Authors: E.M. Havens
Copyright 2013 E. M. Havens
All rights reserved
Cover Design: Brian Blount/www.webvisiongraphics.com
Book Design: E.M. Havens
I dedicate this book to my husband, Jon, for putting up with the exorbitant amount of time I spent on it, and encouraging me to spend more. I’m also grateful for your help in blocking out important scenes. It was inspirational.
To my sisters, for being the first to read this and still be encouraging
To my reviewers at www.thenextbigwriter.com, for being honest, supportive, and making me a better writer.
Rory Noel Hawk
Even on a moonless night, Sam was sure of foot. Every rock, blade of grass or mound of earth she knew without the aid of lantern or mechanical torch. Still, she kept close to the flagstone walls of the mansion, slinking from pool of shadow to pool of shadow. She circumvented the intermittent glows that spilled from the windows of servants still about their business at this hour.
The glint of brass buttons gave away a patrolling guard and Sam clutched her hood and cloak tighter, making sure her golden brooch did not betray her position. The danger past, she unfurled herself from an impossibly small pocket of darkness; even for the slight frame of an eleven year old girl. The way clear, she closed the distance to the stable doors and slipped inside, spilling only the barest of light.
With purposeful stride, she approached one of the stalls. The stout horse within, black as the night was without, whinnied in recognition and tossed its blocky head in anticipation. “Shh,” she soothed and the stall door creaked open. The horse dwarfed Sam, but followed unbidden. He stood patiently while nimble hands tacked him. She led the horse to the stable doors and turned, hesitating for the first time. Breathing deeply the scents of hay and manure as though savoring a fine meal, and touching the gaudy beetle-like clasp at her heart, she squared her shoulders and turned again to leave.
“If ya don’t mind me askin’. Where will ya be goin’?”
Sam stiffened and spun on her heel, searching for the owner of the voice. Spotting him, she relaxed her grip on the reins and stared at her polished boot, digging one heel around in the dirt.
A man peeked from the door of an unoccupied stall. A strained smile complimented his sad eyes as he drew near. Thinning hair, more salt than pepper, was revealed when he removed his brown weathered hat, circling it nervously between his good hand and his mechanical one. The brass and silver contraption whispered in whirs and clicks as the fingers opened and closed. Cogs and pistons spun and pumped, nestled between shiny metal tendons and artificial bones. It almost behaved as naturally as flesh and blood. He took a few tentative steps forward.
“Ya know, just in case I want to come a callin’ or somethin’.” He punctuated with a wink.
Sam straightened defiantly and tossed her hood back, revealing golden hair pulled tightly into a short tail.
“Slag!” she said under her breath, rolling her fierce green eyes.
The man barked a sharp laugh. “Now ‘at weren’t too ladylike.” His words were stern, but his crow’s feet betrayed his amusement.
“I can’t do it, Zeb. I can’t be this person they want me to be.” Her eyes glistened with tears that threatened to fall, and her voice faltered. “I’m just going to go. I’m going to go, well… somewhere else.”
Zeb scratched his head. “Well ‘at there sounds like a plan, Miss Sam…I um…Lady Samantha. A real nice plan indeed. And ya know not a one of us would blame ya.” He took a few more cautious steps. “Not none of us.” He stooped down to one knee to be a little below her eye level. “Ya know, me, I was born to work hard. Work with me hands ‘til the day I die.” He chuckled nervously, and looked at his mechanical hand. “I wouldn’t even be able to do ‘at properly if it weren’t for you and Jas –” He hesitated, and looked to the ground. “Jasper,” he finished reverently.
Samantha looked away too, now working vigilantly to stopper the dammed up tears. She already missed Jasper and didn’t understand why he’d gone. He was her mentor and friend. Why had he left right when she needed him most? Maybe he ran away from his responsibilities too.
The mammoth horse stomped impatiently, returning them to the present, and Zeb returned his gaze. “But you Miss …Lady Samantha. You was born for greatness. We all know ‘at.” He reached out timidly, taking her by the shoulders, and held her desperate eyes with his. “Ya walk out ‘at door, and ride away, yer destin’ for greatness. Ya turn around, and face a future ya don’t want nothin’ ta do with? Well, you’ll be great either way.”
Fervent shouts of anger filtered in to the stables. Samantha and Zeb both whipped their heads in the direction of the cries. She could hear her mother’s voice among them, hysterical as usual.
“Ya just know,” he said, returning his gaze. “Ya have all a us on yer side. No matter what. We all believe in ya.”
