Authors: Christine Grey
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with.
Copyright © 2015 Christine Grey
. All rights reserved. Including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.
I want to offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to the following people for helping me make this book possible.
my editor and proofreader extraordinaire.
for creating a cover that is both beautiful and intriguing. You read my mind.
Richard Houston, for all of your guidance. You were my publishing GPS and never steered me wrong.
To my husband, Dan, who was there when the children needed help and mommy needed just five more minutes. Our story is still being written, my love, but you will always be the best and most exciting part of the tale.
And to my mother, Leeann. Mom, thank you for giving me your strength. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Thank you for knowing me better than anyone else and for loving me anyway.
Table of Contents
Tabitha raced through the silent woods, her heart pounding in her chest. The sun was shining, its light dappling the ground in front of her as it filtered through the golden leaves above her head. If she listened closely, she could just make out the sound of the ocean as it crashed against the stone walls to the east and smell the tang of salt air, even here in the woods.
Her step was sure as she trod the familiar path, speeding onward toward her goal. When the largest of the caves came into view, she slowed to a trot and then to a swift walk. She ran her hands quickly through her hair trying to tame the wild mane and almost as quickly gave up and shook it away from her face instead.
She entered the cave, dim except for a constant red glow to the rear of the large chamber. She picked her way around an array of obstacles—a pile of fresh apples, a small heap of brightly colored stones from the beach, a child’s doll, a plank of wood with small hand prints stained into the surface with berry and wheat flour paint. Though the placement appeared random, Tabitha knew that great care had been taken in their arrangement, and their owner would know instantly if someone had tampered with them.
As she neared the red glow, a deep and rich voice rumbled, “Well, girl? What have you brought me today?”
She took a couple deep of breaths in an effort to slow her thudding heart before speaking. “I have my very best hair ribbon, some bread—”
bread, is it?”
She couldn’t quite hide the grin that flashed across her face. “No, not hers. If I wanted to poison you, I know much less painful ways.”
“Humph,” came the grumbled reply.
“I also brought this,” she said, placing the item on the ground before her, for him to better examine her offering. The necklace had been constructed from graduated shells, each of them painstakingly drilled with tiny holes. A piece of dried sinew ran through each of them, to connect one to the other. A small but perfect sand dollar, stained a beautiful blue, the result of repeated soakings in berry wine, hung from the center of the strand. She didn’t miss the way his eyes gleamed with interest and desire.
“That’s some gift,” he purred. Then his look turned suspicious, and he cast his steely gaze upon her. “What are you after, Tabby?”
She sighed, not bothering to conceal her irritation. “My name is Tabitha! I would think that you, of all people, would appreciate someone wanting to be called by her full name.”
He rolled his eyes dramatically. “Yes, yes, Tabitha! I do understand, and please don’t call me people. You know how that bothers me.”
“Fine. You don’t call me Tabby, and I won’t call you people.”
“Agreed. Now, what do you want,
? I know you didn’t bring me a prize like that without expecting something in return. You’re too much like your mother for that.”
Tabitha sighed again. “I am nothing like her. I’m nothing like my father either. I’m…I’m nothing like anyone, really.”
“How wrong you are, child. You’re still young, still becoming. Give yourself time.”
She shook her head. Might as well get on with it. Either he would grant her request or he wouldn’t, but she was never going to find out unless she actually asked. “I want to hear the story,” she blurted.
“You’ve heard that tale a million times. Why would you come bearing such gifts just for that?”
“You always edit. I want the
story. All of it.”
“I don’t know,” he said slowly.
“Please! I am sixteen, now! Don’t you think I deserve to know?” She held her breath and watched as he tipped his head from side to side as if weighing the whys and why nots in his mind. When he finally nodded in agreement, her breath burst forth in a loud huff.
“Alright, but I would rather you and I keep this to ourselves. I probably shouldn’t be sharing all of these secrets without everyone’s permission, but I’m entitled to a little leeway after all; it’s not my fault I know all of these things, and they do owe me after—”
“I’ve always wondered: how
it, by the way, that you do know all this stuff?”
“Believe it or not, young lady, there was a time when I knew just about everything that happened on this island. Of course that was before the Great War. Since then…”
“Since then what?” she asked excitedly.
“Never you mind, Miss Tabitha. Do you want to hear the story or not?”
“Oh, yes!” She lowered herself to the ground in front of him, crossing her long legs beneath her as she did. “Tell me. Tell me everything!”
His eyes looked over her shoulder, as if looking beyond where—even
—they were, and he began to speak...
“Dearra! Dearra!” Phillip’s voice rang out clear and strong. His slender, young legs tore across the field in youthful exuberance, as most boys’ legs will when they carry news of great importance. Soft, brown hair blew back from a high, fine forehead, and clear eyes that sparkled with excitement. “He’s here! He’s here! The messenger is here!” Phillip’s face was flushed, and his breath came in great, gulping gasps as he slid to a slightly awkward halt before his older sister. He bounced on the balls of his feet, excitement, and not a little fear, written clearly on his young face.
