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With the war in Mikaelia over, Jarnell runs from her family's wishes for her marriage with companions Dekion & Sari-tah. They stumble upon the lost land of Draecus and now must stay alive long enough for the portals to open again and allow them passage home, while Jarnell fights the desire to stay in the arms of Daedic, the only man to ever bring the flames of passion to her body, mind, and soul.
The mystical land of Draecus—a land closed off from all others for generations. In Mikaelia, it is remembered only in bedtime stories passed down through the ages.
The racial war for the lands of Mikaelia is over. The human female Jarnell fights her family’s wishes for a marriage that will unite two noble houses. Running away, she seeks out her elven friend, Dekion, and gains a startling companion in the form of a half-orscha warrior, Sahri-tah. In the upheaval following the devastating wars between the races of their land, the three companions must transcend their ingrained racial distrust to search for Dekion’s father, who was lost during the wars.
Following their only lead, given to them by a crazed man in the streets of Sel Lorst, they find themselves in the lost, magical land of Draecus where a war between humans and orscha has just begun. The companions become caught up in the war that crosses the once peaceful Draecus. They must fight to stay alive long enough for the portal to open again and allow them passage back to their own land. While they wait, Jarnell, a follower of the Goddess of passion, fights a growing desire to stay in the arms of Daedic of Draecus, the only man to ever bring to life the flames of passion in her body, mind, and soul…
8004 A.V. Frasia 34
Jagged streaks of lightning flashed brilliant streaks across a turbulent snow-filled sky. The whiteness of the snow blanketed the horizon with reflections of blinding brightness cast off from the swirling flakes. Gheirdan Aktreivar watched the sporadic bursts, paying little attention to the oddity of the raging winter storm. The storm brewing inside him had far more force than nature’s blustering show.
“Gheirdan, why do you have to do this?” his wife pleaded, the words cracked and wavering through the emotional strain of Jarleine Aktreivar’s voice. “I have tried and we can keep trying. If we work at it, I know we can produce—”
“Silence, woman!” Gheirdan turned to face her with savage anger. He looked with disgust at her disheveled appearance, her eyes red and swollen from the same tears that left rivulets of salt to trace her face. “You have failed me in the simplest of all wifely tasks—to bear me an heir. Five springs have passed and you have produced nothing. Don’t sit there and try to tell me that you will. I won’t hear any more of your excuses. I’ve made my decision. My word will be the final say in this matter. The child will be born tonight, and he will be brought back here.”
Gheirdan turned away from Jarleine and moved toward the door.
“I won’t raise the bastard child of you and your whore in my home!” She launched herself at him in fury. Gheirdan swung to face her attack with the back of his hand. A loud crack sounded over the tempest of the raging storm as Jarleine flew backward to hit the wooden corner post of the bed she shared with her husband. Gheirdan dispassionately watched her struggle to rise, fighting obvious waves of nausea. Her feeble attempts met with failure and she retched violently at the foot of the bed before collapsing into unconsciousness.
Feeling nothing but revulsion for the woman who lay on the floor at his own hand, Gheirdan left the scene of misery behind him, turning his back on the one who had been his faithful wife for almost twelve years. He left instructions with a servant to tend to both the room and the woman before heading in his own direction.
His mood was sour as he walked the halls of the keep to the front door. He gave little thought to the weather, leaving the shelter behind to take the familiar path toward the house of his mistress, Kezraille.
Women! The thought was distasteful at the moment. That half of the species always seems to complicate the simplest things. This should be a proud moment…my moment, he emphasized like a petulant child. Now it’s all wrong. The scene with Jarleine was the pinnacle to his building dour mood.
Born the fifth child of seven to a father who was at best considered to be minor nobility, Gheirdan had worked hard to become what he was now. Marriage to Jarleine was one of those steps. Her father had been Klaerdin Ronagged, the Marshall General over King Mikaelia’s armies and the King’s own right hand.
