The award-winning, critically acclaimed epic fantasy series from author Joni Parker.
2017 John E. Weaver Excellent Reads Award winner for YA: Fantasy (Spell Breaker)
2017 Book Excellence Award finalist (The Blue Witch)
2017 International Book Award finalist (The Blue Witch)
2016 Book Excellence Award finalist (Spell Breaker)
My name is Joni Parker and I was born in Chicago, Illinois. When I was 8, my family moved to Japan so my Dad could join the PGA (Professional Golf Association). He attained his dream and we stayed there for over four years before we returned to the States to live in Phoenix, Arizona. My dad worked as a pro at a small golf course, but my parents divorced shortly thereafter. I attended Camelback High School and went on to college. Rather than complete a degree program at Arizona State University, I opted for a tour in the Navy. Upon completion of a three year stint, I got married and returned to college, attaining a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting and an MBA in finance. After a short period of employment as an accountant at Gulf Power Company, I went back in the Navy this time as an Officer. I stuck it out for nineteen more years and retired as a Commander. My husband and I spent a few years living in our motorhome, criss-crossing the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, my husband passed away, so I went back to work, this time for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. After seven years, I retired for a second time to devote my time to writing. I now live in Tucson, Arizona with my sister.
In addition to writing, I enjoy swimming, listening to audiobooks on long drives across country, my daily walks, and taking classes on writing.
Trapped on an island, shipwrecked time travelers struggle first to survive and then–to escape. Elves, Dwarves and mortals mingle in a world filled with pirates, political intrigue and magic. Their fates rest in the hands of one young woman, the orphan Lady Alexin. Part Elf and a descendant of a Titan ancestor, she trained as a warrior, to avenge her parents' deaths, unaware that only she has the power to save them all.
Lightning cracked across the darkened sky and struck the ground near two soldiers on horseback. The horses reared in panic, but the soldiers, Hamlin and Tyrone, calmed them, dismounted, and ran for the trees, holding onto a small valise. It was now the time–Lady Cadwin, the Countess, had given them specific directions to open the valise at noon.
Tyrone set it on the ground while Hamlin spread a blanket beside it. Tyrone held his breath as he carefully lifted out the little girl who had been given an Elvish potion to make her small, not much bigger than the palms of his hands. He placed her gently on the blanket while Hamlin held his cloak out to shield the child from the pelting rain.
Tyrone knelt across from Hamlin and added his cloak to form the shield. When they looked down, the girl, young Lady Alexin, was awake and the normal size of a four-year-old.
Suddenly, thunder boomed above their heads and rolled in waves across the sky, causing the horses to bolt.
“Hey! The horses!” Hamlin jumped up to run after them, but it was hopeless.
“We’ll get them later, Ham.” Tyrone pulled him back with his arm.
“Where did these clouds come from? I swear it was clear just a minute ago!” Hamlin stared at the sky as rain pelted his face, holding his cloak out to shelter Lady Alexin.
“Don’t forget you’re on Seaward Isle. Nothing makes any sense here.” Tyrone shook his head–rain dripped from his nose. His skin started to tingle and the hair on his arms rose. He glanced nervously at the sky.
Little Lady Alexin wriggled–the electricity in the air gave her a jolt. “Ow! Take me home! I want Papa!” She stood up and tried to pull away.
“Your Papa ordered us to take you to Nyla.” Tyrone put his hands on her arms. “He wants you to be safe in Nyla with your brother. We can’t go back!” Tyrone held her protectively, staring at the sky as lightning crackled again across the sky, striking the ground in a sharp explosion.
“That was too close! It must’ve hit near the Count’s fortress!” Hamlin stared upward at the sky when thunder boomed. The storm was almost overhead.
“Mama! Mama!” Lady Alexin burst into tears. “I want to go home!” She cried. “Mama, talk to me!” She put her hands over her ears, terrified.
“Lady Alexin, what’s wrong?” Tyrone shook his head. “Your Mama’s not here!”
“Mama won’t talk to me! Take me home!” Lady Alexin stared at him, pleading with her large blue eyes. Her long, black hair was soaked around her little face.
“She can’t talk to you! She’s not here!” Tyrone said.
“Lady Alexin, do you mean in Elfspeak?” Hamlin asked.
“Elves can speak to each other with their thoughts,” Hamlin told Tyrone.
A third bolt of lightning struck, followed by a loud explosion that shook the ground.
Lady Alexin screamed.
