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Authors: C. K. Brooke

Tags: #Romantic Fantasy, #Action & Adventure

The Red Pearl

BOOK: The Red Pearl
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual events or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The Red Pearl. Copyright © 2015 by C.K. Brooke,
https://www.facebook.com/ck.brooke

Edited by Denise DeSio. Cover Design by Lyndsay Johnson,
http://www.lyndsayjohnson.com

All rights reserved including the right to manufacture in any format, sell, or distribute copies of this book or portions of this book. For information, visit
http://www.48fourteen.com
.

Library of Congress Number: 2015955153

ISBN-13: 978-1-937546-49-6

ISBN-10: 1937546497

Sami, this one’s for you!

The Wrong Prince (Coming Soon)

The Red Pearl

THE TALE OF JORDINIA

The Duchess Quest, Book 1

The Duchess Inheritance, Book 2

HIS MOTHER’S WEEPING WAS A weight on her heart. Shivana fingered the vellum in her pocket as another tear dribbled down her cheek. It was all because of this accursed paper that her love, the man she was to wed, with whom she was supposed to share a long and prosperous future, now lay motionless before her.

“Why, Ricardo?” She gave a single stroke to his onyx hair, while his sisters wept into their hands. Why had the hunt been so important? Had he truly believed it worth his life, and all else that he would lose? Had he believed it worth all that
she
would lose, without him?

His mother and sisters began chanting alongside the priests, and Shivana cast a furtive glance at the cluster of cousins and other kinsfolk gathering in the little chapel. The burial was imminent. It was now or never.

Subtly, she extracted the vellum from her skirts, and tucked the folded square into the dead man’s vest. Her heart drummed as she took a single step back from the coffin, praying that no one had noticed.

“Fare thee well, dearest,” she bade him, drawing one final, tearful glimpse of her beloved. Her wooden shoes clapped against the flagstone floors as she returned to the pew. The map would be buried with him. No other man would lose his life in pursuit of the evasive treasure. And no other mother, sister or lover would mourn as she and the Rivera family did that day.

Straightening her teal skirts, Shivana Azul resumed her lonely seat on the hard bench. Despite the ache in her breast and the empty void she knew she would never refill, she felt some trace of finality, of satisfaction. For the greater good, she had done what she needed to do.

ANTONIA KORELLI SLID DOWN FROM her cot. She’d hardly slept all night, for fear of missing the sunrise. It hadn’t quite arrived yet, the sky still an inky black. But she could tell by the pines outlined through the window, which were becoming marginally more visible, that dawn approached.

Silently as she could, she pulled out the modest bindle from beneath her cot and scanned her cell to ensure there was nothing she’d forgotten to pack. The sacred scrolls that lay on her desk would remain there. Additionally, she’d taken care to remove her ritual jewelry the night before, and place it prominently it on the nightstand, lest she be accused of stealing.

All looked well. She was ready.

On the tips of her toes, the young woman crept from her cell, past the other sleeping apprentices’ doors. Her pulse hummed with nerves as she rounded the corner into the main sanctuary. What if one of the priestesses was already awake and praying there? How would Antonia begin to explain the hour, her bindle?

To her relief, the sanctuary was empty. Only the bust of the temple’s patron goddess, Azea, rested upon the altar, her alabaster neck garnished with a fresh wreath of flowers, shadows of the ritual candles flickering off of her carved face.

“It’s nothing personal,” Antonia whispered. The likeness of her deity stared back at her, stone eyes unseeing.

At last, Antonia pushed into the vestibule, where she quickened her steps. Freedom was literally just through the door. She could taste it, feel it in her hand as she unlatched the great deadbolt and pulled back the iron handle. She cringed at the door’s hearty groan as she heaved it open and darted outside, nearly tripping over her robes as she leapt down the steps, three at a time, and broke into a run across the lawn.

She was out. The young woman released a hoarse laugh of disbelief, sailing through the cornfields. She couldn’t believe she’d done it. And no one was the wiser…yet.

The sky was lightening, though not by much. No matter; Antonia could see well enough. The road was just ahead. Brushing her long blonde hair aside, she glanced over her shoulder, praying that no one followed her. Fortunately, she saw not a soul. She laughed again, this time in delight. “Elat, here I come,” she declared to the parting clouds. Indeed, she was free to pursue her dream, at last.

Antonia Korelli had never wished to be a priestess’s apprentice. She’d never asked for a life confined to the cloisters of the temple, relegated to chastity in servitude to the goddess, Azea. Nay, and the last six years she’d spent with the coven had not been her choice. Her parents had forced her to go, in fulfillment of their bargain with the deity.

Mr. and Mrs. Korelli had enjoyed a comfortable life as merchants, yet were devoid of children. As reiterated to Antonia as a child, they had prayed ceaselessly and frequented the temple with gifts of flowers, coins and food. But it wasn’t until they promised the goddess Azea that, should she bless them with conception, they would dedicate the child to her, when Antonia was finally conceived.

