Excerpt for Fire's Children by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Fire’s Children



Fire Through Time



Wendy Tyler Ryan



This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are fictitious and the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.


Copyright © 2018 by Wendy Tyler Ryan

Published by Lemon Twist Press at Smashwords


Cover Art by Catherine Nodet

Cover Design by Tyler Lambie


ISBN: 978-0-9920930-9-9


Previous Version of this Book Puplished in 2012 under ISBN: 978-0-9869466-5-3


This book is available in print at most online retailers




Dedication


In the year since writing Book I, life has thrown me a curve ball or two. This book represents so much more than just the words on these pages.


For my family, for being supportive and having the courage to live with a writer!



Thank You


I would like to take this opportunity to thank my son, Tyler, for all the hard work he put into the cover design. I appreciate your talent more than I can say.


Thank you to my son, Ryan, for all the phone calls and for remembering to come home and visit.


And finally, to Catherine Nodet, for once again providing me with such beautiful cover art.




Fire Through Time


Fire’s Daughter ©2011

Fire’s Children ©2012




CHAPTER ONE


Gillam Bellvane raised an arm to shield his face from the flying glass shards as he ran down the corridor of the east wing of Kilgarn castle. Every candle iron upon the stone wall burst its shade from the violent flames within as he passed by. Just two more feet and he would be safe.

The morning room door flew open and Lady Zehdra Kilgarn watched as her husband stumbled in, slamming it shut behind him. “What have you done to Rayelle this time, my love?” she asked.

“What have I done?”

“Do you know how many times we have replaced the glass shades in that corridor?”

“Yes, I think I should know full well exactly how many times.” He pressed his back into the carved, wooden door and let out a heavy sigh.

“Humph.” Zehdra rose from her chair by the open shutters, placing her embroidery down on a nearby table. “Come, let me see. Did the glass hit you?”

“Do not fuss over me, wee-one. I came through unscathed… this time.”

She walked to him and gently placed her arms around his waist. “She loves you, you know.”

“By the gods she has an unusual way of showing it.” He returned her embrace, bending his head and burying his face in her hair.

“She is nineteen seasons and headstrong and way too powerful for my liking. I am not certain I know what to do with her.”

“Well if you do not know what to do with her, wee-one, I fear we are in more trouble than we know.”

Zehdra pushed herself free of his arms and looked up into her husband’s worried face. “You are right. If a Fire Mistress does not know what to do about her own daughter’s growing powers, then no one does.”

It had been different for her. She had been in her twentieth season when she became one with the flame. For reasons only the Old Ones knew, her daughter, Rayelle, had come by her gift at the tender age of five. Zehdra spent most of those early seasons trying to squelch her daughter’s power, even though in her heart she knew there was not enough water in the heavens to do so. Even though denying the powers was the very thing she had fought so hard against when it had happened to her.

“She has a fierceness about her,” Gillam continued. “She is like… she is like—”

“Me. She is just like me… only worse.”

There is no worse about it, wee-one, not when it comes to my wife or my daughter.” He reached to touch her cheek. “Yes, she is like you, but it is so much more than just the red hair and emerald eyes. By the gods, it’s not even her power of the flame that has me worried. It is something else… it is something else entirely.”

“And what might that be?”

His dark eyes looked past her for a moment. “She is fearless. She is fearless and I think there could be nothing that would frighten me more.”

“I will speak with her. I fear I have not given her the attention she needs. I have been more Queen than mother of late.” She watched him draw his hands through his black curls and she had to smile.

“Ah, look, she mocks me.” He grinned.

“I am not mocking you, my love.”

“Give me a weapon and turn me loose on a battlefield. At least I’d know what to do. What do I know of raising a daughter?”

“Pish tosh. You have been a wonderful father to our children, Gillam, even if you do not think so. Both Rayelle and Roche adore you.” She reached up and placed a comforting hand to his cheek, drawing her fingers gently down the length of his scar.

“That is all I want in this world, wee-one, to be a strong husband for you and a good father to the twins.”

“You are much more than that, my love. Much, much more.”

* * *

Zehdra wound her way along an old and familiar stone path until she reached her aunt Myella’s tiny cottage.

Despite Zehdra’s best efforts to keep Myella in comfort at the castle, she always seemed to end up back here. She raised her hand to knock.

“Do not stand on formality, child.” Myella popped her head through the open shutters. “Come in, come in.”

Zehdra let herself in and the familiar squeak of the rusty hinges bid her welcome. “You knew I was coming?”

“I always know when you are coming, dear.” Myella looked her over from top to bottom. “Ah, you do not wish to be Queen today.”

Zehdra glanced down at her simple, cream-colored robe, tied at the waist by a gold braided rope, the ends of which she wound tightly in and out of her fingers. “So it would seem. I did not feel the need for finery today.”

“I sense you have come about your daughter.”

“Yes, you sense correctly.”

“Sit down, child, and I will make us some orangeberry tea.” Myella placed a small, clay kettle on a hook over the open flame of the hearth.

Zehdra sat down on the settee, tapping her foot on the floor and watching Myella intently. The last few seasons had been hard on her aunt and she feared for her health. Her frame was frail and her hair had become more white than gray. Her fingers were bent from the pain in her joints, yet, she never complained.

“I can feel you staring at me, child.”

“I’m sorry. I was just thinking how wonderful you look in blue.”

Myella brushed a hand down the front of her faded blue dress. “Ah, tis old, just like me. Now, why don’t you speak what is on your mind.”

Zehdra looked down into her hands. “I have not been the mother I set out to be. I had all my grand plans, plans I thought I had in order. I weighed and measured my father’s qualities, so sure I would not repeat the mistakes he made with me.”

