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Authors: K.L. Schwengel

First Of Her Kind (Book 1)

BOOK: First Of Her Kind (Book 1)
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FIRST OF HER KIND

A Darkness & Light Novel

Book One

 

 

By

K. L. Schwengel

First of Her Kind

Copyright © 2013 by K. L. Schwengel

 

 

This book is dedicated to Mom . . . because of all the reasons.

To Sara, for being the first to tell me it wasn’t tripe.

And to Josh, Sage of the South, for countless hours and always pushing me to be better.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Ciara pulled the hood of her fur cloak over her head and slogged through the deepening drifts up the hill toward the house. The winter wind howled like a maddened banshee, tossing her lantern light across the swirling snow to create eerie shadows that wavered and danced around her. Even with the lantern, Ciara couldn't see an arm's reach in front of her. If it weren't for the fact she'd traveled the path from the barn to the house numerous times every day for the past four years, she could have easily gotten lost. It already felt as if she'd been walking far longer than normal. She tugged her scarf over her mouth and nose, ignoring the ice crystals forming on its edge. Her feet had long since gone past merely chilled to painfully cold, making them harder to ignore. She peered up the hill between blasts of wind and caught a glimpse of her aunt's cottage -- nothing more than a hulking, dark shape amid the churning white wall around her. Then the wind gusted and snow obscured her vision once again.

Her aunt would be fretting by now, and Ciara would likely have to endure a scolding for taking so long with chores. They'd a sense of the impending storm earlier in the day. The earth magic they used for healing also kept them in tune with nature's rhythms, and Meriol had shooed Ciara out right after their mid-day meal. But Ciara had spent more time than she intended with a new foal out of one of Findley's prized mares. She smiled at the mental image of the black filly, all long legs and big eyes, just beginning to learn about the world around her. Ciara hadn't thought the storm would come up so quickly, or with such ferocity.

She ducked her head and braced against the wind. At least she had a fire and a hot meal to look forward to. She'd need it to chase the cold out of her bones. Ciara lurched forward as something snagged her foot
. The lantern slipped from her chilled fingers as she thrust her hands out to break her fall. But instead of the ground, Ciara came up against a warm, solid form that smelled of wet horse.

Goddess's light, if she forgot to latch the barn door and Findley's mare got out the horse master would have her hide.

The wind stilled for just a moment as though taking a breath, and Ciara could see that, not only did the grey horse not belong to the horse master, it carried a rider. She shied back until she realized neither man nor beast posed a threat. The horse's head hung so low its nose nearly touched the snow, and the way the rider slumped in the saddle it surprised Ciara he maintained his seat at all.

"Sir?" She laid a hand on the horse's shoulder and had to close her eyes against the wave of exhaustion the touch brought with it. A healer's curse, she supposed, though her aunt told her she needed to be less open all the time
, and to control when her earth magic sought out ailments. She took a deep breath, and when she looked up the man's fevered gaze had found her face.

"Healer?" he asked. Or something that sounded like it.

The wind twisted around them and ripped the words from Ciara's mouth before she could reply. She raised her voice and gestured up the hill. "Almost there. I'll lead you."

His gaze shifted and he nodded. Ciara scooped her lantern from the snow drift it had landed in -- though the flame had guttered out -- and reached up for the horse's bridle as the storm recalled its former fury.

Trudging through the whirling snow proved even more difficult with the horse in tow. The beast stumbled more than once and would often leap forward to clear a drift, yanking Ciara along. It amazed her the rider didn't fall off. Then the horse reared back as it came to a sudden halt, and the rider slid off the opposite side, landing in the snow with a soft thud. Ciara swore under her breath. She ducked beneath the horse's head, and her shoulder brushed against the solidity of the cottage wall. They must have come up on it from the side instead of the front. Lucky they hadn't missed it altogether.

She worked her way around the horse and found the rider on his hands and knees, struggling to get up. Ciara bent down and grabbed his arm, draping it across her shoulders as she wedged herself into his armpit. They groaned in unison as she forced her legs straight and helped him to his feet. Ciara guessed his height and build would have made the task hard enough without the layers of heavy, wet clothing. She gasped as their balance tilted backwards, and they staggered into the horse who thankfully stayed put.