Zeb released her and stepped back, giving her room to make her move. Sam wavered and pulled at the seam of her riding pants. The frantic voices in the yard were almost upon them. Behind her, through the stable doors were freedom and uncertainty. Before her were the twin shackles of constancy and destiny. Neither path offered the peace that her young heart craved, and Zeb’s words troubled her.
She didn’t want to be great. She just wanted to be a child, at least for a little longer. But her body had betrayed her, had decided against that for her, and things would change forever. There was no going back. The stable doors burst open, and the guards along with her mother and father, The King and Queen of Perspicia, tumbled in. She shuddered, catching a glimpse of torch light glinting off the new keys in each of their hands. Her exit blocked, yet another decision was made for her.
The page walked briskly down the ornately carpeted corridor counting the polished gold numbers on the doors under his breath, which came in short ragged gasps. He pressed into his side with one hand. The other gripped, white knuckled, an elaborate golden tube. His crisp red uniform and brass buttons declared he was no ordinary page. The furrow in his brow did not ebb when he located the appropriate door. Instead, it deepened. He sucked a calming breath, tugging and straightening the gold embroidered jacket and tried to arrange his disheveled and sweaty hair.
Through the ostentatious hard wood hotel door wafted the giggles and growls of an adventurous couple. The page knocked. When there was no acknowledgment, he steeled himself, wiping perspiration from his temples, and knocked louder. Moans of displeasure penetrated the thick door, and moments later it swung open heavily, revealing a half-naked young man. he held only a bed sheet tenuously about his waist.
“What?” he asked, still looking over his shoulder at the pretty brunette blushing in the bed. He finally turned, a furtive grin on his face, to see the page.
“Prince Cole?” the page asked out of duty only. Everyone in the Arboreal Lands knew the younger son of King Arnold. They knew his carefree and irreverent ways. They knew as well the tales of the sometimes selfless deeds, and all too selfish conquests in his short eighteen years.
Cole’s grin faded as he took in the royal page. He ruffled his untamed brown hair, with his free hand and then wiped it over his scruffy face.
“What is this?” he asked, knowing the page would say nothing even if he knew.
“An urgent message, My Lord.”
The page presented the tube but did not relinquish it. Cole’s features hardened in concern and he removed the signet ring from the middle finger of his right hand. He pressed the royal seal set with three rubies into a depression on the end of the device, and turned. The cogs along the edges clicked into place, followed by several pings and whirs within the cylinder. The closure sprang open.
Cole replaced his ring and cautiously reached into the tube, then pulled out the parchment. He thanked the page, and shut the door. As he read the message, gravity was suddenly too much for his body to resist. He grabbed the bedpost to support his weight.
“No,” he whispered to himself.
“What’s wrong?” asked a soft voice from the bed.
Cole had forgotten she was there. He saw the concern in her face and tried to give her a reassuring smile, but failed. Even her naked and beckoning form did not distract him from the letter. He pulled himself up on the edge of the thick mattress and slumped over the message, reading it again and again turning it over to make sure there wasn’t more.
“Cole?” A delicate hand touched his shoulder, bringing his racing mind to reality.
“Bad news, beautiful.” He stroked her hand in reassurance. “This isn’t going to happen today. I think you’d better leave.” He gently kissed her fingers. He helped her gather her things and saw her to the door. She stood on tiptoe and pecked his cheek.
“You know where to find me,” she purred, a seductive smile curling her lips.
He growled deep in his chest and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
Once she was gone he fell, more than sat in the high backed armchair before the empty hearth. He read the message one more time to convince himself that his entire life, every goal, every belief, every wish changed. His destiny diverted.
A pang of remorse began to grow inside him as he fought his selfish emotions. He should be thinking of his family, of his country. He could only think of himself in this moment, and what the two simple sentences on the page meant for him.
Morgan is dead. The crown falls to you.
10 Years Later
Cole scrolled the words across the page of a thick tome in a flourish of swirls and curls. Finding the ink pot beside him, banked with soil to insure against spillage, he dipped his pen and drew up more black ink.
He added in a plainer script. He recorded the date, location, and quantities among other important information. Blowing gently on the recent additions to speed their drying, he set the book down carefully. He reached into his leather satchel and removed a roll of brown paper. He selected an amount and proceeded to collect samples of the unique white flowers with slender fern like leaves. Making sure to cover it completely in the paper, he tied it loosely with string.