Rodelton Mikaelia was the third son in line to his father’s throne, and as such, had inherited command over the armies rather than over the lands and people that his older brothers held. Rodelton was able to convince his father that the land of Suhnara, across the channel from his own, was ripe for the taking and promised his father expansion of the kingdom with him in charge. It was agreed and Rodelton brought the armies to Suhnara to clear the way for human settlement.
The other inhabitants of Suhnara, primarily made up of races other than human, allowed themselves to be pushed back—to a point. It was the elves who had finally stopped human encroachment of the territory, and a long war ensued. The elves held the middle expanses of the land, while caught between the pressuring forces of the humans on one side and the orscha on the other.
Years of war gave Gheirdan ample opportunity to rise through the ranks of the army. Promises of land and titles to senior officers gave him the impetus to climb over anyone who stood in his way. By the time the elves were willing to offer negotiations of peace to preserve what land they held from human colonization, Gheirdan was second to the Marshall General alone.
The treaty did not last long. Within a few short years, at the self-proclaimed King Rodelton’s insistence, Marshall General Ronagged broke the treaty he had implemented and moved against the elves to gain additional land for the growing human colonization. He died at their hands in a long and bloodthirsty battle that cost many lives on both sides. Gheirdan stepped up to take the position of Marshall General and led the armies of Rodelton Mikaelia to victory over the elves, pushing the creatures even deeper into the wilderness of the land they had once held as their own.
An enterprising sort, Gheirdan followed up the momentum of Klaerdin’s death and his own subsequent victory with another treaty. This one was designed to let the elves keep their remaining lands, as long as they assisted the human army against the orscha. The elves were satisfied with working to take land from the savage creatures who had always been their hostile neighbors in Suhnara.
The elves and humans worked together against the orscha, to fight for the remaining occupation of the land. With the human colonies now occupying a little over half of Suhnara, the country came to be known as Mikaelia, in honor of the royal house that Rodelton set up. Rodelton divided the human territories between his sons, placing each as Prince Regents of their own territory. The eldest son was given the title of High Prince and was designated as heir to Rodelton’s throne.
Gheirdan’s victory was almost complete. Time rapidly passed in a flurry of change all within a few short years. Gheirdan sent for his wife as the war moved its front further away from the lands he now held—lands that were a badge to his victorious rise to the higher levels for which he had strived. After another five years of failing miserably with Jarleine to produce an heir, he found comfort in the willing arms of Kezraille.
Kezraille was a comely wench with silver blond hair and a desire to please him. Gheirdan spent many long, pleasurable hours in her arms before she became pregnant with his child. He would finally have his heir. This night was his night. It was the final step in securing a legacy of his victories through the years that would survive his own eventual demise. He smiled at the thought, his step picking up an extra bounce when he walked the last part of the way to the home of his mistress. The snow whipped around him in a frenzied bluster of cold that melted on the warmth of human flesh to leave him drenched before reaching the house.
Gheirdan entered without knocking, quickly stepping inside the small house to shut the door against the fury of the storm. An old woman looked up, startled by his entrance. She seemed to stop mid-sentence in a conversation with someone. Gheirdan suspiciously peered around the room, but saw no one. Griselle cast nervous glances his way then laughed loudly, the hoarse sound grating on his nerves.
Old bat, Gheirdan thought about the woman who was the mother of his mistress. He shivered, covering the action by making a show of shaking the snow from his body. The woman had always made him edgy.
Screams erupted from the inner chamber, and he took a step forward, stopped only by Griselle’s iron grip on his arm. He looked down at her and scowled. She was a shrunken old lady, well past the prime of her life. The animosity flared in the eyes of both as they stared each other down. Neither had ever bothered to hide their dislike for the other.
“The babe comes,” she croaked in the hoarse whisper that was her voice. “It won’t be long now—and you’ve got no business being in there. It’s not for a man to be at the birth of a babe. ‘Twould bring no good.”
Using her grip as leverage to pull her aging body from the chair, she shuffled off to fill a mug of steaming liquid from a pot hung over the fire in the hearth. When she brought it back to Gheirdan, her shuffling pace slow to reach his side, he looked at her with skepticism. Griselle cackled with glee at the expression on his face as she forced the mug into his hands. He frowned at the knowing look she cast sideways into the room, as though to a conspirator, but he could see nothing in the room but those things used for the daily comforts of the old lady and her daughter. She forced the mug into his hands and moved to retake her seat.