“What’s going on? Ow!” Hamlin covered his head with his hands. Pieces of debris fell around them.
“The Wizard Mylar did this, but I’ve never seen anything like it before.” Tyrone shook his head. “We’d better get moving.”
As quickly as the dark clouds appeared, they rolled away, and the sky turned blue again with a bright sun. The men packed up, casting curious glances above them.
Tyrone and Hamlin scanned the forest for any trace of the horses, but when they turned to get Lady Alexin, she was missing. Hamlin caught a glimpse of her black hair, running down the path towards home. He ran after her and snatched her up in his arms.
“You can’t go back. It’s too dangerous, Lady Alexin!” He put her downon the ground.
“Stop calling me that! My name’s Alex! I want to go home! Now!” Alex stomped her foot and tried to push him away.
Hamlin carried her back as she kicked and squirmed in his arms. He handed her to Tyrone. Then, they moved on and took turns carrying the little girl to keep her from running away. Alex sobbed uncontrollably.
Hamlin felt sorry for her. It was hard to explain to a four-year-old that a King attacked her father so he could learn how to use a Wizard in battle.
A few days before, Hamlin and Tyrone arrived at Count Dumwalt’s fortress with their buddy Jake to warn him. The King was bringing three hundred men and the Wizard Mylar to learn how to integrate the Wizard’s magic with the strength of his army. The Count asked them to take little Alex to safety in Nyla where her brother, Beren, attended the Sword Academy. Jake went north to get reinforcements from Lord Dimont while Tyrone and Hamlin went east with the little girl.
In order to sneak out of the Count’s fortress, Alex’s Elfin mother, the beautiful Lady Cadwin, gave her a shrinking potion to make her small enough to fit in the valise to hide her escape. Thank goodness, it had worked, and Alex was back to normal. At least, to a degree. She had stopped crying–Tyrone guessed because she was exhausted. She also stopped talking, even though he spoke to her softly. Hamlin didn’t know what to do.
After they pressed on for several hours, Alex raised her head and stared ahead. “Horsie, come back!” She pointed to the forest.
Tyrone and Hamlin shook their heads, not seeing any horses, but stared at each other with surprise when the horses trotted up to them out of the woods.
“How did you do that?” Hamlin stared at her.
Alex shrugged her shoulders. The men checked the horses and mounted up.
They rode on for several days, until they finally stopped at a small farm. The farmer let them sleep in his barn and gave them some hot stew. They were exhausted, but safe–they fell asleep quickly.
In the middle of the night, Alex woke up and screamed.
Tyrone opened his eyes and saw a tall, black form at his feet. It had the shape of a man without any features. A cold breeze blew. His eyes opened wide.
“Look out! A Shadow!” Tyrone pushed Alex away.
Alex raised her right hand and shouted at it. “Stop! Go away!” A short beam of bright blue light shot from her hand and turned the black form into red sparks before it disappeared. Alex gasped in surprise and gaped at her hand.
“What did you do to that Shadow?” Tyrone stared at her.
“I don’t know.” Alex shook her head and checked her hands in the moonlight.
Hamlin rolled over to check on his companions and sat up.
“Ham, the Wizard Mylar knows I’m here. He sent this Shadow after me. I’m putting you two in danger. Go on without me.” Tyrone shook with fear.
“We’re not leaving you. Besides, Mylar doesn’t know about Alex,” Hamlin said. “Let’s go!” He grabbed Tyrone’s arm and roused him. They packed up in the dark and rode until dawn before stopping at a stream to water the horses.
Alex became more comfortable with them after that, and her countenance lightened. For the first time since leaving home, she was willing to talk and eat with them. When Tyrone picked her up now, she laughed as he swung her around in his arms. He held her and smiled.
Alex stared over his shoulder and held up her hand at the black Shadow behind Tyrone. “No! Go away!” Blue light shot from her hand in a small, but powerful beam.
Tyrone spun around as the Shadow burst into red sparks and disappeared. His mouth dropped open in surprise.
Alex stared at her hand and held it out to Tyrone. “Why does my hand do that?”
“I don’t know, Alex. You’re very special. No one has ever been able to do that.” He took her hand and folded it into a fist. “Save it in case more Shadows show up.”
Alex nodded and threw her arms around his neck.
“Ham, let’s pack up!” Tyrone set Alex down and helped break camp.