The man muttered something and tried to push Ciara ahead of him, but she reached around his waist and forced her cold-numbed fingers to find a grip.

"We're almost there," she said, as her foot caught the raised edge of the porch. "Step up."

He reached out with his other hand to steady himself along the wall. "I can walk."

"Of course you can." But Ciara didn't release her grip on him. The thought of trying to haul him upright a second time held as much appeal as staying out in the storm any longer than necessary.

Almost to the door it opened, and her aunt stepped out, holding up a lantern. Her eyes went wide when they landed on Ciara, and she tilted her head back and called for Findley. The horse master appeared in the doorway, wiping his mouth which dropped open when he saw the reason for the summons. He hurried to join Ciara, assuming a similar position opposite her. But the man jerked back suddenly, trying to turn around.

"My horse," he said, his voice thick.

Findley looked at Ciara and she nodded toward the corner of the house. "I'll see to him soon as we get you inside," Findley replied. "You'll do him no good in your condition."

Meriol stood aside, holding the lantern like a beacon as they guided the man into the cottage. "Take him straight to the back."

They got him into the small room Meriol kept for just such occasions. Despite being chilled through to the bone, sweat trickled down Ciara's back from the exertion. Even slumped over the man stood a good head taller than her, making him as tall as Findley but wider across the shoulders and encumbered by layers of wet clothing. Findley supported him the best he could while Ciara fumbled with the pin that secured the fur-lined cloak at his neck. Her fingers began to tingle as warmth and circulation returned but it didn't make the undertaking any easier. She raised a brow and exchanged a quick look with Findley as the sodden garment fell away to reveal a sword at the man's left hip, and a knife at the other. Meriol's healing skills were no secret, and more patients than this stranger had found their way to her doorstep: None whose garments and array of weapons marked him as something other than a local farmer or craftsman.

Ciara ignored the unease that crept up her spine as she unfastened the sword belt and laid the weapons on the table.

When she turned back, Findley had lowered the man to the cot. "I'll get his horse to the barn." He looked past Ciara as Meriol entered the room, a basin of water in her arms. "Is there anything more you'll be needing, mistress?"

Meriol glanced down at her patient and shook her head. "No, Findley. Thank you."

Ciara's teeth chattered as she bent to help her aunt with the rest of the man's clothing.

"Goodness, child, you're half frozen yourself!" Meriol took her by the shoulders and turned her toward the kitchen. "There's a kettle on. Get some dry clothes on and fix yourself some tea. You'll be of no help to me if you catch your death of cold. Go on, now."

Ciara didn't need any more prompting than that. She stripped off her fur wrap on the way out and draped it over a chair by the fire, turning to warm herself before going to change into something dry. She brewed three mugs of tea on her way back through the kitchen -- one with ginger root for fever -- and hurried back to help her aunt.

Meriol had managed to strip the rest of the man's clothing from him by the time Ciara returned. She'd piled furs over him from the waist down, and though she'd started a fire in the brazier, moving it as close as she dared, shivers still rippled through the muscles in his arms and across his chest, and a fine sheen of sweat glistened on his face. Meriol looked up, her grey eyes clouded, and gestured Ciara to take the stool beside her. "It will take both of us, I think. There's something more at play here than just these physical wounds."

From the look of them, those would have been enough. Dried blood from a gash on his temple had matted in the tangles of dark, shoulder length hair, plastered to his head by the snow. A large ugly bruise colored his rib cage various shades of purple and yellow, and a deep cut ran from just under his breastbone to his navel. More blood had dried across his shoulder, but Ciara couldn't be sure if it came from a wound, or from someone else. His chest rose and fell with the erratic, shallow rhythm of his breath. Meriol laid her hand across his forehead and turned her sight inward, using her earth magic to seek out the injuries not visible to the naked eye.

