The Protector of Esparia (The Annals of Esparia Book 1)

BOOK: The Protector of Esparia (The Annals of Esparia Book 1)
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Protector of Esparia

 

By

 

Lisa M. Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the character, organizations,

and events portrayed in this book are either products of the

author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously.

 

Protector of Esparia

Copyright © 2016 by Lisa M. Wilson

Published by Dragon Scale Publishing

All rights reserved.

 

Other Books by Dragon Scale Publishing

 

 

The Dragon’s Champion series by Sam Ferguson

Book 1 – The Dragon’s Champion

Book 2 – The Warlock Senator

Book 3 – The Dragon’s Test

Book 4 – Erik and the Dragon

Book 5 – The Immortal Mystic

Book 6 – Return of the Dragon

 

The Netherworld Gate Series by Sam Ferguson

Book 1 – The Tomni’Tai Scroll

Book 2 – The King’s Ring

Book 3 – Son of the Dragon

 

The Exile by Eric Buffington (Coming Soon)

 

Dimwater’s Dragon by Sam Ferguson

 

Jonathan Haymaker by Sam Ferguson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

To my children who are my biggest supports.

 

Prologue

 

The sounds of clashing swords and the cries of men dying were closer now. Gayleena stared down at the newborn infant she held in her arms.  “Sleep on little one,” she whispered.  “I wish I had your peace.”  She swallowed hard, trying to slow her racing pulse and undo the twisted knot in her stomach.

“Blasted hair!”  Larone’s outburst caused the baby to jump, her little hands flying into the air.  “When this is over I’m going to shave it all off.”  

Gayleena glanced over to where Larone crouched.  A well-worn stellar map was spread out in front of him, its ragged edges curled upward from the polished marble floor.  He swiped at the long silver hair that fell in disarray around his face.  Sorrow swept through her.  The stately man should have been safely tucked away at the university, not here enchanting a pathway from one star to another halfway across the map.  He looked anything but stately now; his robes of office exchanged for armor and a sword replacing the writing brush.  His lips moved silently while he traced and retraced the astral course with his finger.

“Shave it?  Would he really?”  A lad, no longer a child, not yet a man, whispered at Gayleena’s side.

“No, Haesom,” she soothed.  The innocent query momentarily lessened her anxiety.  “He’s feeling the pressure.”

“Uncle Anton and I have finished setting up.  Can I hold her?”  The boy reached for the baby.  Without a word, she slid the tiny form into his arms.

All furniture had been pushed against the walls of the spacious room and an immense, flat stone now lay in its center.  A fist-sized crater in the middle of this stone held a blue, oval shaped crystal.  A vein of fine amber sand rimmed the crater’s perimeter.  Another encircled the stone. 

Anton, large and imposing, leaned against one of two marble pillars that flanked the chamber’s closed doors.  His normally ruddy face was drained of all color.  His frizzy hair lay matted against his head and neck.  With one hand he repeatedly tossed upward then caught a small vial of green liquid.  The other hand gripped the hilt of his drawn sword. 

Gayleena closed her eyes.  She forced her breathing to remain even.  They were trapped.  Her two uncles and her two, sweet children because of her…because she was too weak to run.  Only Larone’s healing magic had stopped the bloody hemorrhage caused by the birthing.  Then Anton had burst in with forewarning, just ahead of the attacking army.  Graesion, her beloved, never had the chance to hold their new little Shallenon.  In her heart Gayleena feared he was dead, yet the hope of a miracle still flickered in the back of her mind.  If only reinforcements could arrive in time.  Time…it had become their greatest enemy.  Had Graesion bought them enough time?  Would her uncle’s desperate plan save the children?  They should have killed Segal when they had the chance, but it was too late now.  Too late for…

“I have imprinted the course on the map.”  Larone’s comment pulled Gayleena from her thoughts.  “Are you ready, Anton?”

“Yep,” the big man pulled upright from the pillar and sheathed his weapon.  “The persite’s sittin’ in the stone.”  His booming voice seemed out of place in the somber room.  The baby twitched in Haesom’s embrace.