Tyrone knew the dark magic of the Wizard. He had been a squire to Queen Diamona, the Wizard’s benefactor and knew the Queen had made a deal with King Bertigam of Agana, shortly after arriving on the island. She would receive half the Kingdom in exchange for use of the Wizard’s magic. Tyrone shook his head. No one had ever destroyed a Shadow before. How could this little girl do it?
They rode on for several more days until they reached a large lake called the Inward Sea. On the opposite side of the lake was the village of Nyla. They slowed as they entered the quaint village and rode up to the Sword Academy to deliver Alex. It was an unusually large building for so small a village. It was made of dark red brick and stones, standing two stories high near the Army garrison.
Relieved that the journey was over, the two men introduced themselves to the headmaster, Commandant Nielsen and his wife. The Commandant was happy to have Alex, but his wife, Mistress Nielsen, disliked her from the start.
“What’s in her ears?” Mistress Nielsen frowned and turned Alex’s head to the side, roughly pulling her hair back. “It’s blue hair! What is she, an Elf?”
Alex pulled away and covered her ears with her hands. Tears formed in her eyes.
“They shouldn’t allow this. She’s deformed! A freak of nature!” Mistress Nielsen grimaced, wiping her hands on her apron with disgust.
Alex’s brother, Beren, shared her opinion and wasn’t at all pleased to see her.
He frowned. “Where’s Father?”
“He said he would come to get me later.” Alex stuck her tongue out.
“Good, girls don’t belong here. This is a boys’ school!” He left and slammed the door.
The Commandant had the final say, however. He smiled at the little girl, patting her gently on the head, and Alex was brought under his protection.
Alex pressed her lips together in a firm line. She knew Beren wouldn’t be happy to see her, but why did that woman care? She didn’t like her, but smiled back at the Commandant.
Hamlin went to the village to meet with friends at the Army garrison and stayed with them. The Commandant offered Tyrone a position as an instructor at the academy. Life soon resumed a sense of normalcy–for everyone, that is, except Alex who had Mistress Nielsen, the headmistress, in charge of her.
Mistress Nielsen grew more irritated with Alex each passing day and the feeling became mutual. Alex hated wearing the frilly dresses and bows in her hair, even as much as the chores she was assigned. She did the best she could, but it was never good enough for the headmistress who berated her constantly.
Yesterday, the headmistress had shown Alex how to make biscuits and had given her the recipe card. Alex shook her head and told her she didn’t know how to read yet. Nonetheless, this morning, the headmistress ordered her to make the biscuits.
Alex knew that she needed flour. The large ceramic bowl was heavy, but she carried it to the pantry and set it on the floor, filling it with flour. Alex placed her arms under the bowl and picked it up, barely able to see over the edge. As she took it over to the kneading board, she tripped over the headmistress’s foot. The bowl broke on the floor, and Alex fell into the flour and cried.
Mistress Nielsen stood over her and sneered. “You stupid little girl! Clean this up immediately!”
Alex got angry and threw handfuls of flour defiantly at the headmistress, until she was completely covered in white. Then, Alex laughed and threw flour all over the kitchen.
Mistress Nielsen rushed through the school, covered in flour, to find her husband and demand that he do something with the little terror.
The Commandant met with Tyrone to figure out what to do.
“Perhaps Alex could begin school,” Tyrone suggested. “She could wear a uniform and join the early class. She’d look like one of the boys.”
Having no other option, the Commandant approved the idea. He found her sitting dejectedly on her bed in her frilly pink dress, covered with flour.
“Are you sending me away?” Alex bit her lip–large tears were in her eyes.
“No, you’re going to start class with the boys.”
Alex smiled, jumped off the bed, and hugged her guardian.
The Commandant found her an old uniform, fixed her hair like a boy’s, and accompanied her to class the next day. Delighted, Alex skipped along, holding his hand.
Alex proved to be both an excellent student and a fearless competitor–she never backed down from a fight. She had a fierce and competitive nature, and her uniform was often dirty. Her life improved by avoiding the headmistress as much as she could.
On the other hand, her brother, Beren, didn’t share her enthusiasm and disapproved of her behavior. She was a girl, and he thought she should behave like one. Worse, she was an Elf and a freak. He wished his mother, Lady Isabella, was still alive. She had been a beautiful mortal woman from a distinguished royal family. Unlike his sister, he maintained his uniform impeccably–he was an excellent student and stayed away from fights. After all, he was the proper heir to a Count.