“Yes, an ill-conceived notion, but one I think every mother has. Measure yourself by your own deeds, not by the deeds of others.”

“That is just it, Myella, I have measured myself and I fear I have come up wanting.”

“Pish tosh. You are a wonderful mother to the twins.”

“Am I? Things changed so drastically after Father died. My children used to have me all to themselves but for the past ten seasons they have only had a small part of me.”

“But they love you. Both Rayelle and Roche love you without question and they know that as Queen of Elbourn your duties go far beyond their welfare.”

“And I love them, but sometimes I long for the days before the Liberon war. I long for a time when my only worry was pulling the wool over Father’s eyes so I could sneak away to visit you.”

Myella took the steaming kettle from the hearth and poured the hot water over the crushed leaves in the bottom of the two cups she had prepared.

Zehdra closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath. The orangeberry fragrance filled the small cottage and her senses. “No matter how many seasons pass, I never tire of that heavenly scent.”

“Just be careful, child, it’s hot.”

Zehdra took the cup from Myella and patted the seat next to her. “Rayelle’s attitude toward her gift is worrisome. I fear it may get her into trouble if she is not careful.”

Myella looked into Zehdra’s eyes and winked. “I think Rayelle is also good at pulling the wool over your eyes.”

* * *

“Why must Father always be so stubborn?”

Zehdra looked into her daughter's flashing green eyes. “He is no more stubborn, Rayelle, than you are. He just wants what is best for you. He loves you dearly, as do I.”

Rayelle just flicked at the stray curls on the back of her neck.

Zehdra stepped forward, hugging her daughter and giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Why must you continually fuss with your hair?” She brushed her daughter’s strawberry curls away from her face and behind her ear.

“It grows too fast. I need Lista to cut it for me again.”

“Since when did Lista become your personal Barber? She has enough to do as it is in keeping Kilgarn Castle running efficiently. It is not her duty to be attending to you and your hair.”

“Something tells me, Mother, that this has less to do with Lista cutting my hair and more to do with you wanting me to let it grow long.”

Zehdra could not help but laugh. “A daughter has no business seeing straight through her mother, you know.”

“That is because we are too much alike. Even Father says so.”

Zehdra let out a sigh and smiled. She reached out to fluff Rayelle’s curls back over her ears. “You look beautiful no matter what the length of your hair and if you want to wear it short… I will not stop you. Gods know, some days I think I am turning into your grandfather Morland.”

Rayelle just smiled back at her. “I miss Grandpapa.”

“As do I, Daughter, as do I.” Zehdra turned suddenly and walked toward the open shutters, staring out onto the lush, green courtyard that stretched out behind Kilgarn castle. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath before turning back to her. “We need to talk, Rayelle, just you and I.”

“Oh no.” She rolled her eyes and placed her hands upon her hips. “Is this going to be about me breaking the shades again?”

“Well, yes… and no. I do not really care if you break a thousand glass shades, my darling. I only care that you learn to understand and control your gift. I fear that I have not been strict enough with you about it and I suppose I only have myself to blame in this. Nineteen seasons have flown by me and I have been a terrible mother.”

“You are a wonderful mother.” Rayelle lightened her stance, dropping her arms to her side. “Why must anyone be to blame? I do not think you like your gift anymore than I like mine.”

“That is a bold thing to say, Rayelle. It is not for us to like nor dislike and if it is, at times, a burden… then it is our burden to bear.” The last thing she wanted to do was rob her only daughter of a carefree youth, but she did need to ensure that the gift her family line had been entrusted with, was respected. Telling herself that she had simply been too busy with Royal affairs was just a sly form of denial on her part. “When was the last time you went to see your aunt Myella?”

“I’m not certain. It has been awhile, I suppose.” Rayelle stood silent a moment, staring down at her tattered and dirty, canvas slippers. “I wish I did not have this gift at all. Why do women need to play with fire?”

Women play with fire all of the time, my love. For us, this is just one more way. The gift is ours to deal with and deal with it we must.” She had to chuckle while she watched her daughter fiddling with the tassels of her baggy, linen tunic.

“What is so funny?”

“Nothing really. It’s just that I used to have to go against your grandfather’s will in order to dress as you do now.”

Rayelle looked down at her tunic and trousers. “Times are changing, Mother. Frilly dresses are not practical for horseback riding nor a multitude of other pastimes.” She traced the outline of an invisible circle on the stone floor with her toe and spoke softly, “Mamma?”

Zehdra knew she was in trouble when her daughter of nineteen seasons called her, Mamma.

“If I take my gift more seriously, go to see Auntie Myella more often and take guidance from her…”

“Speak it out, Rayelle. What is it you bargain for?”

Rayelle’s face lit with a pale pink flush on her cheek and her green eyes shone bright. “I want to practice the sword as part of my daily studies.”

“Rayelle—”

“I am good at it, Mamma, I really am. Just ask Roche.”

Zehdra picked up her embroidery and stared at it a moment. “So was I,” she said softly, almost under her breath.

“What did you say?”

“I said, I used to be good with the sword as well, but that was a long time ago.”

“You?”

Do not look so surprised. I was very good.” She threw the embroidery onto the table and it skittered clean across the other side to land upon the cold stone floor. “I fear the women of the line of Feyland were not meant for the finer things.” An interesting thought suddenly occurred to her. “Tell me, Rayelle, do they still hold matches in Carrick at the time of the new moon?”

“Yes they do and I—” Rayelle’s eyes flew open as she cut her words like a knife. Her shoulders sank and her eyes dropped to the floor.