“Here.”  Larone handed the map, now folded into a small, tight square to the big man, then crossed to Gayleena’s side.  “I am sorry, my dear.  I wish there were some other way.”  He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead.  “We will find the means of bringing you back, I promise.”

“So, this place where we’re going is safe, right?  You’re certain?  I only have a sword and dagger to protect them.”  Haesom said.  He handed his sister back to Gayleena. 

“Safer than it is here, my boy—that I will guarantee,” Larone answered.  “It is our sister world, apart in physical distance, but joined together in the Transmirian Sea.  After two millennia the passage is still intact, so the choice was clear.”

Gayleena looked from one uncle to the other.  “You’ve both worked so hard these last two days.”

“The portal’s ready to open,” Anton’s deep bass cut in.  He had placed the folded map into the hole in the stone next to the blue crystal. “Just in time, too.  N’before you go askin--yes, I’m sure I got everythin’ right.  Sure enough to bet the lives of the people I value most in this world.  Now come ‘ere boy.”  Anton held his arms wide.  “It’s time for good-bye.”  Haesom rushed to the embrace.

With a boom, the tall chamber door crashed open.  A bloodied soldier charged in. “Protector….Graesion… is dead,” he panted.  “We hold…the hall…but not for long.”

Gayleena felt the blood drain from her face.  The hoped for miracle died with this news.

“If my father is dead, then I will stay.”  Haesom stepped away from his uncle. 

“No!” Gayleena gasped.

“Mama,” Haesom’s voice was soft, but firm.  “The people will need me.  You
have
to leave…have to save Shallenon.  With papa gone, I’m the last Protector.”

“But, you’re only thirteen.”

“I’ll be fourteen in a week.”

“If you live that long!”

“Gayleena,” Larone broke in, “we can save him.  He can run and he can fight.  After you leave, Anton and I are going to the lower tunnels.  If we hurry, with those left, we can protect Haesom.  But you and the baby…there is no possible way.”

Haesom went to his mother and put his arm around her waist.  “Papa trained me, and I’m as good as any soldier.”

Gayleena’s tears fell in bitter frustration.  Her enemy had won, time had finally run out.  “Haesom…Haesom.”  Her mouth formed the words, but no sound gave them voice.

“I know what I’m doing, Mama.  I understand.”

Anton opened the vial he had been holding.  While pouring the green liquid over the map and blue crystal, he chanted.  “By the voice of T’Aalin, through the Expanse of Gonta, I call on the powers of Bree, to open this passage, through the winds of Malana, I call the Transmirian key.  By the voice of T’Aalin, through the Expanse of Gonta…”

Larone’s tenor joined Anton’s bass, but his words wove a different spell.  “The threads of love through blood generations keep us close though we be apart.  Of one family, of one mind, of one spirit, of one heart.”  The two brothers harmonized their voices in a melodic blend.  Never faltering, Larone reached out and touched first Gayleena and then the baby.  An almost imperceptible shock ran through Gayleena’s body.

The crystal melted into the green fluid, filling the crater to overflowing.  The folded map burst into white flame, its heat sparking the amber sand.  Each grain popped in the fire, releasing thin yellow vapors shooting upward to the ceiling.  Plumes of white and blue smoke spiraled around the yellow wisps, momentarily hanging in the air above the stone.  Abruptly Anton’s bass voice dropped further in pitch and Larone’s was silenced.  The three smokes slowly swirled in a clock-wise motion, their distinctive colors blending together, changing to ebony.  Round and round the darkened mixture went, picking up speed and expanding outward like the churning of a giant whirlpool.  A low-pitched whoosh hissed from the spinning air, increasing in volume and intensity.

Anton, continuing his chant, backed out of the way, for within seconds the massive, black pool of churning air filled half the room.  Larone, his unruly hair whipping around his head, stood next to Gayleena, his arms wrapped protectively around Haesom. 

“I love you!” Gayleena cried above the tumult.  She ran a hand through her son’s red hair, gave him one last kiss, then clutching the newborn child to her chest, bolted into the heart of the swirling tempest.

