“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
So, like most writers, that’s what I did.
I love fantasy but I’d run out of books I wanted to read, stories of action, adventure, magic and – yes – passion. Something between Stardust and Game of Thrones. I love Gaiman’s mix of adventure and romance, and I loved G. R. R. Martin’s political intrigue and action. What surprises and puzzles me is the criticism I get for putting moments of positive romance/sex in my books, but no one has a problem with Martin’s incest/rape storylines. (I understand why he did it, btw.).
What I didn’t want were helpless heroines who needed to be rescued. I wanted strong, capable heroines like the Queens in real life. No one could say that Elizabeth I was a shrinking violet, that Catherine the Great didn’t earn that honorific, or that Victoria wasn’t able to lead her country through difficult times. Or Elizabeth II for that matter. And while some did it alone, others found a partner to stand beside them.
I wanted to write about the price of rule, the sacrifices good rulers have to make for the sake of the people they serve.
I wanted to write about people who struggled to find balance, who succeeded or failed, the repercussions of their actions, and – for one character – his redemption.
In other words, people you could know or relate to, people you could care about. Or hate.
That’s what I wrote. Whether I succeed or not, I’ll let you decide.
What inspired me to write the book? The statues of Nike of Samothrace and another called Night Descending – it was as if she was coming to a landing – and suddenly the first chapter was there in my head. I had no idea what would happen next, I just followed that winged muse until the story was written.
So I gave it to an editor and went in search of cover.
At that time, it was difficult to find a good cover artist – so I made my own. I once was and still am a portrait artist, but with so many selfies, there’s less demand. Apparently, I was a good enough cover artist, my first cover for Song of the Fairy Queen won an award. Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite convey Kyriay’s sheer badassery, her strength and courage.
By that time, the Coming Storm fantasy series and Song of the Fairy Queen were doing well enough that I could afford to invest in professional covers. So I hired a company to do one. Their covers were amazing, including a few by other writers I knew. It was a lot of money for me at the time, but once I saw what they created for me, I knew it was worth it. That cover was perfect.
So, imagine my sinking heart when, after nearly seven years, someone told me that the same image was on another cover. I knew it was stock art and anyone can buy stock images, but mine had been chosen for this book and the other cover was almost an exact copy except for the title. In a way, it’s a compliment to my good taste in covers, but it might explain some of the confusion about elements of the book – the other author writes for a younger audience, or at least that book was.
I was heartbroken. That cover was so good. And I’d paid what was for me, at the time, a lot of money for it.
All that aside, the person who’d brought it to my attention asked if I or the cover artist knew the image had been used on another book and was it proprietary?
I thought the cover artist had the right to know so I emailed them. I explained to them that I would understand if it was a stock image.
They told me it was, but if I wanted a new cover they would create a new one for me for a discount.
Now that’s class and professionalism. (I’ll name them with kudos once I see the new cover.)
At first, though, I have to be honest and say I resisted. I loved that cover. It’s so good, so right for the book.
The quality of their work, though, is incredible. (They’ve come up with some other covers for me since then.)
Given that quality and that they offered a new cover at a discount, made it impossible to turn down.
Now I can’t wait to see what they come up with this time!
Song of the Fairy Queen – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004774N2S
For all my books – https://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Douglas/e/B0036POJZI
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A lot of people ask – why this story, what made you write this story? For me it was the image that ends Chapter One and begins Chapter Two and is captured somewhat by the cover – Kyriay, Queen of the Fairy, alighting on battlements, her wings lit by the flames of the castle below. In that instant I also had the title. With it came the theme – what the story at its core is all about.
In all my stories there is always a central theme. A story can’t be just this happened and that happened, there has to be more. If there isn’t, it can’t touch the reader, can’t draw them in. For Song of the Fairy Queen, it was ‘how heavy lies the crown’. It was about honor, duty and the choices, the necessary sacrifices that sometimes we all have to make in our lives if they’re going to mean something. In Song of the Fairy Queen, all of the lead characters have to make those choices, Kyri, Morgan, Oryan and Gwenifer, Jacob…
There are other themes, too – what we’ll do for love, for children, husband, lovers – but at its core Song of the Fairy Queen is about doing what needs to be done, despite the price that will have to be paid.
