Sorry its been so long since I've posted (I have a feeling that this is becoming a mantra for me!). But I have an excuse. I've been busy writing Days of Light and Shadow, and finally the end of the book is in sight. It's been like climbing a mountain, not that I have ever or would ever do that.
So I thought in this post I'd give you all a sneek preview at what's in the book - the first chapter. Please note this is only the first draft and it hasn't been even through the first edit, so apologies for the typos etc. Also this chapter contains a rather brutal rape scene which sets off the entire tale, and though I've done my best to keep the gory details out of it, it's still not something I would recomend for children etc.
Let me know what you think.
Elwene was kneeling in quiet prayer at the Altar of Rose Fury, trying to feel the spiritual power of the Mother upon the spot, but mostly enjoying the warmth of the spring day and the sweet aroma of the flowers. Blue tufted geese flew through the skies above, honking their strange song for all to hear, while on the ground a few leap rabbits were busy hunting for tasty treats.
They were cheeky creatures, too bold by half, especially in the Grove where they knew they were safe, and if you weren’t watchful, you would turn around to find your lunch gone. Some had even had their lunches snatched out of their hands as the little thieves struck while leaping past them with all the magical speed they were famed for. But that was no great hardship in this place of plenty. Maybe it was even a reason to give thanks to the Mother for the endless wonder of her world. And for her touch on this special grove.
She didn’t truly know if the Mother heard her quiet words, or if she cared, but in the end Gaia was life and the rest didn’t matter. It was enough just to feel her presence all around and dwell in that pleasure. And Wildwood Rose Grove was filled with her presence. As had been all the other wild groves she had visited over the previous weeks.
Often she wished that her brother knew the same joy, but he didn’t and she feared that he never would. Since their parents had died in a tragic riding accident and he had been elevated to High Lord, he seemed to understand little but power and anger. And by the laws of primogeniture he had the first in large measure while grief had granted him the second. It was as if with their deaths, they had both been transformed. Elwene had found her calling, and maybe in a few more years she would enter the priesthood, in time becoming an elder. Sadly Finell had found the darkness of pain and grief instead, and the need to lash out at others. And it wasn’t helped by that black hearted advisor of his. Between the two of them they had transformed Elaris into a much darker place.
Soldiers on the streets everywhere, their silver chain blackened with pitch to make them seem more frightening. A prison, a place of darkness and fear, built in the very heart of Leafshade. Why did they need such a place? But the two of them had swiftly provided the answer as Finell enacted more and more unfair laws. Laws that penalised the innocent if they were not of the seven great houses, and especially if they were not of elven blood.
She still didn’t understand that. Why he’d turned in such a dark direction. It was as though he blamed the outsiders for their parent’s deaths. But there was no reason to, it was simply an accident, and Finell would not speak to her of his heart. He spoke to her of very little. They lived together in their family home, the last remnants of their immediate family, saw each other daily, and should have been becoming closer because of the tragedy. Yet the fact was that he seemed more a stranger with every day that passed.
He was no closer to the rest of their family. He loathed their Uncle Tenir, probably because he was the First of House Vora and so in some respects his master. But he hid it well. For a while she’d hoped he was becoming closer to Uncle Brettle in Heartwood Grove. The two were closer in age then others in their House. He’d even spoken about going out hunting with him one day. But then Brettle and his wife Claudine had been trampled to death by a rampaging fell ox and that hope had quickly died.
Some days it seemed that fortune did not favour them. That House Vora was slowly dying. Illness and disease stalked their elderly. Misfortune preyed on the rest. It had just been another sad chapter in their house’s never ending book of woe. But still another terrible accident in the family, so soon after the death of their parents. It must have crushed Finell. And even before that when their grandmother Varla had passed after a short illness, he had been hurt.
As she often did Elwene said a small prayer for her brother as well, in the hope that he would one day return to the light, and with him the realm. But she wasn’t hopeful. His road had become too dark for too long, and his return would be hard.
“Lady Elwene!” The sound of her attendant crying out her name distracted her and surprised by the commotion, Elwene looked up to see Terra running for her. Running hard.
The sight annoyed her briefly. It was wrong. People didn’t run in the sacred grove. This was a place of tranquillity, a place where a woman like her could spend some quiet time in contemplation and study. It was not the sort of place where people ran and screamed. And yet something in the way she screamed, in the rush of her sandaled feet upon the ground, spoke to Elwene of fear. But what was there to be afraid of? Nothing in this place surely.
Heartbeats later she looked beyond Terra’s frantic dash to the tree line at the edge of the glade, and it was then that she understood her desperation. Brigands!
