Back by popular demand, here is a bit immediately following the original teaser I posted:
ROSES OF ASH
Soren wished we were further down the mountain; I could see it in his darting eyes, in the flustered way he set up camp. His small pack yielded a complete set of tent poles and coverings from magical depths, and he assembled these with clumsy skill. Watching his efforts grew boring, so I wandered off to gather wood to build a fire, digging into the trunks of trees so deprived of sunshine they had died long ago and been mummified by the cold.
“What are you doing?” Soren asked, panting in front of the fully-assembled tent.
“You don’t want to freeze to death, do you?”
“I can just magic us a fire.”
I threw my bundle to the ground in front of the tent, mentally berating myself for again acting out habits I didn’t even realize I had. Of course he could summon the magical fire. I had seen it in the tower. But if magic was so easily used, why was my instinct to gather real wood instead of waiting for the flames born out of nothing?
Soren crouched over the ground and held his hand across the snow. Fire burst forth.
“Can I do magic?” I asked, face too cold to bring a flush to my cheeks.
A pause. “No,” he said shortly.
A servant could and a princess could not? But he had said I used magic to attempt to take the power from my six older brothers. Perhaps the ability lay within me and he preferred I didn’t attempt to access it. After all, look what had happened last time I tried.
Shame kept me from questioning him about it, though now I knew for sure he was misleading me. Why?
I could use a sword, knew all the appropriate steps to make a fire, felt more comfortable in rags than fine gowns, and in the midst of battle something in me cried out for a bow, but I could not remember court etiquette, a single room in my castle, or anything about the nature of my country. Additionally, each time he forgot to say ‘Your Highness’ and said ‘Talia’ instead, nothing in me responded to the name. From the first moment he had called me a princess I felt that wasn’t right. Were these lapses in memory a symptom of the curse, or evidence of something far more sinister?
But then there was the last piece of confusion: the kiss. I believed with all my heart I had woken from –to?- a kiss, and the lingering memory of tenderness made me trust him. The touch of his fingers as he braided my hair, the careful way he wiped blood off my brow, his panic when facing down creatures intent on hurting me –all these actions were evidence that Soren cared about me, whether he was lying about the magic or not.
Now that we were settled he fussed around me, drawing me closer to the fire and conjuring food to warm my belly. I wanted to ask him more questions about my kingdom, so I wouldn’t enter Shalimar a complete idiot about matters of state, but as I ate he got up and walked about, establishing a perimeter and picking out defensive positions. I recognized his actions as battle tactics.
“I want to take a shift,” I said as he circled back around towards the fire.
“You’re planning on guarding the camp. I know you’re as tired as I am, so let me take a shift.”
“Your Highness, I’m honestly surprised you made it this far today. You haven’t had to use your muscles in a hundred years, and you need
rest far more than I do. Don’t worry about me, I’m healthy enough that I can magic myself awake. You can barely keep your eyes open.”
It was true. Belly full, my body focused on its next need: sleep.
“It’s not fair,” I said. “I’ve slept enough for ten lifetimes.”
He made a face of sympathy, but still ordered me into the tent. I fell asleep before I could take my boots off.
My dreams came fast and frantic: the eyes of the beast, the bed with a thousand dead roses, and a sword found in the snow. Someone I knew rushed with me through a forest alive with green and song, a bow slung across my back, deerskin slippers pounding over a ground covered in pine needles, then the terrible dread of entering the cave, knives of the witch, red blood sizzling in a tiny vial, shouting, a flash, an army-
I woke dazed and suffocating in the blankets, slowly coming to the realization that the shouting didn’t end with my return to consciousness. I barely had time to sit up before a rip sounded behind me, and I turned to see a knife digging through the back of the tent. I struggled with my sword but before I could unsheathe it large, strong arms guided by a red-bearded face reached in to pull me out into the frigid cold.
Paralyzed with fear, I could not struggle in his arms, only witness the chaos around us as he dragged me backwards into the woods. The tiny campfire had swelled to ten times its original size, and Soren yelled with unending fury just outside its circle of light, blasting our attackers with magic and dark shadows, sparkling shields defending arrows they sent aiming for his heart. Dark shapes crouched behind trees, blades glinting in the firelight. One figure stood out in the open, battling Soren, matching each magical blow with one of his own.
Suddenly finding my voice, I screamed though it felt like claws were ripping at my throat, and Soren paused for an instant before renewing his attack with twice the fury. I struggled in the arms of the red-bearded man, writhing like a worm and trying to pull my sword from its sheath.
“Shh, it’s all right Rose, we’ve got you,” Redbeard said kindly, suppressing my arms and dragging me through the snow to a group of four men waiting on horses, swords and bows drawn.
Not Talia. Not ‘Your Highness’. Not Princess. Rose.
My first thought, of the mummified white petals and their ashy stain, faded to the glowing, heavily-perfumed memory of red flowers, large and soft and blinding in their color. Roses on vines, in fields, and across the mantle.
Roses in my heart.
I didn’t struggle as Redbeard lifted me onto the horse and hauled himself up after. The group spurred their horses on, my kidnapper in the lead, and we charged through the dark forest, barely able to see the trees in front of us.
They’d made no attempt to take my sword, and though Redbeard’s arms surrounded me as he held the reins, I could easily slip out, roll to the ground, and have it drawn by the time they turned around. If I could only get a hold of one of those bows, I was sure I could easily be a match for them.
But it didn’t feel like a kidnapping.
“Hold on, Rose, just a few more miles,” Redbeard said, having to shout to make himself heard over the wind and the sound of our traveling. “You’re safe now.”
No, it felt like a rescue.
# # #
Ahhhhhhhh just what is happening here? :-)
Regretfully, this is the last bit I can post for a while. Maybe snippets or sentences, but pretty much any scene I could share after this would require too much explanation, and you’ll just have to read it when the book comes out.
Speaking of which, I wrote 3.3k over the weekend and 1.1k last night. I can TASTE the end of this book. It’s at 54k and I think will end around 70k.