That’s not to say that it’s all doom and gloom, any more than life is. There are still good moments, all the more precious because so much is at stake.
So, most of the elements were there, only one was was missing. *smiles* I was holding out for the hero.
Morgan had to be unique, a man of honor and integrity. I didn’t want the usual tall, dark and handsome, he had to be striking, different somehow. I just couldn’t picture him. Then one day I was watching this movie (which shall remain nameless) which I had been waiting to see for some time and there he was. Perfect. Even better, his physical appearance added depth and complications to the book that helped enrich it. I also fell in love with him, with his strength and courage – because if I wasn’t in love with him, how could you, the reader be? And since I was, as was Kyriay…
But I’ve already given you Chapter One…so I give you…
A slender figure dropped to the parapet, crystalline wings flaring, a cascade of golden curls shimmering down over her shoulders to nearly her waist and wearing only a simple shift that showed signs of battle. That shift clung to a slender body with ripe curves at breast and hip, fluttered about shapely thighs. Blood stained it, some of it her own to judge by the rent in it. A sword belt hung on those curved hips, a bow at her back between her wings.
So they had been surprised, too.
Torchlight illuminated the fine, amused features of her face, the large liquid eyes…
Morgan’s breath caught.
She was beautiful as only Fairy were or could be… mischievous, fierce when necessary and wild.
Her bare feet touched stone with a soft patter barely heard above the wind.
Morgan looked to his King. Looking up, Oryan was clearly astonished, no more than Morgan, he’d scarcely dared to hope for help but not that the Fairy Queen herself would come.
“What would you Oryan?” Kyriay cried over the sounds of the battle still going on below, her voice soft, but clear and strong. “Haerold’s forces attacked mine, too. I heard your call. And so we came, thinking you might need aid.”
The attack on her embassy had come out of the night as if from nowhere. The flare of magic had alerted her and awakened both her and her Fairy sentries, if not, sadly, Oryan’s or Morgan’s… Even so, they had fought desperately for her. She winced at the memory, at the sharp sting of death so close. Still it had been a battle for her and her people just to find the space to take flight. With a wrench of grief and anger she remembered Ariol’s fall. And then Glennis, her wings striving for height before she spiraled to the ground, a black arrow piercing her. That young life ending as she crashed to the ground. Kyri grieved for her and her mate…
Besides Oryan, Kyri saw only young Gawain and Morgan–Oryan’s High Marshal, who she’d until now seen only in passing, a tall, handsome, powerful man with piercing eyes so clear and bright a blue as to rival a fairy’s wing ― these others then must be his people.
One face that she didn’t see that she should have, that she sought to see and ought to see.
Her breath caught…on bitter sorrow.
Grief filled Oryan’s gaze and not only for his people dying below ― as she sorrowed for those she’d lost ― but a greater grief still for the one who had stood beside him, his partner, his wife and his Queen. Kyri’s heart ached. She’d very much liked the tall, calm Queen.
“Kyriay! Thank the stars. Take Gawain, save my son,” Oryan said, as he reached for his son. “Get him away.”
Her chin lifted, she shook her head and then Kyri smiled, albeit a little grimly. She tilted her head to them once, sharply.
“You misunderstand me, Oryan. We came to take you all.”
She gestured upwards, spreading her arms, a graceful gesture of her hands toward her people as they hovered above in the night sky above, their wings beating steadily…a dozen of them or more.
All of them were beautiful, male or female, ethereal, yet all bore swords and bows.
For a moment, Oryan couldn’t grasp it. He’d resigned himself to fighting and dying. His only hope had been to save Gawain. Not himself. Not even Morgan, his friend as well as his Marshal, although he might have wished it otherwise.
Below him in the darkness and flames came the sounds of battle, the screams and shouts, fire and smoke. People, his people, were dying. He’d expected to join them and a glance at Morgan and his people showed they’d expected the same, had girded themselves to a pitched but hopeless battle against an overwhelming force.
