creature. But during that time he was a danger to his village. He could not go back. Not now. Not until he was cured, if he was ever cured.

The next morning he closed his eyes tightly and broke the ropes. He fought against reading the note. One step at a time he dragged himself to the stream. He washed the crud from his eyes and opened them. The water broke his spell. He felt clearer than he had for awhile. He kept his back towards camp and walked towards the rocks piled up in front of the quarry. He admired the stone cuts. There had been people here a long time ago. It was time to look for help.

Shira – Chapter Two

“Is ambition evil?” Queen Mallory mused. “Have I condemned Corsindor with my own actions?”

The queen looked out the window at Corsindor, the same window she was so interested in two decades ago. She was as slim as she was then. It would have been easier if she had been with child when the bastard prince had disappeared. She had wanted to destroy his blood, but now the world was a little different.

If she had been wiser and guarded the bastard prince carefully, she would have had her figurehead—her road to power. Yes, she had put herself in this position. She had no one to blame but herself and maybe her accomplice. Who would have guessed that the king would crack at the loss of the child? And, he had not touched her. She may as well have been virgin.

The queen gazed unseeingly at the window. Her needlework clutched in her hands.

Maria. How she hated that name. The King had loved his little commoner mistress. He had acknowledged her child. But, but, now as queen she did not even have the power of a broodmare.

Rhali, a courtier, had gained her ear. His words had made sense. If the prince disappeared, he had said, and if the queen, your highness, was with child, you, my queen, would have the influence and power. He had bowed to her, leaning toward his lovely legs when he whispered this plan. It would have been something. She sighed.

But now, if her husband would only notice her, it would be enough. He spent his days and nights tucked into a laboratory that he had built from the ballroom. His magician brewed potions. All of this magic was powered by the king’s hope to find the prince. The bastard prince, she thought spitefully.

“Your Highness,” said the under-servant, who had just entered the room. He walked toward her rapidly and stopped. The queen turned, her face still. He bowed.

“His highness is calling for you,” he said. “I think something is wrong.”

The Queen picked up her skirts and walked rapidly to the king’s chambers. The king rarely called her. Her heart beat rapidly. As she reached his rooms, there was a faint smell of brimstone.

She opened the door. The under-servant was behind her.

In the center of the room was a pentacle, painstakingly drawn with white chalk. The king’s pet wizard kept this pentacle freshly drawn. She had seen him fuss when her skirts had broken the circle. That was before she had been sent from the room when she tried to reason with the king.

Ever since the loss of his son, the king and lost all interest in ruling the kingdom. Yes, all the reins of the kingdom had been in her hands. And the intrigues and whispers began immediately. No one wanted to be ruled by a foreign queen even if she was the selected bride of the king. No one.

The king stood in the center of the pentacle. Drool dribbled from the corners of his mouth. His eyes had that lost dim look of a mentally deficient child. “I have found him. I have found him. I have found him,” he repeated over and over.

“Where?” asked the queen.

“I have found him. I have found him…”

His lips stopped moving. His face lot all sign of intelligence.

“Guards. Guards.” She yelled. The queen and the under-servant grabbed the king under his arms and dragged him into the hallway. No worry about his royal person, they needed to save his royal ass.

The guards ran up and encircled the king. The Queen Mallory walked back into the room. She found the small room next to the main room where the wizard had kept his poisons. The room was cold. She shivered.

The wizard’s body was lying on the floor. She checked his pulse. There was none. A wind swept through the room, rattling the papers. One of the potions shattered. The under-servant had followed her back into the room. He helped her to drag the wizard’s body into the hallway.

The wind whistled through the main room and began to follow them out to the hallway. The queen grabbed the door and slammed it. She pulled out the key and locked the door. But, she knew it was not enough. Whatever was behind the door was supernatural and could easily slip through the crack under the door.

“Get him out of here.” She yelled at the guards. The guards and the under-servant took both the king and the wizard’s body down the hallway. She hoped they had sense enough to put the king in a safe place and take the wizard to a safer place until she could have her doctor examine the body.

Her attention went to the door. Red light began to glow around the door and a heavy smell of brimstone filled the air. She must do something, but what?

When she was a little girl, her mother would show her runes for binding and protection. She traced the rune from the cloth that her mother had made her embroider so long ago. It had to be perfect, her mother said.