The one thing both children shared was that they missed their father. Alex and Beren waited for him to come for them, but he never did. One day, Gamin, a former servant of the Count’s, arrived and described to them how their father was killed by the evil magic of the Wizard Mylar. Beren blamed Alex for his father’s death and hated her even more intensely–Alex silently vowed to kill the Wizard and focused on her military lessons to defeat him.
Five years later, Alex turned nine on the spring solstice. She was tall and slender with her long black hair tied behind her head, looking like one of the boys.
She had proven her prowess with a bow and arrow and was selected to participate in the academy’s archery tournament. She focused on her targets and hit her marks to perfection.
After several rounds, the Commandant called her to stand beside him. “This was the closest result we’ve had in many years. I congratulate all of you for working hard on your archery prowess. The winner of this year’s tournament is Alex.”
Alex, the youngest winner in school history, jumped for joy. She was awarded a new bow and a sleeve of practice arrows.
Mistress Nielsen didn’t share in the excitement and cornered Alex in her bedroom after the festivities were over. She glowered, pointing her finger at her face.
“You cheated, you little brat!”
“I didn’t cheat!” Alex shook her head.
“You had to. There’s no way anyone your age could have won the tournament. I’m going to tell my husband, you’ll be disqualified for cheating.”
“I didn’t cheat!” Alex stomped her foot.
Mistress Nielsen picked up the bow Alex was awarded from the corner. “You don’t deserve this!”
“Don’t touch it!” Alex pulled it from her hands.
Mistress Nielsen slapped Alex across the face with the back of her hand.
Alex screamed and held her face, holding her bow with fierce indignation and glared.
“Brat!” Mistress Nielsen grabbed her by the hair and threw her against the wall.
Alex screamed and hit her in the face with the bow.
Mistress Nielsen screamed, grabbed the bow from her, and ran to the door.
“Stop!” Alex held up her hand, and the blue light shot from her palm, hitting the wall next to Mistress Nielsen’s head, creating a hole in the plaster.
“What was that?” Mistress Nielsen turned in shock, glaring back at Alex.
“Nothing!” Alex gulped hard.
“It came from you!”
“No, it didn’t!”
“See how weird you are! Normal people can’t do that!” She pointed her finger at Alex.
“I’m not weird!”
“Oh, yes, you are! I’m going to tell my husband! He’ll send you away!” Mistress Nielsen had an evil smile. She opened the door to leave.
“No, you won’t!” Alex paused. “If you do, I’ll tell him I saw you kissing that soldier last week. I know his name.”
Mistress Nielsen gasped and put her hand on her chest. “What? You will do nothing of the sort!” She turned back to Alex.
“I will–I swear!” Alex backed up and stood tall, sticking her chin out defiantly.
Mistress Nielsen backed away, staring at her. Then, she stormed out, throwing the bow on the floor.
Alex took a deep breath and checked her prized bow. It was broken, but she was pretty sure, Mistress Nielsen wouldn’t say anything to the Commandant about her blue light. She stared at her hand. Why did it have to go off now? She had been afraid to try to use it again because she didn’t know how it worked or how to control it. Where did it come from? She shook her hands and swallowed hard.
Mistress Nielsen took some deep breaths after she left Alex’s room. The little brat had been watching her! She had to get rid of her! She ran out of the house to get some fresh air and wandered to the market where she saw one of those female Scouts. They were strange women, dressed like men, but she knew they liked children and would adopt orphans. She just had to convince her that Alex was worth adopting.
Later that evening, Mistress Nielsen escorted the tall, beautiful female Scout to Alex’s room where Alex sat at her desk studying. The woman carried a bow and wore a sword at her waist. Her blond hair, lightened by the sun, was tied behind her head in a long braid, and her skin was deeply tanned.
“This is Alex.” Mistress Nielsen smiled. “We dress her like this, so she looks like a boy to fit in the school, but as I told you, she’s a girl and doesn’t belong here. Her parents are dead, and she’s an orphan. Alex, this is Scout Nora. She’s your new mother. The Commandant himself approved of your adoption!” She frowned at Alex.
“Mother?” Alex’s mouth dropped open.
Mistress Nielsen slapped her across the face. “Don’t question me! Pack!”
“No!” Alex was confused and suspicious. “I want to speak to the Commandant and my brother!” She glared at the headmistress.
“I told you what to do–do it!” Mistress Nielsen pointed at her, but when Alex stood by in defiance, she grabbed handfuls of clothes from the dresser and stuffed them into a cloth bag. She grabbed Alex’s arm and dragged her out of the room.