Hope hadn’t even entered into it. He hadn’t even dared think it.
“Come, Oryan,” Kyriay said, as she leaned forward a little, holding out her hands to him, wings stroking for balance. “Live to fight another day. The Fair would rather you on the throne than Haerold. He is a cold and cruel master.”
Haerold hadn’t been kind to her folk in his own lands, what would he be like now that he had them all?
“Gawain, first,” Oryan said and she nodded, calling her people down with a gesture.
So, he thought, she didn’t doubt either who was responsible for all of this. It said much of Haerold, none of it good.
“Galan, take the Prince, protect him with your life, if need be, he is our hope,” Kyri said, as the sure knowledge of it coursed through her and Galan came forward, smiling reassuringly at the boy. “Dorien, to the King.”
Her wings stroked, lifting her from the parapet to make room for those above and behind her.
From below came the sounds of men battering the door. It wouldn’t hold long, it had never been meant to.
There was no time, soon enough the wizards would become aware of them up here.
Kyri looked below to the sounds and cries of battle rising. The sense of dying battered at her. As a Healer, their pain and sorrow tore at her, her heart ached as she each life ended like candles being blown out.
Morgan followed her gaze.
It was a grim scene. Parts of the castle were now ablaze. A small group of Oryan’s Guard was holding out in vain in one corner of the courtyard while random small battles continued elsewhere. It was a terrible sight…filled with death and dying, cruelty and slaughter…
Morgan looked down at the dead and the dying there in the forecourt and at his people standing firm and sure at his back. They would fight and die if he asked it.
The Fairy offered them a chance to fight and live. He wouldn’t ask his people to die if there was another choice, if there was any chance at all.
Fascinated by the Fairy, by the idea of flight, Gawain lifted his arms and went willingly into the Fairy’s hands.
His simple joy and pleasure briefly lightened the horror of the night for those watching.
Those seemingly fragile crystalline wings flared, expanded and flexed, catching air, the next stroke lifting the boy and the Fairy off the parapet to make room for another.
If Morgan was honest, a part of him doubted… Those wings, large as they appeared, hardly looked strong enough to hold the Fairy themselves, much less a man his size.
Oryan looked up as Dorien settled to the parapet and reached for him. He knew this Fairy, as he knew Galan, they were Kyri’s own people.
“Hold on tight,” Dorien cautioned, “take my wrist.”
Those great wings flared, stroked hard and then they rose. Another strong beat and they were clear of the tower. Dangling in mid-air, trusting to Dorien’s surprisingly strong grip, Oryan looked back.
Morgan’s people were being cleared but even as he looked he saw Morgan and two of his people turn toward the doorway…backing up to give themselves room to draw their swords.
A part of Oryan wanted to cry out in protest.
Not Morgan. He couldn’t lose him, too. He had no other left that he trusted, he needed, no other to stand at his back…not with Gwenifer gone. Morgan had stood at his side since they had been boys, been his most trusted lieutenant for his entire reign.
Kyri turned, too, at the motion, her lovely face set as she reached for her bow. Her wings flared, then they folded…and she dove, stooping like a hawk, those wings tight against her lithe body, golden hair streaming behind her. In truth, Oryan had never seen anything quite so beautiful, or so deadly.
Below, Morgan clearly heard the sound of the door below crashing open. It had finally given way beneath the battering.
They had been so close… Morgan had almost begun to believe they might yet make it, they might survive this terrible night when Kyriay and her people had arrived.
He turned to face the new danger, to give the King and his own people time to get away.
“Go,” he said, to those remaining, backing away to draw his sword as he heard the thunder of booted feet on the stairs.
They were coming, fast.
Jacob was at his right shoulder, Liliane at his left, two of his most trusted aides, their swords drawn as the black-garbed soldiers appeared at the top of the stair. More pressed behind them, the stairs limiting their numbers.