CHAPTER 1

 

Dreams

 

 

“Hey, Dad, I'm home,” Jessica called when she entered the brightly lit house. She knew he was still awake, reading one of his many medical journals or researching a new procedure on the internet. He never went to bed, no matter how late, until she was safely home.  She found it endearing yet highly irritating.

“How did things go?’ he called from the den. “Will the cat make it?”

“It was a dog, and yeah, I think so.” She began her nightly routine of shutting down the house.  Kitchen door locked, cupboards closed and lights switched off.  Television powered down, lamps extinguished, and window draperies closed.  She bolted the front door.  “Did you go downstairs while I was gone?  Anything down there I need to worry about?”

“Nope.  Haven’t budged since you left.”  Porch lights out, hall lights dimmed and cell phones plugged in.  She paused at the den and stuck her head through the open door. “I really hate these late night emergencies. Doc needs to hire another assistant.”

Her father smiled up from his computer terminal. “Welcome to my world.”

“You can have it.  I told you, this is only for the summer.  Much as I love animals, my heart belongs to the lab.” She yawned. “Cutting edge research is eight to five, not twenty-four seven.”

“Not for first year bio majors, however, your point is well taken. Sleep good, Jess.”

“Don’t forget the lights when you’re done.”  She tapped the switch for emphasis, blew him a kiss then headed for her upstairs bedroom. “Note to self…check the den lights in the morning.”

 

* * *

 

A chilling gust roused Jessica from her sleep.  She caught her breath at the unexpected cold.  When she opened her eyes, blades of slender grass came into focus.  It took a moment for the foliage to register and when it did, she flinched; for it was not a sweet herbal scent that filled her nostrils but the distinctive stench of blood.  Another gust brought smoke.  Fire!? 
She pushed to a sitting position. 

Gone were the warm comforter, the soft bed, and her familiar room.  Enough starlight filtered down through fissures in the clouds for her to see she rested on a grassy knoll.  Behind her, several buildings smoldered orange-red.  A few massive beams still stood here and there, like skeletal fingers rising upward from glowing ashes.  A partial moon, uncovered by the rising winds, momentarily bathed the landscape in its platinum light.  Jessica gasped.  Armor-clad bodies lay strewn throughout the surrounding field.  Several were so close that details of their fresh slaughter were easily distinguished.  Far away, the clashing of steel and the howls of men in agony drifted on the breeze. 

“Addex!  No!”  A man’s plea startled Jessica.  “Spare my family.  Daenon hasn’t ordered their deaths.” 

Only a few yards away knelt a man, his hands tied behind him.  Light from at least a dozen torches reflected off blood oozing through a wound in his scalp.  The sticky liquid matted his shoulder-length red hair.  A second man, his face partially concealed under a metal helmet, loomed over him, his right arm raised in a striking position.  He held a sword in the elevated hand. 

Without seeing his face, Jessica knew the unfortunate prisoner.  “Haesom,” she breathed.  She knew this man and his home that lay in ruins behind her.  For ten years, since the night of her mother’s funeral, she had dreamed about him and his family.  They had always been good dreams, filled with magical animals, wondrous places and kind, gentle people.  Her dreams, though not frequent, came often enough to fill a void in her heart, for Haesom looked remarkably like her mother.

Behind captor and captive stood a battery of soldiers, some held the torches while others detained a woman and two teenage boys.  Jessica felt sick. 
Not the boys
, she thought.  She had come to love them; their antics always making her laugh.  She had dubbed them Big and Little Red, for their hair was the same fiery color as their dad’s.  Bound by thick ropes, the grim-faced youths stood silent, staring down at their kneeling father.  Their mother, her blond hair disheveled around her shoulders, stood rigidly beside them.  She looked straight ahead, her thin, ashen face devoid of expression.

“Please, Addex,” Haesom begged again, “let my family live.  They’ve done you no harm.”  The passion in his voice stirred Jessica, but Addex appeared unmoved. 

The pounding of horse’s hooves brought a momentary reprieve for the condemned man.  From the direction of the burned out buildings, a rider galloped up the hill.  One of the torchbearers approached and whispered in Addex’s ear.  The executioner lowered his weapon and turned to face the newcomer.

