Authors: Michelle Diener
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mythology & Folk Tales, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fairy Tales, #Science Fiction & Fantasy
© 2014 by Michelle Diener
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The Golden Apple
, Kayla starts off perched on a glass hill with a golden apple in her lap. Her father, the King of Gaynor, has put her and the apple up as the prize in a contest of strength and cunning, only it later transpires her father was coerced into this by a powerful sorcerer, Eric the Bold.
Rane needs the golden apple. A rival of Eric’s, Nuen, is holding his brother to ransom for it, and in order to win it, Rane seduces Kayla to gain her help.
What neither knows is that Eric has enchanted the apple, which has the power to heal, and Kayla and Rane are both caught in the enchantment. They are required to go into the heart of the Great Forest, a place Eric can’t go himself, to steal a gem from a powerful witch.
They work together and get the gem, and Kayla forgives Rane his deception. They also discover that the gem is very dangerous when touched. Kayla manages to break her enchantment, but Rane doesn’t. He sneaks off to hand the gem back to Eric on his own, in order to protect Kayla. Rane is stopped on his journey by Nuen’s men, who are determined to take him back to Nuen and Nuen's brother, Jasper, to explain why he hasn’t yet brought them the golden apple.
Rane manages to escape when the men touch the gem he’s taking to Eric and disappear in a flash of light.
Kayla has realized during her time in the Great Forest that she can use wild magic, the magic left over when sorcerers cast spells. Wild magic is dangerous. Sorcerers have been banishing it to the Great Forest to protect themselves from it. While she’s in the Great Forest, Kayla is incredibly powerful, but outside the forest boundaries, she can only use whatever wisps of wild magic can escape the forest’s borders.
Kayla decides, as Rane has left the golden apple with her, that she will rescue Rane’s brother, Soren, as she doesn’t know which way Rane has gone.
She manages the rescue, but Soren drops the golden apple as they are making their escape, leaving it in Nuen’s hands.
Soren and Kayla then work out a way to rescue Rane from Eric.
During a fight in Eric’s dungeon, the gem that Rane has brought Eric to end his enchantment falls to the floor.
Soren grabs it before Kayla and Rane can warn him of the danger, and disappears. Kayla and Rane escape and Kayla decides to return the gem to Ylana, the witch they stole it from, and ask for guidance in controlling the massive power she now commands.
Eric, Nuen, and a few other sorcerers are involved in a growing race to see who is more powerful, and they are using the leaders of the region, like Kayla’s father, to further their ambitions. Kayla realizes her kingdom is no longer safe and the whole region will soon be on the brink of war if the sorcerers aren’t stopped.
She plans to stop them.
oren and Mirabelle
slammed down on the glittering gem lying on Eric’s dungeon floor a split second before Eric got to it, and he was flung, hard and fast as a stone from a catapult, into blinding darkness. His shout was ripped from his throat, and air pounded against his ears, deafening him.
He felt as if the howling winds would tear his limbs from his body, and he curled in on himself protectively.
As suddenly as it began, the wind stopped. The quiet, the darkness, the lack of pressure, made him think for a moment he had died.
Then he began to fall.
It felt like forever, but he realized as he hit the ground it could only have been a six foot drop. He rolled as he made contact—hard, rain-slicked cobbles digging into his skin as he spun.
When he came to a stop against a wall, he had to wait for the dizziness to pass before he sat up.
The legs of a man were before him. Slowly, his gaze travelled up to a pocked, grey face.
“Well, well, well.” The man stared at him for a moment, then turned. “Baldic, looks like we’ve another for the collection.”
“Collection?” Soren began pushing against the wall, trying to stand. “Where am I?”
The man laughed. “That’s what they all ask.” He stepped back, waited for Soren to gain his feet, then he lunged forward, pinning Soren to the wall with a pitch- fork, the tines just wide enough to accommodate a man’s neck.
Soren fought it, the metal cutting into his throat, choking him.
He’d been restrained too recently, and for too long, to accept that treatment again. Whatever this place was, his welcome boded ill, and the thought of another cell, another round of torture and captivity, made him wild.
He had only escaped from Jasper a few days ago, had barely come to terms with his new freedom.
He would not give it up.
He threw himself forward, and the man had to shove back using all his strength.
There were lights dancing in front of his eyes. He needed to stop fighting or he’d choke, but he could not. Would not. Not again.
He saw tiny spots of bright, colored light, and felt his body slide down the wall. The pressure on his throat eased a little, and he lay, panting for breath.
“This one needs extra watching.” The man turned, speaking to someone just beside him. Then he swung back, spoke clearly into Soren’s ear. “Welcome to Halakan.”
over the Halakan stronghold. Blue and bright.