“Just as I thought.” Zehdra tried her best to show no emotion, but at last, could not help herself and a wide smile curled her lips. “Do you at least win occasionally?”

Rayelle bolted for her mother, jumping into her arms and nearly knocking her over while wrapping her legs around her waist. “Yes, Mamma, I win… sometimes.”

Zehdra squeezed her daughter hard. “I shall speak to your father.”

* * *

“Yes, Father, I have been practicing the sword with Rayelle but do you really think I had a choice?”

“Of course you had a choice.” Gillam stood in the dewy grass of the courtyard with folded arms, staring at his son.

“Not really, Father. If Rayelle wants something she will find a way to get it. If I hadn’t practiced with her she would have found a way to torture me. You should know that just as well as I.”

Gillam grinned wide. “By the gods she’s like your mother.”

“What about me, Father, who am I like?”

Gillam paused for a moment, choking back his emotion. “You are the best of both your mother and I, Roche. You are our even keel. Just look at the fine, young man you have become. Tall, strong, level-tempered. Not to mention a great catch for any girl in the Dominions with hair like the finest sorrel in our stable and, lucky for you, fair of face like your mother. We could not have asked the gods for a better son than you.”

The young man’s face flushed with obvious pride as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his brown, cotton trousers.

“And you are a good balance for your sister. It pleases me that the two of you are close.” Gillam scratched at the stubble on his chin. “Is she any good?”

“What?”

“Rayelle… is she any good at the sword?”

“I’d rather not tell you that she is better than I am… but she is. Rayelle is good at everything she tries. That is simply the way she is.”

“I see. Does that make you angry, Son?”

The young man kicked at the ground and blushed a little. “Nah, I love her… even if she is a Royal pain in the neck sometimes.”

Gillam grabbed him, giving him a squeeze with one arm. “She’s lucky to have you for a brother, Roche. Just look out for her, will you? Even if you don’t think she needs it.”

“Yes, Father. I always do.”

“Hey, you two. What evil plan are you hatching together?” Rayelle came running up and plopped herself down on the grass in front of them.

Roche just looked at his father.

Gillam gave him a little wink, letting him know that he should find something else to do and someplace else to do it.

“Where are you going, Roche?”

“I… have some… chores I need to finish.”

“So,” she said, looking up at her father. “This is about me breaking the shades again, isn’t it? That is why Roche is scurrying away to do some imaginary chores.”

Gillam shook his head and smiled. “You assume because I want to talk it somehow means I want to scold you?”

Rayelle just shrugged.

“What I really want to talk to you about is your mother.”

“Mother?”

Gillam looked into the distance, not quite knowing how to start this dialogue with her.

“Is Mamma all right? She’s not ill is she?”

“No, no. Calm yourself, Rayelle. Tis nothing so serious as that.” He sat down in the grass beside her. “Your mother is caught between two worlds right now. She is caught between letting you grow up and letting you be more than she had the chance to be when she was your age.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, she will have my hide, but I’m going to tell you some things about your mother that you may not know.” He flashed her a wide smile and winked. “Then I suppose I will take my punishment later.”

Gillam and Zehdra had agreed many seasons ago they would not elaborate on the part she had played in the Liberon war. Gillam had not thought it necessary, but he knew better than to argue with a mother bear when it came to her cubs. Now his children were nearly full grown and they deserved to know, but it was not his place, so he would tell just enough and hope that his wife would eventually come to her senses and tell her children the whole story.


CHAPTER TWO


Recruiter? Here? In Elbourn? We haven’t had a recruiter come this way in more seasons than I can remember.” Zehdra twisted the dark gold, ribbon that hung from the waist of her yellow dress round and round her finger.

“Does seem a bit odd, wee-one. The Academy has always had more applicants than it could handle.”

Gillam barely had time to make himself comfortable beside Zehdra at the breakfast table when Roche and Rayelle came running into the morning room, out of breath and faces flushed.

“Is it true!” They chimed together.

Zehdra leaned her elbows onto the table, closed her eyes tight, and buried her head in her hands.

“News has a way of traveling fast, I see.” Gillam put a comforting hand to his wife’s shoulder.

Zehdra glanced at him between her splayed fingers, not appreciating the large grin on his face in the least.

Yes, it’s true,” Gillam answered them.

The twins looked to one another with a fire in their eyes that Zehdra recognized all too well.

Gillam slid his hand from Zehdra’s shoulder to squeeze her hard around the waist. “Come now, my love, we will survive this like we have survived everything else.”

“I’m not so sure, Gillam. I’m not so sure.”

Roche was the first to speak, “Father, please tell me we are going to host the exercises, please.”

“Yes, Papa.” Rayelle joined her brother in the pleading. “How would it look if the ruling family of Elbourn did not host the exercises from the most prestigious school in the Dominions?”

“All right, you two, slow down or you will make your mother ill. Besides, the final decision is hers. Your mother is Queen, I am just married to her.”

Zehdra looked up at her husband and continued to stare at him while giving her children the only reply she could. “Far be it from me to ignore the call from the infamous Barlow Academy.”

Rayelle was practically wriggling out of her tattered slippers while Roche just grabbed her arm and squeezed it tight.

“All right, you two, now that we have settled that, why don’t you join your mother and I for breakfast.”

“Uh, we ate.”

Yes,” Rayelle backed her brother up. “We ate earlier… in th-the kitchen.”

The twins vanished out of the morning room as if they had never been there at all.

“You know what they are about, don’t you? They’ve gone to practice.”

“Yes, wee-one, I suspect they have.”

* * *

“Oh, Roche, I can hardly believe it. Can you?”