The black clad soldiers sprinted apart; one narrowly escaping the horse’s hooves.  The rider pulled to an abrupt halt in front of the kneeling prisoner.  “Where is it, Haesom?” he demanded, jumping from his mount.  “Where is the Sword of Judgment?” 

The kneeling man squared his shoulders.  “That is one prize you’ll never have.”

For a moment the rider fingered a shiny metal hoop hanging from one of his ears then he began to pace.  The light from the torches danced off his polished armor at every sharp turn.  With his constant motion and the firelights flickering in the wind, Jessica was unable to get a good look at his shadow-filled face. 

The woman’s lips twitched upward into a tiny smile.  She looked to her doomed husband and slowly shook her head.  The movement seemed to have caught the interrogator’s attention.

“What about your wife and children?” his hand flicked in the lady’s direction.  “You know you’re already dead, but give me the sword and I swear I’ll spare their lives.”

Jessica’s blood pressure spiked.  He had lied.  She saw the lie leave his mouth and coil around him, a wispy gray tendril. Big Red cried out.  “Father, no!”  From behind, a soldier slugged him for his bravery and he fell, face first, to the earth.

“Listen to me, cousin,” the tempter baited, his voice low and smooth.  “I can show mercy to your family.  Give up the weapon and give them life.”

Time ticked by in heavy silence, until at last Haesom shook his head. 
“I know you all too well, Daenon.  You have never honored your word.  As soon as you have what you want you’ll murder us all.  Keeping the Sword of Judgment safe will be this family’s final act as High Protectors.”

Daenon growled.  “You and your pathetic duty!  It’s a piece of metal!  Would you condemn your loved ones for bits of gold and steel?”

“If that were all it was, you wouldn’t want it so desperately.  We both know its power.  No, Daenon, you will
never
have that prize.”

Daenon stopped his pacing.  He raised an arm and backhanded Haesom across the face.  “Kill them all, Addex.  Rid me of the House of Saylon.”

“No!” Jessica screamed.  Her dream had become a nightmare.  No one moved; no one appeared to have heard her.  She tried to run, wanting to intervene, but her limbs would not respond.

“Let the Protectors die,” the cold, emotionless voice of Addex cut Jessica’s soul like a knife.  Her eyes darted over the group.  All were riveted on Addex as he slowly raised his sword arm, all except Little Red.  He stared directly at Jessica.  Their gazes locked and for a brief instant the corners of his mouth went up in a slight, sad smile.  “Goody-bye”, he silently mouthed to her and a single tear slid down his face. 

Jessica sat straight-up in her bed.  Her breath came in short, deep gasps.
She pushed her hair out of her face and used her sheet to wipe the tears that streamed down both cheeks.  Anger, astonishment, and sadness rolled through her like waves in a churning ocean.  She had always let her dreams unfold by themselves, never trying to direct their outcomes, but this one time she had tried, tried so very hard and yet she could not control the ending.  She was certain Little Red had actually seen her.  Never before had anyone seemed aware of her watchful presence.  Overwhelming sadness filled her entire being.

A soft meow and a wet lick at her hand brought a measure of relief.  “Sneakers.”  She reached for the animal and stroked his soft fur.  Sneakers meowed again and rubbed his head against her hand.  His strong purr calmed her, brought her thoughts back into focus.  “I…I’m okay,” she said to the tabby, and releasing him, snuggled back under her comforter  The clock on her nightstand read 3:00 am.

Jessica tossed and turned.  Sleep came in snatches that were measured in minutes by the bedside clock…3:15…3:25…3:42.  Even her comfortable bed felt hard and uninviting, as if she were lying on a concrete floor.  “This is ridiculous.”  She rolled over to peek, for the fourth time, at the glowing readout, but it was obscured.

Smoke?  Smoke!  Smoke so thick it obscured everything.  Her heart jumped and she instinctively scrambled to her feet.  “Dad!”  She took three steps toward the door before realizing it was not there.  Nothing was there.  For the second time that night, her room had vanished.  She waved her hand through the white, enveloping cloud.  No, this wasn’t smoke.  Thin, moisture-less vapor swirled in every direction, shrouding the world around her.  The air held no humidity, which should have been present with a watery mist.  There were no choking fumes that would have come with fire.  This odd haze held neither cold nor warmth.  No smell.  No taste.  So light and gentle, if she closed her eyes her other senses would detect nothing.