The first soldier snarled a smile at the sight of Morgan and his people. Then a Fairy arrow with its unmistakable crystalline fletching took him through the throat. The snarl turned to surprise as he staggered, fell back against those behind him and died. Another arrow took the man next to him.
“Get them,” Morgan heard Kyriay shout. “I’ve got Morgan.”
Jacob and Liliane were literally snatched off their feet, carried up into the air as the enemy soldiers thrust away their dead and pushed forward.
Like an arrow out of the night in a whistling dive the Queen of the Fairy shot past the enemy. The invading soldiers ducked instinctively.
Her hand reached…for him… Kyriay, her golden hair streaming in the breeze of her passage. Beautiful, seemingly delicate and insubstantial, her lovely face intent, eyes narrowed and her wings tucked close…one hand outstretched for his…
“Morgan,” she shouted.
He jumped to the parapet, reaching in return, furious with her for the chance she took. His hand closed around her slender wrist, her long, strong fingers grasped his and she snatched him off his feet. It felt for a moment as if they were falling…down into the carnage below.
With a sharp crack that reverberated through both of them, those great gossamer wings opened, caught air and they shot upward with a shock so hard Morgan thought he’d nearly dislocated his shoulder. And Kyriay? He looked up at her…
In all his life he didn’t think he’d ever seen anything so stunning, so beautiful…or so fierce and determined…
Firelight danced over those brilliant wings, reflected the glow, sparkled in the shifting intangible light.
She was glorious.
It had to have hurt her, too, but there was no sign of it in that fine-boned, resolute face.
Muscles straining, that lovely face focused, determined, indomitable, she fought for height against the speed of the dive, her wings cupped, then flattened, shifted. Smaller and lighter than he, even so she held on grimly, her rippling hair streaming in the breeze of their passage.
Insane as it was at the moment, he suddenly realized how very beautiful she was. Different, but not…exotic, incredible…and beautiful.
The hard stone of the curtain wall came at them fast, but they were rising, rising, to shoot over it so closely that Morgan could see the surprise on the faces of those who fought below. So closely he heard an arrow whistle past while another barely missed a wing, as the fighters on the parapets instinctively fired at the perceived threat.
Muscles straining, Kyri fought for height.
Darkness surrounded them. The wall fell behind them.
They had made it.
She banked, searching for the others, for the familiar sense of her people in her spirit and mind.
There. Relief flooded her.
Dizzyingly, to Morgan the ground seemed to come toward them in a rush and then her wings flared again, the shock more gentle this time.
His feet touched the earth and then hers.
Kyri staggered a little but Morgan reached out a hand to steady her. She smiled at him quickly and gratefully.
A different kind of shock went through her at the contact between their hands and then a quick rush of warmth that Kyri had no time to examine as she looked over the small party of survivors.
They had lost no one since the first moments of the attack.
She closed her eyes for only a moment in relief and gratitude. Every life, Fairy or man, was precious.
Her body ached, her wing muscles protesting the abuse and her wings fluttered a little, resettling the feathers automatically… A sword cut on her ribs stung, another on her arm. Until now she hadn’t even noticed they were there.
They were free, though, for the moment.
Oryan stepped through the small crowd, Gawain in his arms.
Turning from him only a little, Kyri drew a silver whistle from beneath her shift where it hung on a silver chain around her throat and blew.
For all that it made little sound, Oryan felt more than heard it, a sharp pressure in his ears.
“Thank you, Kyri,” he said, for her assistance. “Where do you go now?”
“South and west for a time, there is a place, not far, where we will be safe long enough to decide what we do next,” she said.
“Kyri…” Oryan began.
She stilled him with a simple gesture. “Like it or no, our fates are joined, Oryan. Haerold didn’t only attack you, he attacked my embassy here, with the intent to kill or capture me and mine. My people have long withdrawn from Haerold’s lands for the wizards he kept company with. It is likely he will turn against us now whether we aid you or not.”
It was no more than the simple truth and they both knew it.
“Where would you go, now?” Kyri asked.