“Do not get yourself so excited, Sister. If Mother wanted either one of us at Barlow she would have put us there long ago. Waiting lists scarcely matter if the Queen of Elbourn wants her children to attend. You don’t really think she will let you go, do you?”

“Yes, I do. Now, more than ever. She does not want to stuff me into a frilly dress and marry me off. That much I know for certain.”

“And how is it you know this for certain?”

She glanced to her left and then to her right. “If I tell you something will you promise to keep it between us?”

“Of course, do I not always keep your secrets, Rayelle?”

“Come this way.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him behind the giant wanyan tree at the edge of the courtyard. “Father told me that it was Mother who was responsible for starting the women’s programs at Barlow.”

“What?”

“I know, I could scarcely believe it myself.”

“But she always coddles you so.”

“Only because I am her daughter and only because I carry this burden of fire. She studied the sword herself and was apparently very good at it.”

“Mother?”

“I know. I have such a hard time picturing her with a sword in her hand.”

“But what of your studies? You have not proven to her that you have learned to control the flame.”

Rayelle plopped herself onto the grass. “I used to think that if I ignored it… it would go away.”

“Smart, Rayelle.”

“Oh hush, you don’t have to worry about anything. You were not born a Fire Mistress.”

“Don’t have to worry about anything? Huh! How would you like to sort through flashing images in your head? Images that you cannot make head nor tail of most of the time.” Roche dropped onto his knees in the grass beside her. “I do not want to be known as a seer who can only see sometimes. I swear we are both cursed.”

“No Roche, we are both blessed.”

“What? I have never heard you refer to your gift as a blessing.”

“Our gifts are only a curse to us if we do not want to accept them. Auntie Myella is right. If we do not become master over them, then we are cursed. The gifts cannot control us, Roche. We have to control them. Come on.” She jumped to her feet, reaching for his hand.

“Where are we going?”

“We only have a fortnight before the recruiter from Barlow arrives. We have to prove to Mother and Father that we are responsible and ready to be on our own because, I will be going to Barlow. With or without you.”

* * *

Why do you not tell your mother how accomplished you have become with the flame?” Myella squeezed Rayelle’s hand.

“I do not know, Auntie. Sometimes she is hard to talk to on the subject of our shared power. I have asked her time and time again about the Liberon war but she just keeps saying that she will tell me one day.” Rayelle let herself fall onto the small settee in the corner of her aunt’s cottage. “I fully suspect that one day will never come at all.”

“What happened during the war was not easy for your mother. It was a time of great change for her. She went through much to be with your father, to keep him and his lands safe – your lands, child.”

Rayelle brushed at the wayward curl that continually made its way into her left eye. “My lands. When you say that, Auntie, all I can think of is one day I will rule Elbourn.” She shivered, shaking herself. She wasn’t afraid. She knew that her mother would school her well. She knew that trusted advisors would not let her flounder. It wasn’t that. It wasn’t that at all. What sent the cold shiver up her spine was the thought that one day her mother would no longer be there to guide her. She looked to her aunt standing by her pantry, preparing tea for the two of them. She was hunched over and her hands trembled a little. One day even sooner, she would lose Myella, too.

“All right, child. You are just like your mother. I can feel your eyes burning a hole in me and I do not need foresight to know this.”

“I was just thinking how fast time slips by us.”

“You mustn’t be afraid of the future, Rayelle. You will be a kind and generous Ruler, just like your mother is now and just like your grandfather was before her.”

“I want that to be true, Auntie. I love Elbourn. I venture that is why I much prefer the summers we spend here to the winters we spend in Liberon.”

“That is because you are tied to this place.” Myella smiled and held her hand over her heart. “This was the birthplace of the Feyland line and your heart knows this.”

“Auntie Myella?”

“Yes, my darling child, I will.”

“You will? You know what I want to ask?”

“If you promise to have a heartfelt discussion with your mother about your abilities, I will tell you the story of the war and other things, but you will see that you have been hearing that story for most of your life. Come now, move over and let an old, worn-out woman sit beside you.”

Rayelle reached for the neatly folded blanket that lay on a nearby stool. “I love your stories, Auntie.”

“Ah, well just you keep this version of an old story between you and I. Promise me now?”

“I promise.”

“Good. I had foreseen this day when you would come to me with your questions. My own powers as a seer grow weaker with each passing season, as do my memories. If I do not tell the stories soon, one day I fear I will not remember them at all.”

* * *

Rayelle glanced around the dinner table. Everyone was unusually quiet. It was clear her father had his mind on the upcoming trade talks with Pyria. He sat quietly tracing the ornate design on his goblet of ale with his thumb.

Roche was clearly exhausted from his stable duties and exercises because his elbow was on the table holding up his chin.

She, on the other hand, could not stop staring at her mother.

“All right, Rayelle, what have you done?”

“What?” Rayelle, of course, was not even aware that she had been staring at all.

“You have been looking at me throughout this entire meal. What have you done? Is there something we should know, or do I just have some manner of food upon my face?”

“Um, no, tis neither. I’m sorry. I did not mean to stare. I guess I am just tired from my walk with Auntie.”

“So that explains why Myella does not take dinner with us this evening. Please tell me that you did not play her out to exhaustion?”

Rayelle rolled her eyes. “No, Mother, I did not play her out. It was just a small walk but I walked down to the stream on my own afterward and that is why I am tired. Besides,” she poked her fork at a lone parsnip on her plate, sliding it back and forth and tracing a path through the brown gravy. “You know that I would never do anything to harm auntie Myella.”

“Of course I do and I am sorry also. I have been feeling a little out of sorts lately.”

“Ha!” Gillam banged his goblet of ale firmly onto the table, spilling some of the liquid over the rim. “You are feeling like a mother bird whose chicks are learning to fly.”