She traced the rune in the air before the door. To her surprise, the runes glowed blue around the door. The glow around the door turned green. A scream or not-scream assailed her ears.

She walked backwards with her hand raised. One of the guards came running back. He picked her up and ran with her down the hallway to the stairs. He set her on her feet. “Take me to the head guard,” she said.

The guard took her to her rooms and called her servants. “I will bring him to you.” He said, and then left.

Her hair had fallen from its headdress. Her ladies pulled out the pins and began to braid her hair.

Sir Robert Astru walked in without knocking. He glanced around the room, noting the tapestries. He smiled at the young blossoms gathered around the queen. He was a handsome man and was noted for his taste in young maidens.

“What are you doing here?” Queen Mallory asked. One of her ladies put a hand over her mouth and giggled. Sir Robert bowed to her… the young girl, but not to his queen.

“You asked for the head guard.” He answered after he finished his bow. “I am he.”

She could not ask how he had reorganized her guard without consulting her. It was all too familiar topic lately. Many times lately she had to ignore how her orders changed. And how some of the members of the court tittered when she walked by. It was of no matter now. It was time that she pulled the court and herself together since the king could not.

“Guards must be posted at the king’s old rooms,” she said. “The King needs new rooms and a doctor. I need my doctor to look at the wizard’s body.”

“As my queen wishes,” said Sir Robert. There were times that he was too beautiful for words, but now was not the time to be distracted.

“Where is the king now?” she asked.

“In the rooms next to yours,” he said. “If I am too presumptuous, tell me.”

“Fine,” she said. “Is there anything that I may have missed?”

Sir Robert looked thoughtful. He was the cousin of the king, but like all Corsindorians, he liked intrigue. But, now… the intrigue seemed more treasonous than fun. He rubbed his hand, feeling the scar along the left index finger. He loved to bate the queen, but maybe now was not the best time.

“How dangerous is the room?” he asked.

“There is something there so powerful that the protection runes barely kept it in.”

She shook her head impatiently. “I need to know if it can break the ward on the door. Even so, we still have something evil in the castle.”

“And, it was whispering in the king’s ear. He thinks he has found the prince.” The queen knew that it was not a good idea to talk of this in front of her ladies, but the rest of the castle would soon know anyway. It was better that they knew her version, or at least gossiped her version.

“I agree,” said Sir Robert. “We have something to worry about.”

Queen Mallory wondered if he worried about the evil or about finding the prince. It was hard to know what Sir Robert wanted. He kept his motivations hidden. This court had become more and more unruly as the king had slipped into his madness.

But she knew that if Sir Robert agreed with her that it would be done.

“And the guards?”

“I will have guards there in the next fifteen minutes,” he replied. “If it is stronger than your wards, you know that it could very easily overpower the guards.”

The queen nodded. “I have thought of that. My doctor can give them an amulet that will give them time to run before the door bursts. Also, when the door goes red, the ward is breached.”

Sir Robert looked at her. For the first time in her memory, he frowned. “Your arrangements are noted.” He turned and marched out the door.

The queen sighed. At least this one thing was going right. One of her ladies was missing. Rose was the snake in her garden. Well, at least this snake was spreading news that might save someone.

Shira – Chapter One

Shira Loesdotter sat on a on a large granite rock, overlooking the valley. Below her was a small city surrounded by patchwork fields. Dark dots walked slowly through the fields. Some were kine, a small cow about the size of a goat, and some were horses.

She sighed. Shira’s long legs hung over the rock. In the distance she could see the tent city of the Ahrah. She was tall and lean in contrast to the Ahrah, the people of the land. Her hair was as light as cornsilk and her eyes were a dark blue. It was obvious from her looks that she was not from the same people; the Ahrah were short and stocky with dark skin, hair, and eyes.

But even though she was not Arah, it did not stop her from participating in the Ahrah’s most coveted sign of adulthood: The Awakening.

No one knew why some children woke, while others never woke at all. After her awakening, Shira could see past the ordinary world into a world of sun and shadow. It was so real, so there, that once you saw it, this ordinary world became a little dim.

Shira had been ten.

Shira had slipped from her bed early. The window had beckoned with the scent of roses drifting from the garden. Behind her the other orphans were still sleeping. Underneath the window, the bushes burst into vibrant shades of red, pink, and yellow.