“There is little time and Haerold will surely go there once he’s learned we’ve escaped, but to Gwenifer’s lands to the south―so that serves us both well―to gather what funds I may. They should be warned, too. Haerold will surely seize them… then…” He sighed. “Decisions will have to be made…”
He looked back at the castle in the distance. Flames blossomed from some of the windows, little else could be seen there.
“Good,” Kyri said, “then we will stand guard for you until you can gain some of that time to make them.”
A thunder of hooves had almost all of them turning in near panic as they quickly reached for their swords. Oryan wanted to shout in frustration and helpless fury.
“It’s all right,” Kyri said, as the horses galloped over the rise, their manes and tails blowing in the breeze of their passage. “I called them.”
The horses of the Fairy raced out of the darkness, gold, silver, bronze and copper, their long manes and tails flagging in the breeze of their passage, beautiful to watch as they ran, the muscles moving beneath their skin fluidly.
Morgan watched them come with the admiration of a true horseman, their gait so smooth and liquid they seemed to float over the ground.
At least they wouldn’t have to walk the miles from here to there.
With practiced ease Kyri caught a handful of mane and vaulted onto a horse’s bare back as it came to a halt, her wings tucked neatly and nearly invisibly against her back, her shapely legs bared high on the thigh as the shift gathered.
Morgan gave his orders, assigning Liliane once more to guard the boy, sending Alain north to call back his people there. As much as he hated it, he must leave the North undefended against the raiders so they could defend the King and what little they could salvage here until the King was back on the throne. Faithful Caleb he sent west and then south to carry the news and call up any of those he could. They would need every man and woman he could find.
He was under no illusions. Their situation was desperate. His job was to find a way to make it less so and then to put the King back on the throne.
It wouldn’t be an easy task.
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I’m told I really shouldn’t use my blog just for talking about my stories, and I was going to do that, but then something strange happened….
Setting Boundaries has always been one of my favorite stories but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t find a place for it, a home. As much as I loved it, I couldn’t seem to find an audience for it so I just let it languish.
Oh, it has action and adventure in it to be sure, but at its heart it’s a simple tale of friendship, of forging strong bonds between three people who have ample reason not to trust each other. But I didn’t want to write the standard story of mistrust and distrust either.
Ever since writing The Coming Storm I’d always wanted to write the story of how Elon, Colath and Jareth met and became friends. As many times as I tried, though, they were all too dark, too cold, they didn’t match the warmth of the original story. And that’s what I wanted, that warmth, because so much of that is missing these days.
There’s so much baggage that goes into such relationships these days. I didn’t want readers to think they were gay – as if there was something wrong with that or gay people couldn’t be friends with straight people. But that also wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.
I wanted to tell the story of that friendship. But that came with baggage, too. As with so much of our interpersonal relationships these days, male friendships have become an object of fun. Our society gives them silly names like bromance or man-date, reducing it to a poor reflection of reality. It’s even worse for women. Or consider marriage – everyone points out that half of all marriages end in divorce, rather than saying Half of all marriages succeed! Its no wonder so many of us are on anti-depressants, we’re so afraid of being open with another human being for fear of looking silly or being made fun of.
Ask anyone who’s fought side by side with his buddies, though, and you’ll find out what such friendships can truly be. That was the story I wanted to tell. I’d been making it too complicated. So, that was the story I wrote.
It’s a good story but although it received a great review within days of posting, it never seemed to take off. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to draw attention to it. No one seemed to want to read that kind of story anymore.
So when I first saw the numbers for Setting Boundaries on Amazon.com I honestly thought it was a fluke, a mistake they would soon correct. I mean, that couldn’t be right – 1500+ copies? And they’d been having problems with reporting, so I just chalked it up to that. But the numbers didn’t go away, they went up. It still seemed strange and I kept waiting for it to be corrected. Then, at some point, it began to dawn on me that they were real. Because those numbers kept going up. I couldn’t believe it. Then someone told me Setting Boundaries was on the top 100 list of free fantasy novels on Amazon. Last night I looked and it was #23. 1800 copies. In the world of traditional publishing its a drop in the bucket. And, it’s free. But still. For me? I’m breathless. Could it crack 2000? Has it already? I can’t imagine it. If it does, if it did… wow…
A feline scream drew Jareth out of sleep with a rush. For a moment, he could only stare in breathless astonishment…and in wonder.