“Oh, hush.” Zehdra flew from her chair and walked to the sideboard at the other end of the dining hall.

Gillam motioned to the twins, and after a quick look at one another, they promptly rose from the table and made for the hallway.

“Wait,” Rayelle said, turning and walking to her father and taking him by the hand. “You go with Roche, Father, he has something that he wants to show you… in the stables.”

Gillam raised his brow but let his daughter lead him away from the table and toward the archway.

“It will be all right, Papa. I’d like to talk with Mother alone,” she whispered.

“As you wish.” He leaned to Roche’s ear. “Do you know what this is all about?”

“Not an inkling.”

Gillam patted his son on the shoulder and the two of them left together.

Rayelle waited until they had made their way out into the corridor. She looked at her mother standing with her back to her. She was still beautiful. Her long, fiery hair cascaded over her slender shoulders to the middle of her back. Her figure was one to be envied by any woman. She always wore her dresses and gowns cinched in at the waist with a ribbon and she certainly noticed that her father always found a way to place his hand to the curve of her hip when he got the chance. She wondered if she would ever have that. Would she be able to find that undying love she knew her parents had for one another?

She came up behind her mother, wrapping her arms securely around her waist.

Zehdra crossed her arms in front of her, enveloping Rayelle’s arms with her own.

“I am not dying, Mamma, I am just growing up.”

“I know… but that does not make it any easier.” She turned round, grabbing her and holding her with all her might. “You, Rayelle, are no ordinary daughter. You are born with an extra weight upon your shoulders. A weight I so dearly wish I could remove from them.”

“You are wrong, Mamma. I am no ordinary daughter because you are no ordinary mother, what with your riding Dragons and all.”

“What’s that?” Zehdra pushed away from her, looking into her eyes with a panicked look upon her face.

“What? Did you really think that Roche and I believed those stories you always told us were simply make-believe?”

Zehdra blushed and stammered for words.

“We are both old enough now to decipher the look we saw in your eyes when you told us the stories.”

“Pish tosh, you have been talking to your aunt Myella.”

Rayelle smiled and batted the wayward curl from her eye. “Maybe a little, but it was really just to confirm what I think my heart has always known. Why would you not want Roche and I to know all you have done? You should be proud.”

“Proud? I hurt many people, Rayelle – killed many people.” Zehdra’s eyes moistened and she swiped at her cheek with the back of her hand.

“Kill or be killed, Mamma. That is what war is. You are not to blame for what men started. All you did was finish it. You did your part and more would have died had you not intervened. By the gods, Mamma, Roche and I would not be here had you not intervened.”

“I know, my love, and that is what makes it all bearable. A single day does not go by that I do not thank the gods for you and your brother. You are my light, you two.”

“Come, let us sit. We should talk.” Rayelle took her mother by the hand and led her over to the chairs by the fire.

“You know, when a mother hears her daughter say, sit down I have something to tell you, all manner of things cross her mind.”

“Oh, Mamma, it is nothing so terrible as that.” Rayelle took the chair beside her and sat crossed-legged. “I have not been completely forthcoming with you on the subject of my gift.”

Zehdra simply raised a brow and listened.

“I have been practicing. A lot. I know because I am quick tempered you think I do not know how to control it, but that is not the case, for it is only my temper I sometimes cannot control. I have been practicing since I was a small child, on my own. I have been more fascinated with my gift than I have let you know. I even managed to keep it from Roche, for the most part anyway.”

Zehdra remained speechless, staring back at her.

Rayelle could not determine if her mother was shocked or angry at her admission. She leaned forward and continued, “I could not stand the thought of something controlling me. The thought of not being able to master such a large part of who I am. Was I wrong to want to do that?”

“Rayelle, I scarcely know what to say. For you to have been able to keep this from me – how could I not have seen?”

“Because I am a very sneaky person.” She grinned.

“But what of your brother? Roche would have seen something in all these seasons.”

“Yes, he did, and I threatened him within an inch of his life if he told.” She stared down into her lap. “I know that I should have come to you, but I saw the fear in your eyes whenever you spoke of it. Then I realized that when you did try to instruct me, it wasn’t about how to be good at it so much as it was about learning to smother it. That just frightened me more.”

Zehdra looked away, shaking her head from side to side. “You are right. In my heart I know you are right and I am sorry. I swore to myself that I would not let you down. I swore that I would never be as close-minded as your grandfather, but that is precisely what I have done. I have sunk to the very thing I swore I would never do and I have let you down terribly.”

“No, Mamma, you have not. Your love and fear for me are your only crimes.”

Zehdra forced a smile.

“There is something else.”

“More?”

“Well, I may as well tell you this too, I’m telling you everything else.” She drew in a deep breath and continued, “Remember the small thicket on the way to the stream, the one the barley beetles had destroyed so it was all dead and dry?” She paused, surveying her mother’s expression.

“Go on.”

“Well, you know how we thought that lightning must have struck one of the trees and that was how it caught fire and burned?”

“No!”

Rayelle screwed up her mouth and shrugged her shoulders. “I was practicing and… oops.”

“Oops! You could have been killed!”

“But I am not killed. I just should not have picked the driest spot in all of Elbourn for my practice, that is all. Not only that, you know as well as I that I cannot be harmed by the flame. I am just like you.”

“But we do not know that for certain.”

Yes, Mamma, we do.” Rayelle tilted her head down and stared up into her mother's eyes with a cocked eyebrow, waiting for her to catch her meaning.

Zehdra shook off her disbelief and placed her hands over her ears. “I do not think I can hear anymore. I am dumbfounded, Rayelle. I do not even know what to say.”