"His name is Bolin," Meriol said, her voice distant. "He wanders close to the edge of darkness, but he's strong yet." She turned to Ciara. "Do you remember how you helped guide the miller's boy back?"

Ciara nodded. At seventeen she had more skill than healers twice her age, mastering the use of her earth magic as easily as she drew breath, though she doubted she would ever match Meriol's expert touch. Still, she hesitated as she switched places with her aunt. She knew Rothum, the miller's boy. It had been easy to find him in the quiet vale between realms and guide him back. She knew nothing of this man.

"Call him," Meriol said gently, as though she sensed Ciara's inner turmoil. "Trust in the Goddess. She is strong in him."

A lump formed in Ciara's throat, but she managed to swallow around it. She closed her eyes and laid her hand gently on the man's fevered brow. Her earth magic swarmed immediately around her, and she found herself in the gentle grey of the vale. She could sense Meriol's presence and took her courage from that instead of the Goddess. Unlike her aunt and her mother before her, Ciara had little love to spare the deity -- it mattered not to her that earth magic supposedly came from the Goddess.

Ciara took a calming breath and pushed her thoughts aside, opening herself to any other presence nearby. Before long she glimpsed a figure moving within the softness.

"Bolin?"

He turned, his shape wavering like a wisp of fog before solidifying. Eyes the same light grey-green of the lichen growing on the rocks along the edge of the herb garden fixed on her. His brow furrowed, and something in the intensity of his gaze made Ciara want to withdraw.

"Who are you?" It sounded more like a demand than a question.

"A healer."

"The girl in the snow." He spoke with a lilting accent, and more strength in his voice than Ciara thought someone wandering in the vale should possess.

She nodded. "Yes."

Ciara shivered as she felt him slide past her earth magic and come to stand beside her. Her breath caught, and her stomach fluttered in response to a sudden and unexpected stirring from the other magic she possessed, the one her aunt called the wilding because of its unruly nature. Few knew of it, and those who did were terrified by it. Unlike earth magic, Meriol never claimed the wilding to be a gift from the Goddess. In fact, she forbade Ciara to call on it for any reason, because the results tended to be disastrous. The wilding had a habit of rising up in pace with Ciara's temper, and when it did she couldn't control it.

Ciara licked her lips and tried to ignore the wilding, focusing instead on her earth magic and leading Bolin back from the grey mists of the vale.

"You're not like other healers," he said.

"In what way?"

He shook his head. "I'm . . . not sure." He looked away, and his form wavered again. "You shouldn't be here."

"We need to go." Ciara reached for his hand, her earth magic flowing from her fingertips to curl up his arm and envelope him in a glow of soft white.

He frowned at it, and looked over his shoulder at something in the distance. "Not yet."

Ciara's earth magic slid from him as he moved away. Her mouth dropped opened. That shouldn't have happened. He shouldn't have been able to leave once she had him. She started forward, but he held up a hand and it stopped her as effectively as a stone wall.

"Not. Yet."

Something moved into her line of vision then -- dark, unformed, a wisp of black winding through the air like a serpent through grass. It rose up in front of Bolin and wove back and forth as though trying to see past him. To see her. Ciara took a step back. "Bolin."

He didn't turn. "Go."

"You have to come with me." She couldn't leave him here. Those left in the vale without someone to guide them back never returned.

Ciara sent her earth magic flowing out to wrap around Bolin like a blanket. He paid it no heed; his focus remained locked on the cloudlike wisp in front of him. Voices reached her ears, and Ciara cocked her head to listen. She couldn't pinpoint the source and the language didn't sound familiar, but the wilding trembled beneath the wards Meriol had placed around it, and the tremor vibrated through Ciara. Her earth magic flared brightly as it sped suddenly away from Bolin toward the shadow. Ciara cried out and snatched after it, her mouth dry and her pulse racing. She'd never lost control of her earth magic. That only happened with the wilding.

The bright stream of light engulfed the darkness, closing around it until nothing remained. Before Ciara could react, it arced back to nestle lightly around Bolin once again.

BOOK: First Of Her Kind (Book 1)
5.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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