He’d never seen anything so swift, so strangely beautiful or so very deadly as watching Elon of Aerilann fight off firbolg and boggins alone in the moonlight.
The Elf moved like water, smoothly, gracefully, his swords swirling around him almost as if they, too, were fluid, as if the steel bent like reeds in the flow of his movement. Yet where they touched, blood flew. There was no sound save for the cries of the firbolg and boggins. Bodies littered the ground around him as steel flashed like lightning in the thin moonlight. Every movement was graceful and sure as he wove a web of steel around himself, denying entrance as Colath took up his swords and went to join him.
There was no pause, Colath simply stepped into the flow of Elon’s movement and became part of it. It was as if they were one person, extensions of each other, one stepping in where the other wasn’t.
It was a wonder to watch.
Jareth saw the firbolg leap and scramble to the rocks above him and them and fired a mage-bolt, sending it spinning out into the night as he rolled to his feet, calling up power. Energy flared around him, gathered in his hands.
A boggart leaped to one of the rocks and then toward Colath. Jareth picked it out of the air.
It wasn’t his first firefight but he felt the same mixture of terror and exhilaration as he spun and turned in response to the motion he saw at the edges of his vision as Elon and Colath defended the entrance to their little shelter.
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The sounds of battle, the cries and screams, the clash and ring of steel on steel that echoed from the streets below and down in the Great Hall drew Oryan High King out of sleep instantly. A rush of fear chilled his bones even as he leaped for his sword and chased sleep from his mind. He paused only long enough to pull on his trews, before drawing his sword from the stand.
Gwenifer scrambled from their bed and raced toward the doors, her long, deep chestnut hair streaming loose, wearing only a thin shift over her tall, slender body, her own swords already in hand.
Knowing that where she went there was no chance of return, he wished keenly to be able to wrap his hands in that hair once again. He loved her hair. He loved her. Passionately. Grief already twisted his heart, knowing where she was going and what it was they faced.
With her hand on the door, she looked back at him, her gray eyes despairing.
“Go for Gawain,” Gwen cried. “Morgan will be with him if he’s returned, if he can reach him. I’ll hold them as long as I may.”
Gwen knew Morgan would try to get to him first, if he’d returned, if he could reach him in time.
Her eyes lingered on Oryan’s longish, much beloved face. Once upon a time she’d feared he’d married her only for her lands and title, for she’d always known she was plain and the only thing she could give him was tall sons and daughters. She’d been astonished to find he’d married her for her heart and mind.
As much as he loved her, she loved him. She knew she was going to die, if there were shouts in the Great Hall the odds were already against them. She wanted to run her hands through her husband’s dark brown hair one last time, to stroke and touch and hold him, but the cries and clamor below told her time was too short.
She was the Queen. She could go, run with Gawain herself, provided there was any place safe for them to run to. She would then be only the dowager Queen, guardian to Gawain until his adulthood, should he live so long, and dependent upon the charity of one of their vassals or neighboring kingdoms. Oryan was King and there were those who would flock to follow him because he was their King. And to Gawain, their prince. Their son. Her son.
As High King, even in exile, Oryan could protect him far better than she.
As she ran down the long hall, the stone cold beneath her bare feet, a thousand thoughts raced through Gwen’s mind.
Most of them were of Oryan and Gawain.
Precious Gawain. She pictured her son in her mind’s eye, so astonishingly beautiful to his mother’s fond eye, with his father’s thick brown hair and her gray eyes. She thought of the thousand things she would now never see. She wouldn’t watch him grow to manhood, or marry, or have children she could bounce on her knee. A part of her wept. Sorrow and fear burned in her chest like acid, threatened to turn her nerves to water.