Rayelle sat twirling a stray curl around her finger, staring at her mother who simply sat quiet for what seemed to her like an eternity. At last she saw a smile cross her mother’s lips.

“How good are you?”

Rayelle never said a word. She opened both her hands, palms up in front of her mouth. She closed her eyes and gently blew into them. A tiny cloud of white smoke exited and swirled before a small burst of orange light quickly turned into a full-fledged flame. She let it dance rhythmically from one hand to the other and then, all at once, the flame leapt from her hands and divided itself into twelve smaller flames. They shot like arrows through the air to land on every available candle and lantern wick in the room.

“By the gods, Rayelle… the control that takes.”

“I know, after all, we are speaking of me are we not?”

“But to know how many flames—”

“All right, that’s the part I cheated on.”

“Cheated?”

“I counted the candles and lanterns in the room earlier so I knew how many there would be.”

“Counting the number of wicks in the room is a small thing, Rayelle. What you did was remarkable and very difficult. You have indeed been practicing your control. Who else knows how good you are?”

“Just Roche, but only because I showed him earlier today, and auntie Myella, and now… you.” She looked down into her lap once more. “I suppose we have to tell Father.”

“Well, maybe not right away. And especially not the part about the thicket.”

They both laughed together.

Rayelle uncrossed her legs and leaned closer to her mother. “I want to go to Barlow, Mamma. I need to go. You started the program for young women just like me – women who do not want to hold a needle or have broods of children. Is that not why you fought for the women’s programs?”

Zehdra leapt from her chair. “You have been talking to your father, haven’t you? Why is it that suddenly everyone is telling tales about me? That was supposed to be between he and I.”

“Do not be mad at Father. I understand why he told me what he did.” She rose from her chair and took her mother’s hands in her own. “You are caught between two worlds. You do not want me to grow up and leave you.”

You really have been speaking to your father.”

“You started the programs at Barlow so young women like me do not have to wile away our time on embroidery or on wondering where we can find a good husband. Do not think for one moment I have forgotten that I will rule Elbourn one day, just as Roche will rule Liberon. I should know how to defend our land just as much as Roche should.”

“Rayelle, I—”

Do not make up your mind right now, Mamma. Just think on it. We still have time before the recruiter arrives. Please, that is all I am asking.”

Zehdra stroked her daughter’s cheek with the back of her hand. “All right. I will think on it, but it is by no means meant to be a promise of anything.”

“Thank you, Mamma.”

Zehdra reached around her neck and pulled out a tarnished silver chain that held the emblem of the house of Feyland and began to unfasten it.

“No, Mamma, I will not take the emblem that Grandmother gave you.”

“I am not giving you my emblem… yet.”

Rayelle watched with interest as her mother removed another object hidden behind the emblem. “What is that?”

“It is the Dragon scale I rescued from the lake of snow after the Liberon war. This belonged to your namesake. This very scale came from the hide of Rocherayelle, the Old One – the last of the Dragons.”

Rayelle watched wide-eyed as her mother place the small, white scale in the palm of her hand then hold it out to her. “No, Mamma, I couldn’t.”

“Yes, Rayelle. I want you to have it. You are the next Fire Mistress and something that lies deep within the Dragon memories tells me that you are meant to have it. I know that it is meant for something important. There is a reason I found it in the lake of snow but I cannot tell you why. And maybe that is because it was never meant for me.”

“I don’t know w-what to say.”

“Do not say anything, my love. Just keep it safe until it reveals to you what you must do with it.”

Rayelle removed her own silver chain from around her neck and gently took the scale from her mother’s hand. As soon as she laid it flat in the palm of her own hand, it flashed a brilliant red for just a moment.

“Did you see that?” Zehdra stared at the scale, then at Rayelle.

“Yes, Mamma. What does it mean?” She held her open hand out toward her mother, shaking. “Maybe I shouldn’t have it. Maybe you should take it back.”

No.” She reached out and closed Rayelle’s fingers tight around the scale. “I think that you are precisely the one who should have it.”


CHAPTER THREE


Roche wiped the sweat from his brow and laughed. “I can always catch you on that one.” He tossed his sword into the grass and reached for his flask of water.

I know.” Rayelle stamped her foot into the ground. “What is it? What am I doing to give you the upper hand?”

Roche shrugged his shoulders but kept snickering.

You are telling him what you are going to do before you do it,” Zehdra interrupted them as she pushed her way through a small opening in the garden thicket.

Mamma?” Rayelle stared at her mother. She was wearing a pair of leather trousers and an unlaced, white tunic. The kind of outfit she only wore when going riding. “You were watching? You saw?”

I saw enough.”

What do you mean – I’m telling him what I'm going to do before I do it?”

Yes, please, Mother,” Roche said, looking particularly unimpressed. “Let us fix the one thing in Rayelle's arsenal that I can best her at.” His expression softened, letting a smile cross his lips while shaking his head from side to side.

Zehdra did her best to stifle a chuckle, which only served to irritate Rayelle further.

Will someone please let me in on this joke.” She glared back and forth between the two of them.

Give me your sword, Roche.” Zehdra held out her hand.

For what?” asked Rayelle.

I am going to show you what you are doing wrong.”

But—”

What's the matter, Rayelle?” Roche interrupted. “Afraid Mother will beat you as well?”

You should hold your tongue,” she cautioned him.

Roche plucked his sword from the grass and handed it to his mother.

You are serious, aren't you?” Rayelle simply stared at her in disbelief.

Do I not look serious to you, Daughter?” Zehdra stood quite casually with the tip of her sword resting on the ground in front of her.

What shall I do now?”

Do you always ask your opponent for advice, Rayelle?”