“Don’t fear, yer lordship,” rasped the throaty growl of her voice, “though no love is lost between us, it’s only a little something to take the chill from your bones. I’ll not be trying to harm you.”
Despite her assurances, or maybe because of them, Gheirdan used the mug to warm his hands but took no drink. He chose not to tempt fate at the whim of the old lady. She chortled in amusement, offering no conversation, seeming content to let the warmth of the fire be her companion while she ignored his presence.
His thoughts absorbed elsewhere, Gheirdan looked around without his usual evidence of disgust at the shabbiness of the cottage. Granted, it was cleaner than it had first been before his gold added to their lifestyle, but the old witch had scorned most of her daughter’s attempts to better their living standards. She wanted nothing to do with what she considered to be tainted money that her daughter earned on her back in the arms of Gheirdan Aktreivar.
Another scream came from the other room, and Gheirdan could no longer hold back his impatience. Cursing his pain when he turned swiftly enough to send the steaming contents of the mug down the front of his shirt, he slammed the offending object down and crossed the short distance to the inner chamber. He threw the door open to slam against the wall. The startled midwife jumped at the noise, but quickly went back to preparing the way for the baby to be born.
“How goes it?” Gheirdan asked the only question his mind would allow. Why did I come in here? He peered helplessly at Kezraille, looking for some sign that all was well. There’s nothing I can do. His feelings for her were strong, but the desire for his heir took precedence. Kezraille saw her lover in the doorway and smiled weakly.
“A man shouldn’t be present for the birth of his babe,” she chided in a hoarse whisper that echoed Griselle’s earlier sentiment. Her fingers tightened around the sheets she held to her chest as another spasm of pain rose in a shuddering crescendo through her body. Kezraille held back her cries, trying to endure the agony in silence for Gheirdan’s benefit until the pain became an unbearable shriek torn from her parched lips.
Gheirdan went to her side, taking a glass of water from a pitcher on the stand next to the bed. When Kezraille stopped, gasping for breath while waiting for the next pain to come, he gently lifted the glass to her lips, forcing her to take a swallow. The midwife appeared ready to scold him but held her tongue, the corners of her mouth turned down in disapproval.
“Water has never tasted sweeter than when given by your hand,” Kezraille croaked. She tried to lift her head, but fell back from the exertion of her efforts. Her body tensed, preparing for the strain of the next contraction.
“The babe’s head is visible,” the midwife told her softly. “All that’s left is for you to push it out.”
Kezraille nodded without speaking, the pain taking her past the ability to form words. Gheirdan turned away from her cries as though unable to stomach the agony of the birth. With a quick, sidelong glance he checked to make sure he was not watched while he took out a vial of clear liquid from his pocket. He carefully uncorked the stopper and emptied the contents into the glass of water he still held. Putting the vial away, he turned back to Kezraille at the next pause in her labor. With tenderness, he lifted her head to drink from the glass. Kezraille tensed, ready for the next push, and he took the liquid away, but not before she had consumed half the contents.
Her screams rose again to mingle with the excited ones of the midwife as the child passed from the body of the laboring woman. The midwife worked quickly, severing the cord and soundly slapping the infant across the buttocks. A lusty cry filled the room with the child’s first breath in strange new surroundings. The midwife wrapped the baby in a blanket and handed it into the waiting arms of Griselle who had come into the room at the last.
The cries of the mother drowned out those coming from the child. Frantically clawing at her abdomen, the screams dwindled as she fought for breath. The midwife worked in feverish confusion, not able to find a cause for the woman’s torment. She stopped only when Kezraille lie still, her arm falling from the edge of the bed to limply hang at the side, as lifeless as the woman to whom it belonged.