A sprite danced in the sunshine, praising the sun and flowers with her body. Energy emanated from every living object. It was like seeing a halo around every living object. Even the rocks had a silvery-gray sheen.

Just before the morning bell rang, her sight dimmed as chaos shattered the quietness. The sprite drifted away, looking for a more peaceful spot to bask in the morning sunshine. Her wings beat lazily.

As always, confusion reigned in the orphan’s quarter. Children threw pillows and blankets helter-skelter around the room as they scrambled to brush hair and teeth. They must be dressed before the headmaster entered the room.

Shira dressed, trying to recapture the moment of peace, but it was impossible to think through all the noise.

Soon the room quieted. Oor stood at the doorway. He walked towards Shira, holding out his hand. Everyone in the room turned to stare at her.

She saw a faint glow of blue travel from his hand to hers. They looked at each other—the little girl and the old man.

“Come,” he said.

~~~

It seemed so long ago. The trees swayed, sending the soft smell of fir. After the awakening, it was sometimes hard to focus. She closed her eyes to feel the soft wind as it brushed against her cheeks. Quiet. Peace.

She ducked. A stick swung past her head.

“Now girl,” said Oor. “You shouldn’t get lost in your thoughts.” There was a quiet chuckle in his words. He swung again.

Shira leaped off the rock and onto the ground. She stepped back, and she tripped on a stick. As she fell, she grabbed the stick and stopped Oor’s next swing.
Crack. Ouch. Oor’s stick went smacked her on the ribs.

Oor laughed. “Come on,” he said. “Get to work and no cheating.”

She stood with a flair and stood waiting for the next hit.

Shira could cheat. She had a gift of calling the sprites of the woods when she was in danger. To the uninitiated, it seemed like magic when the sticks would jerk from their hands and fly away. Of course, Oor knew better. The sprites were also mischievous. They liked to annoy Oor.

Shira grinned. “It’s my best defense,” she said as she tried to keep away from the Oor’s stick. Still unable to fight him on equal terms, she looked for tree to climb. Oor caught her across the back as she jumped for a tree limb. That would hurt in the morning.

After dancing around the rocks and trees, Shira slid and fell. “Ouch” she said on the ground. She watched Oor. He waited for her to get up.

“Don’t give up,” he said.

“Nope,” she laughed. “I think I am done. See my ankle is twisted.”

“That’s the old twisted ankle ruse,” Oor laughed back. “I have used that one in my time.”

“No, really,” Shira protested, trying to look small and defenseless. Even though Oor knew better, he leaned down to take a look. Using her supposedly hurt leg and anke, she knocked him on his backside. She enjoyed the picture of Oor on his back, taking deep breaths.

“Now, I’m tired.” Oor never admitted to tiredness. His job was to train her as a warrior. Now she was concerned.

“You need help?” she asked. “You won’t flip me?” Her voice trailed off when she saw his grin.

“That was the plan.”

“Truce?” she asked.

“Truce,” he said.

Shira crawled to Oor. They helped each other up, using the stick, trees, and anything else that they could lean on. Finally, they were both standing.

“Time for school,” he said.

She groaned. Math, Reading, Philosphy, History and even Geography. Sometimes they would take time off for magic. She didn’t get enough time to hike or be by herself. It was hard work and not much fun. She groaned again.

“If someone were watching,” Oors eyes twinkled. “They’d think you had been beat by an old man.”

As Shira and Oor limped back to the city, she tried to explain her strategy. Oor just hummed, “as in how to get beat strategy?”

She liked Oor, but he could be annoying when he was amused by her mistakes.
Oor was a quick, lithe man who had been a weapons master in Corsindor before becoming a servant of the Ahrah. He’d traveled many leagues and was fond of telling stories about their southern neighbors. One unlikely story was that there were cannibals down south. Oor insisted that they liked young soft female flesh. At ten, she had been scared silly of those cannibals. Now she just laughed at Oor’s stories.
By the time they reached the stables on the outskirts of the tents, Malkiah was waiting for them. He was tall for an Ahrah–as tall as Shira. But in every meaningful way, he was Ahrah.

Malkiah had never touched her except when they were practicing fighting moves. It was unclaeren to touch female flesh. Shira considered Malkiah silly. After all, they trained together. He could not avoid touching her when they were on the field hitting each other with sticks. Malkiah came from an old Ahrah family who lived by the old rules. His mother still wore a veil, which covered her face and left her dark round eyes uncovered.

Since the Council had taken over governing the Ahrah, many of the old ways for females and males had been abandoned. The elders and elderesses had warned of the danger of disregarding the rules of the gods. But, the new robes were less confining. And the girls liked showing their faces. The younger generation seemed disrespectful to the old ones.

Malkiah slid out of the shadows of the stables and touched Shira’s arm. Shira was shocked. She pinched the back of his hand. Malkiah grimaced.

“Stop,” he said. “Loesdotter, Oor.” He nodded to each of them. “The Counselor requires your presence.”

Malkiah lead them to Counselor’s door. Shira grimaced behind his back.

“Oor, you will wait here.” Malkiah motioned Shira to the door. She tried not to say anything to further anger Malkiah, but it was too much fun.

“How’s your mother?” she asked, then slipped through the door. Now Malkiah only had time to glare at her back. He turned away.