Roche burst out with laughter and Rayelle shot him another look.

Go on, Daughter, pretend I have come upon you in the woods. You are a fair maid all alone with a hefty purse for me to snatch. What will you do?”

Rayelle furrowed her brow. Her mother wasn't even taking a stance. Her sword still rested with its tip to the ground and her weight was settled on one leg. “I don't want to hurt you,” she said to her before looking to her brother for silent advice.

Roche simply shrugged his shoulders.

She would clearly get no help from him.

Come on,” Zehdra taunted. “You won't hurt me. Attack!”

Rayelle lunged toward her mother for a quick thrust. In the blink of an eye, and before Rayelle knew what had hit her, her sword went sailing into the air to land upon the ground behind her.

By the gods!” Roche shouted at her. “Did you see that?”

Rayelle stood with her mouth gaping, staring down at her empty hand. “I don't understand. What was that?”

That, my dear Daughter, was a proper iron guard.”

But you… but…”

You're just going to have to admit it,” Roche laughed. “You cannot win every time.”

But she wasn’t even ready—”

Wasn't I?” Zehdra walked over to her and gave her a sharp slap on the side of her hip. “You've got to keep these still. That is why Roche beat you. Your iron guard is sloppy. You may as well give your opponent a step by step account of your next move.”

What do you mean?”

You can be ready for the attack without looking like you are ready. Did I sway my hips back and forth as if looking to catch the attention of a suitor? Did I tense my body or furrow my brow?” She flicked at Rayelle’s forehead. “Did I splay my fingers like a pulled bunch of carrots around the hilt of my sword? No, I did not, and it worked, did it not? Where is your sword, Daughter?”

Rayelle glanced behind her to the shining length of steel nestled in the tall grass.

Zehdra handed the sword back to Roche and gave him a peck on the cheek. Then she went to Rayelle and did the same to her before walking back toward the thicket from whence she came.

Where are you going?” Rayelle called after her.

I’m going for a ride before the envoy from Pyria arrives. Oh, and one more thing.” She turned back to them briefly. “The next time you attempt a lunge and thrust like that, Rayelle… by the gods you better use both hands. You might not lose your sword and you might even win more matches. Never underestimate your opponent, no matter how weak or unassuming they may look. The sword cannot wield you… you must wield it. If you want to get into Barlow you have a lot more to learn. We start tomorrow. Meet me here after breakfast.” She turned and disappeared.

Rayelle stood staring into the thicket long after her mother had vanished from sight.

Come on, Sister. Pick up your jaw and your sword. You can practice on me some more. Let us see if we can’t at least fix your stance before tomorrow morning.”

* * *

Gillam entered the grand library and leaned quite casually against a brick column. Zehdra was pouring over several parchments but did not see him come in.

What says the envoy from Pyria?” he asked.

Zehdra jumped, nearly knocking an ink bottle over onto its side. “You just frightened me out of ten good seasons.”

I can see that.” He walked to her and pulled her up from her chair.

Gillam, I am nearly finished. Can this not wait?”

No.” He grabbed her gently by the shoulders, pulling her closer to him. “You are not yourself. You are burying your worries with affairs of state instead of letting the one who knows you best, help you.”

Zehdra tossed her quill onto the table and wrapped her arms around her persistent husband. “What is it you think I am worrying over?”

You know very well, what. Our children must grow up, find their own way.”

I know this, my love. I, too, had a father who wanted to tie me to courtly duties.”

Which is why you should know better than anyone else how they are feeling and what they are wanting… craving, even.”

She was silent for a few moments, clearly something on her mind. “I dreamt about him again last night. I dreamt about Rendall.”

It was Gillam’s turn for silence.

What do you suppose that means? I have this curiously anxious feeling gnawing at me like something awful is going to happen but I cannot tell you what or why.”

Rendall is dead nearly twenty seasons now, my love. I killed him with my own two hands. He cannot hurt us any longer. Tis only natural that your mind would work on this memory every now and then. Your worry over losing your children has spurred this, I know it. Come, let us speak of other things over a cup of orangeberry tea.” He pulled her by the hand toward the corridor. “What news from Pyria?”

Lord Stenis has agreed to the terms. Soon, all the Dominions will be as one under this new law. Soon, no Dominion Lord will be able to will their power to their children unless those children meet with Queen's Court approval and the approval of the people by a true and honest election.”

It has been many seasons in coming. Long, long overdue. It will go far to ensuring lasting peace throughout the Dominions. You should be proud, wee-one.”

I am.”

“And what of our children? What conclusion have you come to on their account?”

“The only one I can.”

* * *

It was clear that rainy season would be coming early to Elbourn. Her striking green hills and valleys would soon be bathed in the cinder gray of relenting storm clouds and torrential rains.

Intermittent storms had already begun making their way throughout the Dominions by night, followed by torrid days of unrelenting heat and humidity.

Rayelle squinted her eyes under the piercing rays of the late midday sun. She stood staring at three large boulders some good distance in front of her. On top of each boulder was a small pummel fruit.

She studied the three targets intently for a moment then turned her back on them. She closed her eyes and exhaled. A steady stream of pure white smoke snaked its way from her lips, dancing and swirling into the air. She opened her eyes and concentrated. Soon the white smoke became a bright orange light and then, as if unable to contain itself, quickly burst into a brilliant, red flame. She spun round like a spring wound toy, sending three separate fireballs sailing through the air. To her dismay, they began to fizzle and struggle for life long before hitting their mark.

“Nice shot, Sister. Good accuracy but not much for power.”

Rayelle flipped back around, turning her gaze away from the still-flaming pummel fruit dripping down the face of the boulders. “Roche, you frightened me.”