“Don’t harm her!” Scout Nora smiled reassuringly at Alex. “I’ll take good care of you.”
Mistress Nielsen threw the bag of clothes out the door with Alex. Once the Scout passed through the door, she slammed it in her face with a firm, “Good bye!”
Although Alex felt rejected, she was also relieved to be away from that woman. The Scout seemed nice, but Alex didn’t know anything about her. They spoke little and left Nyla, disappearing quickly into the forest. Alex grabbed her hand and smiled at her.
Scout Nora smiled and squeezed her hand. She didn’t intend to adopt a child, but was glad to get this young girl away from that awful woman. As darkness fell, they approached the campsite in the hills.
In the little village of Winden along the southern coast of Seaward Isle, Aqua, Lady of the Rain and the Witch of Winden, ran out of her little cottage and shouted at the young boys who threw a rock at her window. As she frowned at the broken glass, a vision flashed across it. A Wizard lay dead at the foot of a tall Elf with a sword, but the Elf’s head was located at the hole in the glass. This was a black omen of the future, and she touched it before it vanished. She gasped in fear and cut her finger on the broken glass.
“The Black Elf is coming!” Her eyes were wide with fear. “The Black Elf is coming!” Panicked, Aqua ran through the village, shouting her warning. None of the villagers paid her any heed. Finally, she ran up to Wallace, a man who had once expressed curiosity about magic.
“Wallace, as my apprentice, I order you to find the Black Elf!” She pointed a bony finger at him.
“I ain’t your apprentice, Aqua!” He held up his hand to stop her.
“I ain’t going nowhere!” He waved his middle finger at her.
“If you don’t find him, I’ll put a curse on you, and you’ll wander the halls of the dead forever!” She pointed at him and bared her teeth.
“No curses! That ain’t fair!”
“Who am I looking for?”
“The Black Elf!”
“What’s his name?”
“That’s his name.”
“What does he look like?” He scratched his head.
“I don’t know. The boys threw a rock at my window and left a hole in it.”
“What does that have to do with this Elf?” Wallace raised up his hands in frustration.
“That’s where his head was, but I saw him. Clear as day—he was standing over a dead Wizard. He had a sword in his hand, dripping with blood. He just killed the Wizard with it.” She used her hands to demonstrate the dripping blood and grimaced.
“What Wizard? Why didn’t this Wizard kill him with his magic?”
“I don’t know! I just know this Elf killed the Wizard and will kill all of us with magical powers, even you. Wallace, sneak up on him and kill him first!” Aqua raised her fist and ran back to her cottage near the beach.
Wallace sighed. He shook his head and went to speak to his friends, Turnin and Gorman. A few days later, they saddled their horses and decided to head north to speak to the Elves of Ridgedale. Maybe those Elves would know who this Black Elf was. Whatever else happened, they didn’t want to be cursed.
As they were leaving, Wallace had another idea. He knew where there was a real Wizard. He led his two friends east towards the Castle-by-the-Sea, which had been built by the Wizard Mylar a little while back. They dismounted their horses and stared through the trees to the beach. The Wizard was talking to a blond male Elf sitting on a horse. The next thing they knew, the Elf helped the Wizard onto the horse, and they rode away with several other Elves.
“What’s this? Wasn’t that the Elf Mellen?” Wallace wrinkled his brow.
“Yeah, it looks like him. What’s he doing with the Wizard?” Gorman pointed after them.
“Something bad. It’s always bad news with Mellen.” Wallace glanced at his friends. “Let’s follow them for a while.” They mounted up and left, staying well behind the Elves and the Wizard.
In Book Two of the Seaward Isle Saga, young Alex takes on her new role as a Tracker, an elite soldier of the King's Army. After Alex goes undercover in the market in Agana to gather intelligence, she encounters the pirate spy known only as the Horseman at the tent of the renowned fortunetellers, the Witches of Winden. When she returns to her command and reports the incident to her superiors, she's assigned her first Tracker mission–find and kill the Horseman or die trying. Without any clues as to his real identity, she pieces together his trail, which leads her deep into the pirate stronghold. There, she must go it alone, confronting danger and intrigue around every corner.
“Hey, sweetheart, how’d you like to make some money?” A man with a toothy grin and long hair leaned into Alex’s face. “It’s easy work. Men will pay you good money.”
“No, I have enough money.” Alex backed away from his bad breath. She raised her hand and turned away, staring at the back of the head of the man in front of her in line.