~~~

The Counselor stood as she saw Shira. Her white robes whirled around her. Shira walked towards her and bowed deeply.

“Child,” said the Counselor. “There is no need for that here.”

“What do you need?” Shira knelt at the Counselor’s feet and looked up at her. The Counselor looked old and worn. Her skin was papery from an old illness. Eyes bruised. Shira felt her stomach clench. The news must be bad.

“You are still young,” the Counselor sighed. She peered into Shira’s eyes, looking carefully at the iris. She touched Shira’s cheek.

“I need to tell you your story.” She paused, “when you awakened, we knew you were one of the great ones. But, we were confused. We lived in peace. We were guarded from our more bloodthirsty neighbors by the great veil.”

She continued. “We decided to teach you all of our secrets. We gave you our best warrior to be your mentor and teacher. In a few years, you would have been ready to sit on the Council.”

“But, I am not ready.” The words burst out of her mouth.

The Counselor smiled. The lines around her mouth and eyes eased and she looked younger. “No, you are not,” she said. “I have had a vision, which concerns you.”

“In my dream, I saw you running through the woods with a spear in your hand. You fought the Corsindor’s warriors. Under your feet were the skulls of the Ahrah. You were fierce, but eventually they pulled you down. A hairy man howled and pierced your breast with a sword.”

The Counselor laid her hands on Shira’s cornsilk locks. “Cut your hair. Burn the locks. Your destiny is not here.” A tear rolled down her cheek.