Knowing who the cause of this likely was she could also too easily see her son bloody and broken on the stones below her windows. Thrown there by his uncle, Haerold, her husband’s half-brother―no other would have done this―as a sacrifice to his own ambition, or he would raise her son to be another such as he. Better dead than that. Anything but that.
She wanted to weep but instead grasped her swords all the tighter. Morgan had said she was one of his better students with a sword. Now she would have the chance to prove it. She would make him and Oryan proud.
Oryan’s heart cried out in grief and in protest as he watched her go but in his King’s heart he knew she was right.
“Go,” he shouted, in place of the kiss he should have given her.
His heart tore but she’d already flung the door open and was racing away down the hall. Away from him.
The clash and clamor of battle came all the louder through the open door as he ran through it behind her.
Close, far too close. How had they gotten in so quick without the alarm being raised?
With the battle so close and Gwen going to face it, Oryan ran the other way, toward their son, toward Gawain and Morgan, if Morgan had returned in time. Morgan, Oryan’s High Marshal, wouldn’t let the boy die, not if there was life and breath in him to prevent it.
Whatever power resided in the earth and sky, in the fields and flowers, Oryan prayed to it and to every other god as he ran down the stone halls, his heart torn between his beloved wife and the son they had made between them.
Gawain was all, he was everything. If anything was to be preserved from this betrayal, it lay in Gawain.
This was Haerold’s doing, of that Oryan was certain.
His brother, or half-brother and Oryan cursed the day his mother met the infernal wizard who helped her make him.
Some strange magic crackled and snapped in the air, prickling his skin, while flashes of it lightened the sky through the arrow slits like greenish lightning, but not as pure. No, not as pure. If he dared allow himself the luxury of weeping in rage and sorrow he would have.
Gwen. His heart was breaking.
Just the thought of her, alone… He could picture her in his mind’s eye as she fought on the stairs, her swords slashing, holding and defending…dying…to buy them time, to save him and their son.
Gwen’s thoughts were of Oryan as she raced down the stairs to the landing to find the enemy in Haerold’s colors of black and gray coming up, their feet pounding up the stairs toward her.
She stopped to face them down, lifted her chin and swords defiantly.
And they came.
Steeling herself, she parried with one sword while she slashed with the other, taking the first with a kick, to send him staggering back against his brethren. She cried out her fury, her rage and despair as she slashed and battered at them, driving forward and the surprise of her attack pushed them back, a step, two, until she gained the landing. It was hers now and she would hold it as long as she could…
Above, Oryan rounded the corner to find Morgan there, strong, sure, capable Morgan and he blessed whatever Gods there were on earth or heaven for the man who stood before him.
Morgan. Thank the Gods
A tall man, Morgan was built solid with deep broad chest, broader shoulders and strong arms. He was so fair in skin and hair he was like a beacon of light in the flickering glow of the torches in the hall. That torchlight sparked like fire from his close-cropped hair, glints of gold and red. He stood four-square at the entrance to the hallway, one brow lifted, pale blue eyes watchful, his full mouth tight, determined, his swords bared as he faced the servant’s stair and looked to see who came from the direction of the King’s quarters.
Their eyes met and Oryan saw clearly in Morgan’s what he feared to see.
It was over. They were lost. Whatever faint hope Oryan had entertained for retaking the castle vanished in that single glance.
Seeing his King, Morgan pushed back grief and anger. He’d only held long enough to learn if the King and Queen or the young Prince survived.
Oryan had, and the boy.
Not the Queen.
The attack couldn’t have been planned better, coming as it did when he’d been supposed to be gone and the attackers arriving in the darkest hours of the night. If he hadn’t returned earlier than expected…
Others of Morgan’s men brought the boy, Oryan’s son, from the Prince’s bedroom, young Gawain frightened until the boy saw his father and Morgan, faces he knew and trusted.
With a faint smile and a touch of pride, one of the men held up the boy’s sword. “He held this until he saw our cockades, Captain, Your Highness. He was very brave.”
Gawain said, “Father?”
“There’s no time to explain, Gawain,” Oryan said, with a nod and brushed a hand over his son’s hair with a mixture of pride, grief and fear. “Stay with me.”