“Give me the child,” Gheirdan quietly ordered Kezraille’s mother. The woman gave up her charge without argument, numbly staring at the body of her child. Gheirdan promptly put the scene behind him, taking his heir back to the home where the child would be raised. He ignored the wail of grief that sounded out from Kezraille’s house as he left, knowing that Griselle had finally accepted what had happened. He had faced acceptance long ago, when he had first made the decision to do what he had done tonight. Kezraille would have been heartbroken at losing her child to be raised by another woman. It was better this way. She would no longer have that worry.
Soon enough, there would be no one to contest that the infant was not his legitimate heir. The apothecary had promised a quick ending with the rare substance he sold to Gheirdan. The Winterweed had done its job well. Gheirdan was satisfied. He shivered at the thought of Kezraille’s eyes lifelessly staring back at him in the end. Did she know? He pushed the thought away. It no longer mattered. It was done.
Outside, the snow steadily continued to chill Gheirdan through the thickness of the clothing he wore to keep out the coldness. The bundle of cloth in his arms had a sodden crust of white built in the folds within moments of their departure from the refuge of dryness offered by the home of his now dead mistress. Flashes of lightning still lit the surrounding sky, but the sporadic bursts did little to break through the black gloom of the night.
Once he reached the keep, he called out to the two men who waited inside for his return.
“Finish it,” he ordered without breaking stride. He did not even wait to see if they had left. He had no doubt they were already on their way.
Gheirdan did not halt from his course until he had safely locked himself away behind the closed doors of his private chamber. Only then did he lift the blanket from the child’s face, shaking away the snow. He stared at the infant in wonder, the miniature creation of life that was a part of him. He took the blanket away from the child, checking it for deformities, wanting reassurance that the child was fit for the destiny he had planned. It was then that he received the greatest blow. The child, heir to his title and to all his land, the one he would have one day rule the kingdom, was a girl.
* * *
Two men stole into the small house Gheirdan had left only a short time before. With trained eyes, they took in the emptiness of the outer room, the hearth fire warmly crackling against the chill outside. One nodded to the other, and they moved to the inner chamber. The door was still open, a single female cleaning up the mess of the child’s birth and packing her bag to leave. While one man stayed at the door, the second man slipped inside. He grabbed the woman from behind with one hand over her mouth to prevent her from crying out and deeply sliced her throat with a wicked looking blade held in the other. Without a second thought, he dropped the woman and looked around the room.
Someone had closed Kezraille’s eyes and placed her arms to cross her chest. The man the room nodded to the one at the door. The second man stepped inside.
“Wasn’t there supposed to be two of ‘em?” the first asked. They went quickly through the house, searching any space large enough to hide another human.
“The other one must not ‘ave made it with the weather and all.” The second man shrugged when they found nothing. They left the house as silently as they had come, disappearing into the dark night. The swirling snow rapidly erased any traces of their passage.
Inside the house, Griselle stood in shock. Her back rigidly leaned into a tall man in the corner, the blanket of illusion woven in the room hiding them both from the sight of any who would have looked.
“Why, milord?” Griselle whispered. “Why did it ‘ave to be this way?”
“You know why, old mother,” the man said gently, his voice sincere.
“But what will I do now?” The tears started to fall again as she looked through the doorway to see her daughter lying peacefully in death. “She was—she—”Grief wracked her body in sobs as she gave into it.
“Shhh…” The man turned her around and tenderly held her in his arms, letting her express her pain. “You will live, old mother—that is what you will do. I will come from time to time to show you—to teach you—and you will know what to do. But for now, just live.”
He held her until her cries lessened, and then lifted her into his arms to carry her frail body to the inner chamber. After laying her on the bed next to Kezraille, he turned to the midwife who lay dead on the floor, her life’s blood spreading out from her crumpled body. With a wave of his hand it was gone, leaving the floor clean and dry. He bent to kiss Griselle on the forehead.
“Sleep, old mother,” he whispered, and her breathing fell into a peaceful rhythm, “sleep and dream of the days to come.”
He lifted Kezraille’s body from the bed and with one last look around, disappeared from the room without a trace. Griselle slept. And she dreamed.