“You are to leave tonight after the banquet. Tell no one.”

~~~

The main tent held the banquet hall. As the sun came down, the tent went from yellow to gold. As the light darkened, the tent turned white. Inside were all the nomads of the Ahrah. Ahrah from the farthest ends of the country had arrived for the gathering that happened once a decade. It was a chance to sing, dance and tell stories. Many of the younger Ahrah met their mates at this gathering. It was a time of rejoicing.

Inside the tent, were large tables filled with goat and sheep dishes. Vegetables and fruits made the tables groan. They came from around the country plus some from Corsindor. Shira had no idea how the stuffs from Corsindor came into the country.

Shira walked through the tables, greeting friends and not-friends alike. She had not grown old enough to have enemies, Oor was found of saying. She was careful to nod to the more powerful Council members.

As Shira walked by the Council member’s table, Cianne, Malkiah’s mother, touched her. Shira stopped. It was not polite to ignore any of the older members. Cianne’s face was covered with by a white veil. Her breath moved the veil back and forth slightly.

“Sit with me,” she said. Cianne was one of the more powerful faction members of the Ahrah. It was ironic that she wanted the men to have more powerful positions like the old days. But, because of the wars with Corsindor, many of the men had died. The veil had changed all that. Corsindor could not encroach on Ahrah land, and even better none of the Ahrah died more wars. Because of the shortage of men, most of the powerful positions were filled by women. In fifty years, the Ahrah had turned to a matriarchy. Another reason for the changes was the low birthrate of boys. No one knew the reason.

Cianne considered herself blessed because she had one of the few boys. It was never good when Cianne wanted to talk. She spent most of her time trying to persuade Shira to become more female. In her heart of hearts, she wanted Shira to marry Malkiah and give her many many grandsons. The new blood would do their family line a world of good.

But, Shira needed to relinquish her place as “God’s Warrior.” How silly that Shira being female would be considered a warrior. Shira knew what Cianne was thinking because her eyes glittered. It boded another argument.
Oor told Shira many times that politeness was a strategy. Since Cianne was a not-enemy, Shira should listen to Cianne.

Shira bowed her head and sat at the tables.

“This is Shira.” Cianne announced to other members of the table. The table was filled with older men and women of Cianne’s age. Shira bowed again to the table.

“She has been taught well,” said an old man, his beard hanging to his chest. The old lady next to him bobbed her head. She did not speak, but put some meat on the older man’s plate. “She is not one of us,” he continued.

“You need to learn the epistles of Canroh,” he said. “Woman is a bright jewel. Speak not. Her beauty radiates.”

“Man is the ox of his family,” said Shira. “He feeds and protects his family.”
Cianne’s eyes twinkled. “Canroh was wise,” she said.

Shira was wary. Cianne and her cohorts had spies besides Malkiah. But, they weren’t rude or blunt. Maybe they wouldn’t ask about her meeting with the Counselor. Shira tried to look unconcerned. Hopefully Cianne would not ask her outright. It was not the way. But, the old man did not seem to be of the same nature.

“You had an audience with the Counselor,” the old man said. Shira put some lamb in her mouth.

“Umm,” she said. She wiped her hands on a handkerchief, chewed, and then spoke. “She is kind.”

There was nothing more to be said. Even the old man could not ask her outright what had happened. Only Shira could tell. And the last words from the Counselor were not to tell anyone. She excused herself from the group. She could feel their eyes on her back as she walked across the tent towards Oor.

“The elders cornered you,” Oor said in amusement. Sometimes Shira wished she had Oor’s humor.

“Yes,” she looked at them. They were still watching her. “I wonder, what has changed? Last week they wouldn’t talk to me.”

Oor nodded. They went to the tables to eat. Shira didn’t know when she would have this much to eat.

Shira- Prologue


Rain struck the lead-glass window in staccato bursts, striking with such force that it drowned all living sound, even the clanking of solders walking the passageways on their daily rounds. Grayness seeped through the stones of the castle along with the cold wet damp. Darkness, brought by the rain, chilled the bones of adults and children alike.

In the midst of this war of elements, a newborn babe, lay in a small rocking cradle. His mother had just died in a last major effort to birth him. A nurse rocked the cradle, crooning.

″You, poor sweet thing.″ she said. She had promised the mother during this hard birth that she would save the baby. The mother insisted over and over that this baby was in danger.

Everyone knew that the woman who had married the king aspired to be a real queen, not a consort. It would be hard for a new woman to realize that she would always be unloved. Married, but unloved. But the mistress was dead. It was time to look after the child.

The nurse looked behind her, and then picked up the baby. Glancing to the right and left, she looked hard into the shadows. You never knew what or who could be listening. She shuddered. This child was the key to power.

Gently she wrapped him tightly in a soft warm blanket, and placed him in a crude wicker basket. She tucked a small quilt over the basket.

Walking slowly through the castle, she prayed that the child wouldn’t cry. But, he was silent. She wanted to reassure him, but he needed to stay hidden. No one must know that where he had gone. Her lips moved in a silent prayer as she walked through the hidden world of servants. She prayed that her arm would not give out.

The baby was heavy. The basket pressed against her forearm. No one must know what was in the basket. If she used her hand to steady the basket, some spy would be able to tell that she was not carrying bread. It must look effortless.

The nurse made it to the kitchen. In another moment, she would be gone. The tradesmen were at the door unloading the castle’s daily supplies. She slipped through them like a dark shadow, headed through the open gate, and stepped into the city.

She walked through the maze of the city, looking for a certain alley. It was just off the market square. It was long before she found the little shop. Beads and brocade covered the entrance. Incense burned, inviting the shopper to step inside and sample the exotic goods.

She walked in and said, “Kinsman, may I speak with you?” The man behind the counter went to the front door and locked it. He took her into the backroom.

An hour later the nurse was on her way back to the castle. The basket was gone.

~~~

The messenger found the newly wedded Queen standing by the window, gazing at the city. Her crimson dress draped across her tall slight frame. It emphasized her dark brooding eyes. Dark hair piled on top of her head completed this picture of stark beauty.

“The nurse is dead,” he said.

“And the baby?” She waited for his answer.

“The nurse hid him before we found her.”

“Find the baby,” she ordered. The death of the child was important for her plans.

The messenger’s eyes glowed red for an instant. Then, he faded into the shadows.