Antonia had enjoyed her upbringing in Innía, and had been fond of her family. But, as her parents had promised, their only daughter was meant to be “returned” to the goddess. And so, at age thirteen, when Antonia’s blood of the moon came upon her, she’d exchanged tearful goodbyes with her mother and father, and was forced into apprenticeship to become the priestess she had never desired to be.

Presently, her sandals found the paved road, and she slowed her steps. There was no need to run anymore; the temple was but a speck in the distance. She wiped her brow. The sun had not fully risen, but already the summer’s heat was pervasive. Perhaps it would be cooler in the brush, she hoped, following the road into a thicket of trees.

It was a long way to Elat from Innía, Antonia knew. And she certainly did not intend to walk the whole way. But she’d very little coin, and wished to save it for when she had real need of a coach to carry her.

Her heart swelled at the thought of Elat, the splendor she’d heard about its majestic courts, and the King and his assortment of valiant knights, who ventured far and wide on special missions and brave battles. Antonia dreamed of meeting such a knight, being swept off her feet in a whirlwind courtship and accompanying him on exciting travels. Such fantasies were the only balm to her yearning heart those last six years in servitude. But now, at age nineteen, she was about to make it happen. She had only to get to Elat.

The sun broke through on the horizon, illuminating the woodland path before her. She could just make out the pinks and golds of a promising sunrise, when she heard a muffled yell.

She halted. Had someone been following her, after all? She swiveled around, her yellow hair tangling in her face, but saw no one. Cautious, she pressed on through the brush, only to hear more raised voices.

Shapes moved in the clearing ahead. She knew it would be wiser to run away, to avoid any human contact that close to the temple. Yet, when there came more yelling—and this time, sounding truly distraught—her instinct to help could not be subdued. With curiosity, she pushed past a cluster of trees, and arrived at the scene in question.

At first, she didn’t know what she was looking at. There was a dog. She
hated
dogs. She then noticed two dark-haired people, a man and woman, confronting a third person, whose hair and beard shone auburn beneath the rising sun.

That was when Antonia realized they were waving a handheld pistol in his face.

She covered her mouth to stifle a gasp, but could not convince her feet to run. What if the people saw her fleeing, and shot at her? She froze, staring at the pistol, as did the auburn-haired hostage.

It was the woman who held the weapon, twigs crunching beneath her pointy boots as she inched closer, lowering it to the man’s heart. Meanwhile, her partner made to grab at the black dog, but the beast snarled. Antonia shuddered. There was hardly anything more disconcerting to her than a canine snarl.

“Let it go, you damned mongrel,” grunted the dark-haired man, aiming a kick at the animal.

The hostage lunged forward. “Leave him alone!”

“Easy,” barked the woman, her wavy brown mane curtaining hard features. Scowling, she cocked the pistol.

The dark-haired man tried to wrestle the dog again, and Antonia noticed the creature carried something in its muzzle. It appeared to be a vellum square of sorts. “Tell ‘im to drop it,” the man growled.

The bearded hostage said nothing. Peeking through the leaves, Antonia studied his face. He looked both panicked and infuriated. But there was something else, too. Was it pain, sorrow…?

“Do as he says,” commanded the woman. “And call Mav off the map.”

Her captive gritted his teeth. “No.”

“Don’t think I won’t do it,” she hissed. Antonia’s eyes widened as the woman’s finger leaned back against the trigger. “I swear to the gods…”

Antonia could hold back no longer. She would not stand idle and watch the spectacle, permitting an innocent man to have his chest blown open before her eyes. Not if she had anything to say about it. “Leave him be,” she cried tremulously, emerging from behind the oaks.

Three sets of eyes instantly shifted in her direction. The dog, apparently also startled, dropped what he’d been holding. Antonia bent down and retrieved it.

She swallowed as the wavy-haired woman now pointed the pistol directly at her. Antonia straightened, holding the folded vellum aloft. “Is this what you’re after?” Her voice shook. “If you have it, will you leave this poor man alone?”

“Give it to me,” snapped the woman.

Antonia shivered. “Only if you promise to spare his life.”

The gunslinger pursed her lips into a heart shape, and finally lowered her weapon. Antonia handed over the vellum, and the woman and her partner leapt atop a pair of chestnut steeds.

The captive, now freed, emitted a most frightening bellow, chasing them down the dirt path. “No,” he wailed. “Not my horse, too!”

But the thieves were already gone, rounding the corner at a breakneck gallop, leaving naught but dust in their wake as the black dog howled ferociously after them. The man slouched over and groaned, dragging his fingers through his beard.

Antonia stood, immobile, as he turned to face her. To her astonishment, he tossed up his hands with an accusing glare. “Great!” His blue eyes narrowed at her. “Thanks a
lot!”

BOOK: The Red Pearl
7.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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