It couldn’t be, but even as she watched she saw them emerging from the depths of the forest on their horses, brandishing their weapons, and galloping for the assembled priests and elders engaged in their rituals. They in turn were only just beginning to realise that something was wrong. But reactions dulled by years of prayer and disbelief, stopped them from doing the sensible thing, and running. They needed to. No one in the grove carried a weapon. It would be considered an insult. And their magic was limited. They were priests not war-spells
Then the first of the riders reached them, some dark weapon in his hand, and he galloped straight through the middle of them, screaming at the top of his lungs and swinging wildly. But there was no lack of direction in his aim. The blade hit him square in the back. Blood sprayed in a gory fountain from the very first blow, she could it see it so clearly against the starched white linen of his robe, before the priest fell to the ground, either dead or terribly wounded. But he was only the first.
More brigands reached the priests in mere heartbeats, descending on them like a pack of wolves, and she could see the blood spraying and the people falling everywhere. She could hear the screaming too. Men and women, many of them elderly, frightened and confused as they ran in all directions. But they couldn’t escape. They were too slow. Far too slow. The brigands were on horseback, and charging down those who ran with war cries on their lips.
Soon it became a sport for them as they shouted to one another about each new murder, celebrating their evil.
The brigands knocked them over with their weapons, and then when they were down, their horses trampled them with the steel shod hooves as they rode over them again and again. Some few made the distant trees, but they were few, and many of them were wounded. And even there they weren’t safe. Several of the bandits were taking aim at them with crossbows, bringing them down like wild animals for the pot.
Terra was taken that way. One moment she was running for her, screaming in terror, the next she had fallen face down into the grass, a crossbow bolt in her back. Elwene could see the look of horror and disbelief in her dying eyes, just before her face hit the grass.
“Mother bless your children.” Still kneeling in front of the small shrine at the far end of the valley, Elwene uttered her frantic prayers, as she suddenly realised that she had to run too. She was only still alive because she had not been noticed, as she remained so still, away from the others. But that would not last. Already she could see some of the black armoured brigands looking her way, and soon she knew, they would be coming for her as well.
Terrified, she took to her heels as quickly as she could, heading for the trees, but expecting with every stride to feel the pain of a crossbow bolt embedding itself in her back or an axe cracking her head in two. She had never been the fastest runner, she had never had either the need or the desire.
“And where might you be running to My Lady.” She heard his mocking voice, saw his steel clad arm reach out for her and tried to dodge. But she was far too slow and he had her by the throat before she could even scream. She hadn’t even realised that, as she’d watched the others being slaughtered by brigands coming from the southern end of the glade, some had been creeping up on her from the north.
“Leaving us so soon?” He laughed some more, a dark and terrible sound more suited to a troll than a man. But he was surely as large as a troll, and just as powerful. And he stank like one as well. But worse then that, his men laughed with him, enjoying their game, and she knew that they had evil plans for her. The sister of the High Lord, she realised that it was no coincidence that they had come for the priests here and now. They had come for her.
The black clad giant started dragging her back to the centre of the glade, and all her dead friends, laughing with every step he took. Laughing and telling her exactly what he was going to do to her.
Elwene screamed, or she tried to, but his armoured fist was tight around her throat, blocking off her precious air, and what came out was a gurgling sound. And though she used her fists against him, they were equally useless. He was dressed from head to foot in black metal and chain, and flesh could not stand against it. All she did was hurt her fists. But that didn’t stop her trying.
Soon, though it seemed like an eternity had passed, he had her back in the middle of the glade, and she could see the bodies all around her. Her friends and fellow priests, respected elders, decent elves, their bodies broken and torn as though by wild animals. She could smell the blood. The beautiful green grass was covered in it. Their perfectly laundered white robes were drenched in it.
Then he lifted her up, one handed, and smashed her back down on the alter stone, hammering her so hard that she very nearly passed out. But he wouldn’t have cared if she had. Neither would she. It would have been a mercy. He wanted only one thing, and it was too horrible for words. And still it was happening. Holding her down against the cold stone with his hand around her neck, he tore her robes off her, yelling madly with every piece of linen that came away in his hands. Soon there was no more, and she was lying there on the cold stone in front of him, naked.
“No.” Somehow she managed to squeak out the word, but it made no difference. He just laughed, even as he loosened the draw string that held his britches up.
“And now my lady -.” He mocked her some more as he kicked off his britches, and she could suddenly see everything she had never before imagined, never wanted to. “If you could scream a little more. There are still a few of your useless piss bearers hiding in the woods, and Yaris wants them to see everything.”
Yaris? Even in her fear the name caught her attention. The dark robed little military advisor to her brother? She didn’t understand. And then she did. He was an evil little man. A dark hearted beast that walked as an elf, and no doubt he had plans for her brother. Terrible plans. And she understood one thing more in that final moment of painful clarity. If his servant was happy to use his name in front of her, then he had no intention of letting her live.
Despite it being exactly what he wanted her to do, she screamed then, unable to help herself.
She screamed a lot more as well as he committed his vile acts upon her, and all the while the dark armoured man laughed and his darker master’s plans came true.