“Where’s Mother?” Gawain asked.
Oryan couldn’t answer, it was too wrenching…
Now it was only to run, to survive and live to fight another day, to take back his crown if they could, for his people and for his son.
“Go, Morgan,” Oryan said.
Morgan went, gesturing to his people to proceed and to follow, to guard the King and the Heir.
“They came from nowhere and everywhere,” Morgan said, explaining as they raced down the hallway.
He hesitated only a fraction of a moment, waiting for Gwen, hoping still but even then knowing that if Oryan was here alone then Gwenifer wasn’t coming. Grief stung him for Gwen, for Oryan his King and for young Gawain, but there was no time for it.
“The raiders had already broken through the great doors to the castle proper in numbers when we arrived.”
He and his people had watched as some kind of magical portal opened and men poured out of it. More men than his small party could handle.
Morgan’s choice had been made for him then, in that moment, the only thing left was to try to reach the boy and the King and Queen if he could. The Queen…
“Liliane,” Morgan said, “take the boy.”
The woman, one of his best soldiers, nodded.
“Where?” Oryan asked.
Morgan met his eyes and saw the grief there. His own heart ached with it.
“There is only up,” Morgan said, evenly.
The same thought was in both their minds.
Oryan looked at him.
The Hall below had been aboil with the invaders. Morgan and his people had been lucky to get past them unnoticed.
Only one ally might yet save them…if their embassy hadn’t been attacked as well.
The Court wizard had no doubt been among the first to die, as had Morgan’s, but there was another, another chance, or so legend had it. Focusing both heart and mind, Oryan sent out a Call, picturing the one he needed so desperately…
Ahead of them they heard the sounds of fighting.
Oryan swore. “Whatever happens, they must not take Gawain.”
All of them knew it. If Oryan’s line was to survive the boy was their only hope. All of them knew of Haerold, the rumors and the truths—which were far darker.
Morgan and his men sprinted ahead in a great flying wedge, Morgan at the lead as the last of the King’s men defending the back servant’s stair fell before the surge of invaders.
In a clash of steel and flesh they came together, Morgan’s Marshals and the intruders, the intruders caught unprepared for the new assault.
No one stopped for even a second nor even paused.
Liliane looked the boy Gawain square in the eyes.
“On my back,” she said, fiercely, “and you stay there. You don’t let go. You hear me?”
The boy nodded and she swung him around behind her, freeing her hands, freeing her swords.
They would have to kill her to get to him.
Swords flashed as Morgan hacked a way through and his people drove into the mass of fighters, scattering them, cutting through, cutting past. The dark clad invaders fell but they took Armand with them, an ill-timed thrust getting past his guard and armor both.
An invader leaped at Oryan but the King, no slouch with a sword himself, cut the man down on the fly with one quick swipe of his longsword as those of Morgan’s men behind him joined the battle, too.
Then they were past. Not a single invader survived that assault.
Distantly behind them they could hear the sounds of running men coming toward them, boots clattered. There was the crash of doors being kicked in, shouts of frustration and fury. Searching. Not theirs then.
Pain pierced Oryan’s heart. Gwen? If they had come so far…then she was fallen… Gwenifer!
Grief nearly swallowed him. He knew then that his beloved Queen was gone.
They raced up the stairs of the circular tower, desperate to reach the top before Haerold’s men reached them, before his magic found them.
Below on the stair came the sound of battle, the clang and clamor of steel on steel, the grunt and groan of men in combat as Morgan’s men held the door. They hammered the invaders back and back, slammed the door shut and barred it quickly. It wouldn’t hold long.
They burst out into darkness as the wind whipped at their hair, their clothes, as it battered at them.
Far beneath them in the courtyard below, the castle Guard fought a hopeless battle. Steel rang on steel, metal crashed on wood… Light flashed luridly, greenish and unnatural… magic… Men died in the roar of the flames…Shouts, screams and desperate cries filled the air clearly even so high above.
Oryan looked up to the black night sky to find it filled with gossamer wings…
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