“Come on, love!” The man stroked Alex’s hair. “I’ll treat you real nice. I’ll get you a new dress instead of these rags.” He leaned forward and reached for her face. “You’ll clean up nicely. Black hair, blue eyes. Looks good. You’re a little tall, but you’ll be lying down most of the time.” He laughed.
“Get away from me!” Alex swatted his arm away.
The man clenched his teeth and grabbed her arm firmly, pulling her out of line. “Come on. Let’s go, girl!”
“No! Let go of me!” Alex screamed and pulled her arm back.
“You heard her, man, get away from her!” The man in front of her turned around and pushed him away. He raised his fist.
The first man raised his arms and staggered away. “All right! If you change your mind-”
“Get lost!” The second man waved fist at him. “Beat it, man!” He turned to Alex. “Don’t pay him no mind, girl. He’s drunk. He’ll make you turn tricks and leave you with nothing.”
“Thanks for your help.” Alex nodded and got back in line. Her cheeks were already hot from the sun, but now they felt like hot coals. She broke into a sweat.
“What are you doing here anyway? I ain’t never seen a Scinthian get their fortune read.”
“I want to see how they do it.”
“I don’t know how they do it, but the witches did one for me a few months back, and it all came true. They just re-opened their tent in the market here so I wanted to get another one.”
“They’re the famous Witches of Winden.” The middle-aged woman behind Alex joined in the conversation. “I heard they just came in from Pashkina. Did you hear what happened?”
“No, what happened?” Alex turned around to face her.
“It was invaded by monsters.” The frightened woman covered her mouth.
“Not monsters! Trolls and goblins,” the man said. “Get your facts straight, woman.”
“It’s the same thing. They burnt the place down.” The woman raised her hands in the air.
“Them creatures don’t use fire! The soldiers used fire to drive them away, but couldn’t stop them.” The man shook his head. “This is how rumors get started.” He rolled his eyes.
“Pashamon brought one of them to the palace here.” The woman pointed at the large, white building not far away. “It’s in the dungeon.”
“No, he couldn’t do that because he’s dead! And, there’s nothing in this dungeon because there ain’t one. Don’t you know nothing? The King’s soldiers brought Pashamon’s body in yesterday. It was in two pieces, I heard. We’re going to have a huge funeral for him next week.”
“They’ll just build Pashkina back again and them pirates’ll be crawling all over the place.”
“Not this time! The King’s just declared it a dangerous creature zone. If the pirates want it, they’ll have to build it and that won’t happen. They’re lazy bums.”
Alex swiveled her head back and forth between the two, listening intently. She’d come to the market to find out the status of Pashamon, the King’s brother and leader of Pashkina. Based on what this man said, Pashamon was dead so the port could no longer be a pirate haven. When she reports this to her Colonel, he could safely close the Outpost, the remote border station monitoring its activity where she was stationed as the training officer.
Just then, her attention was drawn to some movement in the tent. An old woman in a patchworked robe came out from the back of the open tent and leaned on her cane. She gazed at the line in front of it.
“Have your fortune read here! Meet Eclipse, Daughter of the Moon, who can peer into your future! Only one brassie to uncover your potential!” The old witch tapped her cane on the wooden deck to draw more attention. She wore a hood over a mop of graying brown hair with a pale and wrinkled face.
The man in front of Alex stepped forward and handed her a brassie. She took him in the tent and sat him at a table where a younger woman sat and shuffled cards.
“That’s Aqua, Lady of the Rain, in the front, and there’s Eclipse.” The woman behind Alex pointed at the young witch in the back of the tent. “She’s the daughter of the Moon. Best fortuneteller in the world.”
The older witch, Aqua, returned to the front of the tent.
Alex stood next in line. “How can you tell the future?” She eagerly handed her a brassie.
“You will see. Eclipse can read your future with the cards.” Her high-pitched voice seemed to sing her answer. The old woman made her wait until the man left the tent and led her inside to the table. Eclipse was much younger with large brown eyes and curly brown hair. Her robe was also made of patches.
Alex sat down and smiled at her. “Good day. How can you tell the future?” She folded her hands on the table.
“I use these cards.” Eclipse smiled at the young girl and shuffled the deck of playing cards. She spread the cards in a line across the table. “Let’s begin. Pick a card.”
Alex drew the Ace of Clubs.