Miri saw it through her window and shivered, her hand going up to grasp the silver pear hanging from the cord around her neck. She felt the tingle of its magic against her fingertips, and loosened her grip.
The guard outside her door shifted uneasily in a creak of leather as he saw the light, too. She heard the second guard, whose turn it was to do a perimeter check, walk faster around the corner than usual.
“Hope it’s not as many coming through as last time.” The guard spoke to his companion softly, but she could hear him easily enough.
Last time the light flared, two days ago, it had deposited five men into the Halakan stronghold at once. The most it ever had at one time.
The arrival of so many had finally pushed William of Nesta to her door personally. His written summons and her polite refusals were clearly no longer an option.
He had tried to cajole, then bribe, then threaten her to question the men.
When she’d refused, things had taken an . . . interesting turn.
William had gotten his own way for too long. He was rusty in dealing with someone who wouldn’t obey him.
She’d seen the regret in his eyes as he’d surrounded her house, unable to call back his threats. He’d been forced to follow through or lose face.
As she’d shut her door in deliberate disdain, there’d been a catch of nerves on his lips as they pursed together, perhaps as he wondered if he’d pushed her too far.
After all, he knew she was powerful. That was why he was asking for her help.
So far, the stand-off had settled into him posting guards outside her house, but soon she’d have to step outside. She hadn’t the cupboard stores to withstand a long siege.
She was down to the last of her food. A day, two at most, and she would start to go hungry.
She wondered what William would do then. What
Did he have a plan for when she became desperate?
As it was, he hadn’t dared use his knights to break into her house and bring her out by force.
Was he afraid of what she would do to them, or was he afraid to test their loyalty too far?
But regardless of the answer, the time had come to act. The light had flashed again, which meant at least one more stranger had mysteriously appeared in the stronghold, and only two days after the last time.
If she didn’t do something, William would be back again, a little more forceful, a little more desperate, and she refused to cave to his demands.
If she showed even the slightest hint of weakness there were other sorcerers who might decide it would be worth the risk to take her on. To make a deal with William he couldn’t refuse.
Up until now she’d had what her father had called the dragon’s advantage.
She was so mysterious, so cloaked in rumor and myth, no one was prepared to challenge her.
If she allowed William to bully her, the veil would be stripped away, and she would be revealed.
Not that she was bluffing. She was powerful enough. But she didn’t want to be dragged into the insidious power game that had begun four years ago, and had slowly escalated.
She’d been too young to even be considered a threat when it started; when Eric the Bold and Hirst Red Tongue had openly fought with each other at the closing banquet of a sorcerers’ gathering.
There had always been jealousies and back-biting aplenty, but there were strict rules directing behavior. That night, neither Eric nor Hirst had bothered with them. And when Hirst had died, and Eric had taken Hirst’s staff and helped himself to the golden apple, Hirst’s prize possession—given, it was rumored, to Hirst’s great-grandfather by a grateful goddess—others had begun to wonder what they might help themselves to, if they did the same.
She shook her head to focus on the present, and went into her bedroom, pulling off the gown she wore and taking out the men’s clothing she’d collected through the years.
Her father had taken on apprentices in the beginning, over and over again trying to deny what she was, what she had to become.
The young men had never been good enough, according to him. Staying four months, sometimes six. Jack had been the longest-lasting, almost a year he’d stayed, and in that time, outgrown more than one set of clothes.
She pulled on his old trousers, and was relieved to find they fit her well enough. The shirt was too big, but she cinched it around her waist with one of her own wide belts, and pulled on stockings and boots. The apprentice’s old jacket was warm, if a little long in the arms for her, and she buttoned it up, although summer still had a hold on the forest.
The guards were talking to each other in low tones outside. The appearance of the blue light again so soon after the last time had stirred them up.
She walked through to the back of the house, hoping there wasn’t a third guard she didn’t know about, and opened the window. She pulled a tiny bit of magic from the silver pear to muffle the sounds she made climbing through, and dropped quietly into her back garden.
It had been raining earlier, a soft, gentle shower, and she used the magic in the silver pear again to wipe the footprints she’d made in the flowerbed away, and a little more to close the window silently behind her.
She had almost reached the wood that surrounded her house when one of the guards remembered about the perimeter check again, and by the time he came round, eyes on the house, not the garden or trees, she was well hidden.
She waited for him to turn the corner of her small house, pretty as a picture under the light of a moon ringed in silver by the last of the rain clouds, and took the path toward Halakan.
She’d been avoiding this. Avoiding using any magic at all. But since her father had disappeared two months ago, when she’d been gripped by the certainty of his death a month later, she’d known it was coming.
She couldn’t balance on the fence any longer.