The only illumination came from her very person, a weak glow, giving a few feet of visibility.  This phenomenon did not surprise her.  After all, she reasoned, dreams have many odd elements and certainly, for a second time that night, she was dreaming.  Slowly, she turned a full circle, trying to peer through the fog, but nothing opened to her view.  Even her feet and the firmness on which she stood evaded scrutiny

Once again, she passed her hand through the mist.

With the sensation of being in a sealed tomb, Jessica stood in the pervasive silence.  Unsure of the passage of time and with no change in her environment, she finally decided to move.  Unable to see the ground through the fog, her first step was tentative.  When nothing happened, she took a second step and inched herself forward.  She did not travel very far before catching the low vibration of voices.  Turning toward the sounds, she carefully continued on. 

A strange urgency to hear the conversation propelled her. However, with each step that brought her nearer, the haze thickened.  It became oppressive.  Sadness swept over her.  As if in slow motion, she pushed her way through the sorrow-laden fog.  She trudged onward, fighting back grief.  The effort was exhausting.  With three more strenuous steps she could finally make out their words and she fell to her knees.

“They are dead sir, every one of them,” a gravel-voiced man moaned.  “Even the boys were murdered.  I arrived too late with my warning.  I watched the soldiers drag each body to the kitchen well and throw it in.  From my hiding place I recognized all four.”  A sob escaped him.  “All is lost now…lost.  It’s only a matter of time before he searches for you.  He will destroy everything and everyone who dares oppose him.”  Despair filled the man’s voice and Jessica felt pity pierce through her own heartache. 

“No, Quirt.” the other man corrected.  “All is not lost.”  Deep and resonating, this voice inspired trust.

“But, with Haesom’s death, and his family, there’s no one left.”

“We have one chance.”

“Wh…What?”  

“Not all the Saylon’s are dead.”  The heavy sorrow eased just a little.

Jessica inched a little closer to where she thought the men were.  She tried to see the speakers, but the thick mist prevented her.

“It…It’s so hard to believe!  I heard rumors, foolish whispers, but…”

“Believe it, old friend.  Graesion’s family was not killed, but sent far away.”

“Where?  Why didn’t the Lady return?  Segal’s been dead for over fifty years?”

“Only recently has Anton found the means for a return journey.  This is ancient magic, volatile and dangerous.”

“An heir of Graesion’s lives.”  Jessica strained to hear Quirt’s whisper.  “What if he refuses to help us, to take his rightful place?”  Despair crept into his voice again.  “The danger…Protector Haesom had an entire army and defeat still came.  Does he know his heritage?” 

“I do not know that answer.  As with all Protectors, this one too will have to choose whether or not to take the position and all that goes with it.  Undoubtedly by now,” there was a slight pause, “the successor has discovered some unique gifts, but not a full understanding of their true value, higher skills will need developing at Ramadine.”

“Do you think Daenon suspects?”  At the mention of this name, hate replaced Jessica’s sorrow.

“No, and this is our greatest advantage.  If he thought for one moment another Protector existed, he would be relentless in his search.  Family is nothing to him. My nephew even wants my head.”

There was a deep, tired sigh.  “Quirt, it has been a long day and you have traveled far to bring me this sad news.  You must get some rest, for tomorrow I am sending you on another mission.”  The tone of his voice became firmer.  “This fight we will win, so do not be discouraged.  Now, I must contact Anton.  We have much to do, and our time is short.”

The glow around Jessica dimmed.  In the distance, the rumble of a faint, familiar purr caught her attention. 
Sneakers
.
 
Gradually, the purr grew louder and sharper, bringing with it a pervasive weariness.  Jessica could no longer sit upright and she lay down.  Closing her eyes, she settled into a deep slumber.

BOOK: The Protector of Esparia (The Annals of Esparia Book 1)
13.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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