“Put it on the table.” Eclipse put four cards around it, face down. “The card you drew tells me who you are. You’ve drawn a club that can be used for hunting so you’re a hunter and a searcher. You tend to travel alone because the card is an ace. You’re quite unique. Do you see?”
Alex glanced down at her clothes. “You can tell that much from my clothes, can’t you?”
Eclipse continued on quickly. “This card positioned above the Ace represents your career. It’s the five of Diamonds. It means that you won’t have a traditional occupation since it’s an odd number, but you’ll become wealthy from your work.” Eclipse blinked and smiled with skepticism. “Are you one of those Scouts? I’ve never had one come to me before.”
“I think I know why.” Alex propped her chin on her hand.
Eclipse stopped smiling and quickly turned over the next card. “This next card is nearest to your heart and represents your love life and possibly, marriage.” It was the Jack of Spades. She shook her head. “You’ll experience great difficulty with love.”
“How do you know that?” Alex frowned.
“This card represents heartbreak. The spade is an upside-down black heart, and the Jack represents men. You must be cautious with your choice of men in the future, but it also tells me that you’ve already experienced problems in the past.” She pointed at the card with a wry grin.
“Does this include all men, even my brother?”
Alex sighed and frowned. “Who hasn’t had some sort of heartbreak?”
“This next card tells me about your health.” Eclipse turned over a ten of Hearts. “This card means that you’ll be healthy, and you’ll have more lives than a cat.”
“Cats have nine lives.” Alex shook her head. “How can I have more than one?”
“This card is your future.” The card was the Jack of Diamonds.
“What does it mean?” Alex tapped her fingers on the table impatiently.
“It means that you’ll find the man you’re searching for which is the Jack, become wealthy in the process that’s the diamond, but there’ll be a lot of turmoil in the process of doing so.”
“Turmoil? What kind of turmoil?”
“Any kind. Two Jacks in the same circle means turmoil, maybe fighting. It’s not a good sign and may involve two men, pulling you in opposite directions.” Eclipse put her fingers on the two opposing Jacks. “It may even be a love triangle.” She shook her head.
With a great racket, a dozen large seamen suddenly rushed past Aqua into the tent. She screamed as one grabbed Alex by the hair and dragged her out of the chair. Eclipse screamed as the bystanders rushed away.
“Gentlemen, I told you to be polite.” A tall, handsome man dressed in fine clothes entered the tent and smiled coldly. “The Witches of Winden, a pleasure to see you. The accuracy of your prophecies is legendary!” Then, he violently slammed his walking stick on Eclipse’s table. Whap! “I understand you were in Pashkina. Tell me what you saw!”
Aqua and Eclipse were too frightened to answer.
“Answer me!” He slammed his walking stick on the table again. Whap! The cards went flying into the air.
Alex bent down to gather them up before they blew away.
“We were at the palace about to give readings,” Aqua said, “and then, I saw this huge, blue thing run into the room, followed by more large, ugly things. We ran to a ship and got away. That’s all we saw.” Her hands shook as she waved them in the air. Her eyes were opened very wide with fear.
The man motioned for her to come forward. Two men lifted her by the arms and stood her in front of him.
“Where was Pashamon?” He glared at her.
“One of those ugly things grabbed him and tore his head off. Blood went all over.” Aqua grimaced with disgust and shook her head.
“What about the prisoners in the dungeon?”
“That’s where the ugly things came from!”
The man slapped her with the back of his hand and sent her flying.
“You, witch, give me a reading, now!” The man pointed at Eclipse.
“I need my cards.” Eclipse stood at the table, shaking. Another man forced her to sit.
Alex handed her a stack of cards. “Here.” She stepped back from the table, but stayed inside the tent, acting like an assistant. She glanced nervously at the two large men on either side of her, wondering what she could do if they decided to attack the witch.
Eclipse took a deep breath and shuffled the cards. “Let’s begin.” She spread the cards across the table. “Pick a card.” She swallowed hard.
The man drew the Jack of Diamonds.
“You’re very lucky and rich.” Eclipse took a deep breath.
“I know that. Continue.” He waved his hand at her.
Eclipse placed his card in the middle of the table and placed four cards around it in a circle face down, just as she had done for Alex. She turned over the card at the top, the King of Spades. “You’ll be most successful in your career. You’ll reach the top of your field.”
“I am at the top of my field. Next!”
“The Queen of Hearts. A woman is madly in love with you and wants to marry you.”