“What happened?”

“Last night’s rain happened.”

Roche slid from his horse. “Last night’s rain?”

Yes. It is too humid. I couldn’t get the power into the flames with all this moisture in the air.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead and glanced back at the smouldering fruit one more time. “What if that were the enemy?” she asked.

“What enemy? We are hardly at war.”

“That is not the issue.”

“Well, for starters, you were facing into the blistering sun and—”

“Your point? I have to be able to fight with the sun in my eyes. I am not addle-brained, Roche. I could have stood on the other side of the boulders and faced the other way but that was not the point at all. Besides, did you see me miss my mark?” She threw her hands up in the air. “No, you did not.”

“It’s Barlow, isn’t it? You cannot stand the prospect of not being the best and I think you are worried about not getting in.”

Worried? Is that a polite way of saying that I am afraid?”

I said worried, didn’t I?”

Rayelle dropped down onto the scrub and ripped her hands through her curls, wound tighter than usual from the damp in the air.

“You cannot ask for more than your best, Sister.”

“Yes I can or how will I know what my best is?”

“Your best is your best on a given day. Today, the weather was against you and I’m sorry to say that not even you can control that. Besides, you won’t be using your power at the Academy, you’ll be using your sword.” He knelt beside her, putting a gentle hand to her shoulder. “Let Mother help you and all will be fine. Once you straighten out your iron guard technique there won’t be anything else or anyone to stop you.” He lifted her chin. “Right?”

Roche always seemed to know the right things to say to her, and it usually worked. She flashed him a smile and told him what he wanted to hear. “Right.”

What’s this?” he said, noticing the scale dangling from her chain.

“Mother gave it to me. It belonged to our namesake. It is from the Old One.”

“I never knew she had this.”

“Nor did I.”

“Why did she give it to you now?”

“Wish that I knew, Brother. She says I am meant to have it.”

“Why?”

“I do not think she knows but… watch.” She placed a thumb and finger around the scale and it flashed a deep red, just as it had done before.

“By the gods, what is that about?”

“I don’t know.” She shook her head, staring into his eyes. “I don’t know.”

* * *

Kilgarn castle was abuzz, inside and out, with preparations for the upcoming Barlow Academy recruitment exercises. Everywhere you looked, this or that was being polished, pigs and fowl were being slaughtered, and the abundant court gardens were being plundered in preparation for the grand farewell dinner.

Away from all the frenzy, in a quiet and distant clearing, the dull clang of steel on steel resonated across the low hanging and threatening clouds.

“Enough!” cried Zehdra. “Enough, Rayelle. I bow to you.”

“Are you giving up?”

“Did I not just say so? I am winded and my lungs ache from chewing on this godsforsaken thick air.”

Rayelle took out a small cloth that she had tucked inside the waist of her trousers and walked to her bent and heaving mother. “Here, let me.” She wiped the perspiration from her mother’s brow and face and then wrapped her arms around her to whisper in her ear. “Am I ready?” Her head wanted the answer but her heart was afraid to hear it.

“There is nothing more I can show you, my love. You are as ready as anyone can be. Come. Let us sit there.” She pointed.

Rayelle followed her to a thick patch of grass flanked with large rocks.

I need to sit and I need to rest my back on something. And while not quite so comfortable as my favourite chair, this rock looks most inviting.”

“Agreed.”

The two women sat in silence while they caught their breath.

There was something on Rayelle’s mind. If she were lucky enough to be chosen for Barlow, there was something she needed her mother to know. It was time to speak her piece.

“Mamma… you know that I love you and Papa, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, just as we love you.”

“If Roche or I are chosen to go, I want you to know how much it will mean to us and… I want you to know that I know how hard it is for you to let us even try.” She picked up her mother’s hand and held it tight. “I am proud of you, Mamma, but not just for this. I am proud of you for everything you have done for Elbourn, Liberon, and all the Dominions. Your name and what you have accomplished should be etched on parchment and bound by leather and placed into the great wall of Grandfather’s library. My only wish is that one day you will be as proud of us… of me.”

Zehdra pulled Rayelle to her breast and sighed. “It would be impossible for me to be prouder of you than I am at this very moment.”

* * *

“Look, Roche. Isn’t that Nia?”

“I should have known.”

“What’s the matter, Brother? You’re not afraid of smart girls, are you?” Rayelle giggled.

Roche just glowered at her. “I am not afraid of smart girls. I am afraid of fawning ones. She is forever wanting to touch me in some fashion.”

“She is sweet on you.”

“Pish tosh.” He knew she was right but the last thing he wanted to do was admit it.

“Sometimes I think men really are stupid. You would have to be a fool not to see it when she looks at you.”

“Twins! Oh, twins. Hello.” The girl was waving madly from across the courtyard.

“By the gods, now she’s coming over here.” Roche swallowed the sizable lump in the back of his throat and swiped his palms across the legs of his trousers.

“I see it plain now, Brother. You are sweet on her, too.”

“Shut that wicked mouth of yours, Rayelle. She’ll hear you.” He brushed his hair back behind his ears and straightened his doublet.

Nia Baladon continued bounding toward them with a giant grin upon her face. Her long, brown hair bounced this way and that in the afternoon breeze and her yellow and white, printed dress billowed out behind her.

“Isn’t this exciting?” Nia called out. She stopped barely a foot in front of Roche, reaching out and gently stroking his arm. “Are you competing today?”

Roche glanced at Rayelle who was contorting her face to keep from laughing. “Yes, Nia, Rayelle and I are both competing today.”

Nia’s mouth fell open as she looked to Rayelle. “You are competing also? In what event?”


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