A lone cloud flitted across the sky blocking the sun for a moment, and the brisk ocean breeze raised goose bumps on Dearra’s arms. She swallowed the lump that had formed in her suddenly parched throat and lowered her sword. So lost had she been in her silent dance that she had not heard Phillip’s approach until he was nearly upon her. She, like everyone else on Maj, had been anxiously awaiting this news, and now that it had finally come, she wished it had not. Just a moment before, she had been a girl of Maj, practicing her sword play and enjoying the late, summer day, but the messenger, or more accurately, the message he carried, could change all of that.
“Did you hear anything? Was there news?” Dearra asked, already turning toward home.
“Like they would tell me!” Phillip said. “All I know is the messenger arrived and went straight to Father. I tried to get close enough to hear, but as soon as Father saw me he sent me to find you. I ran the whole way! Isn’t it exciting?”
Dearra stopped abruptly and fastened a disapproving scowl on her face. “Exciting? Are you out of your mind? The Breken are savages, Pip. They come to capture or kill. This isn’t a game where everyone gets to go home at the end of the day and laugh about who scored more points than whom!”
Phillip’s little boy grin slipped dramatically, and he slid the back of his hand across his forehead, shifting the longish hair further from his eyes and depositing a smudge of dirt on his sweat streaked face. “I—I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant, well, that it’s not every day that something this huge happens.” Phillip bit his lower lip and fidgeted from one foot to the other, not knowing what else to say to the volatile sister he adored.
Dearra shook her head slightly. She did know what he meant, but she didn’t want to encourage her brother in his fantasies. She knew well enough that he saw the possibility of a Breken attack as a way to earn glory, and maybe even to cast aside the title of child. He was more than familiar with the tale of how Dearra had been allowed to join the adults at table after an act of heroism. Surely, the same and more would fall to Phillip if he played some small part in the defeat of their most feared enemy.
Phillip was thinking almost that very thing, but he wasn’t foolish enough to admit it. He stared down at his feet and waited for Dearra to continue her scolding. Instead, he felt her cool fingers as they reached out to tuck his long hair behind one especially dirty ear. His first instinct was to pull away, but he held his ground and allowed her to mother him. It was a hard thing to be a ten year old boy. Harder still when your big sister was forever trying to treat you like you were still five. Since there had been no shouting, Phillip guessed that Dearra had probably already forgiven him, and he risked a glance up at her face using what he hoped was his most miserable expression.
“You know that doesn’t work on me, Pip, so you might as well drop the wounded puppy act,” she said snidely, but with little conviction. Truth be told, it did work on her, and most of the rest of Maj for that matter. Their mother had died shortly after giving birth to Phillip, and ever since that day, he had succeeded in wrapping every heart around his little finger. The fact that he grew to look more and more like his beloved mother with every passing year only strengthened his grip on them.
Where Phillip was well tanned and had soft, nut colored hair, Dearra was blonde and pale. The sun had little effect on her coloring except when she spent too much time unprotected under its strong, summer rays. On those occasions, she turned an alarming shade of pink, but after blistering and peeling from the burn, she would annoyingly return to her previous ivory complexion. She did inherit her mother’s blue eyes, just as Phillip had, but Dearra’s were ringed with gold that flared with her moods, sometimes to the point of erasing the blue altogether.
“Dearra,” Phillip said, finally having enough of his sister’s attempts to tame his windblown hair. “Father
“And you’ve had enough of me pawing at you, right?”
“Well, sorta, but mostly I just wanna get back and hear what’s going on. Don’t you?”
Dearra didn’t answer, but she did begin to walk again. She wasn’t sure if she really wanted to know or not. A part of her wanted to race back to the keep. That was her warrior side, always rushing headlong into danger. But another part of her, the seventeen year old girl, wanted to delay the news for as long as possible, as each moment she delayed meant another moment of peace and safety.
The people of Maj had been protecting the mainland of Mirin Tor for over a thousand years. Their island home sat at the narrow opening of a great reef, and no one could approach without first passing the protectors of Mirin Tor. She had been raised to take her duty seriously, and she had been training since she was old enough to hold the little wooden sword that had been made for her by the island’s weapons master, Daniel. Still, the thought of facing the Breken for the first time was a sobering one. Pirates and raiders were one thing, but the Breken…The stories of that most feared race were enough to turn even the bravest warrior’s blood cold.
She remembered once asking Daniel about the last time the Breken had attacked Maj. Daniel had been a young warrior himself then, not much older than Dearra was now. He had stubbornly refused to give her more than the most cursory retelling of his tale, and Dearra had teasingly asked him if he had been scared. He stopped what he had been doing and looked her square in the eye before responding simply, “Hell, yes,” and walking away.
Pip’s tension came at her in waves, waxing and waning as her pace slowed and sped up, an outer expression of the two halves of herself warring inside her. Then, much to Phillip’s obvious relief, she began to run.
Once inside the great hall, she spared no glances at the many warriors who were milling around there. When she met him, Dearra approached her father and placed her hands on his strong arms. Philip quietly slid to an out of the way table, close enough to hear what was being said, but without drawing too much attention to the fact he was someplace he probably wasn’t wanted.
“Tell me,” she urged in a strangled whisper.
“They are coming,” her father said. His voice was flat and lacked its usual force. He raised his own hands and set them firmly on her shoulders, both offering and taking comfort, before repeating the words that would change their lives forever. “They are coming.”