Then, Eclipse drew the six of Spades. “You’ll attain a great estate in six months.” She pressed her lips together and forced a nervous smile.
“Six months?” The young man smiled and clapped his hands once. “Are you sure? It had better not be longer than that!” He pointed his index finger at her.
“Yes, within six months.”
“The next card will tell me about your future.” She drew a card that caused her to stop and inhale sharply.
“Are you all right? What’s the matter?” The man leaned forward.
“Someone is going to try to kill you. You must be cautious.” Eclipse had a worried expression.
“Who is it?” He leaned on his arms.
“I don’t know his name, but his card has shown up before. We call him, ‘the Black Elf.'”
“I need more information than that. Why is he the Ace of Clubs?” He glared at her.
“A club is a weapon, but it’s not just the card. The position of it in the circle of your life also matters. It’s in your future. This Elf murdered a Wizard only a few nights ago. My friend, Aqua, can confirm that. She had a vision of the Wizard’s death. You must be very careful, especially in the next six months. You’re next!” Eclipse was clearly frightened, but gathered herself and hid her smile.
“Is he really an Elf? I know many Elves have great respect for witches and wizards. Why would he kill one?”
“Yes! The most powerful of all the Elves. Beware!” She swallowed hard and shouted at her friend. “Aqua, that Black Elf card showed up again!” She patted her chest to catch her breath.
The old woman gasped and hobbled over, leaning on her cane. “You must be very careful, young sir. The Black Elf’s power can’t be matched!” Aqua put her hand to her frightened face. “I had a vision of the Wizard Mylar, lying dead at his feet.”
“What did he look like?” He frowned and shifted in the chair uncomfortably.
“I couldn’t see his face. It was covered by a black hood.” She shook her head.
“How will I know who it is?”
“That’s the problem. No one can detect the Black Elf, not even the Elves. That’s why the Wizard is dead. His Elf friends couldn’t warn him that he was nearby.”
The man leaned back and frowned. “I see. Do it again! I want more information about this Black Elf!” He tapped his cane on the table.
“The cards have spoken, sir. They’ve given all of their information.” Eclipse shook her head.
“What! Do you defy me?” He hit her on the head with his walking stick. Then, he turned the table over and scattered the cards. “Imposters! I will have you banned!” He kicked the chair, stormed away, and pushed Aqua to the ground with his cane. He turned to the men. “Set sail for Pashkina, immediately.”
“Aye, aye, Horseman!” The sailors with him left for the port.
Alex turned when she heard their response. Horseman?
Eclipse lay under the wooden table, sobbing.
Alex rushed over and lifted the table off her. She helped her sit up and checked her for injuries. “You’ve got a nasty bump on your head. You’d better take it easy.” Alex wrapped a scarf around Eclipse’s head to stop the bleeding. She moved over to Aqua. “How about you?”
“I’ve been hurt worse. He was in a nasty mood today.” Aqua sat up.
“Do you know who he is?” Alex helped her stand up.
“Yes. The pirates call him the Horseman.”
“Who is he?” Alex shook her head.
“I don’t know. They treat him like he’s a king or something. He acts like it, too. Arrogant bastard! Don’t know where he’s from, but we need to fix him.” Aqua stared at the tall ship in the harbor, raising its sails and shook her fist as a sailor blew on his whistle, and a bell rang.
Alex went back to Eclipse who was more seriously injured. “Can you stand?”
Eclipse shook her head, and tears fell. “I’m really dizzy. Help me to a chair.”
“Of course.” Alex helped her up. “Sit here for a few moments and take a drink of water.” She helped Aqua straighten up the tent and picked up the remaining cards.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize, but we must close.” Aqua stood in front of the people remaining in line. “We’ll be back as soon as we can. Eclipse needs to rest.” Then, she returned to the tent. “Help me take Eclipse to the emergency tent, girl. They’ll get us home.”
Alex helped Eclipse to her feet and escorted her to another tent at the end of the row.
“Thank you for your help, young lady. You were the Ace of Clubs, weren’t you?” Eclipse smiled at her. “I’ll remember you.”
In the emergency tent, Eclipse sat down and drew the attention of a handsome young man who tended to her injured head. She smiled with delight, resting and drinking some water.
Eclipse didn’t like to lie to her customers, but in this case, she didn’t have a problem with it. The Horseman‘s six of Spades was a death card. He would be six feet under in six months–his grave dug by a spade. So what if she lied? The Ace of Clubs will take care of him–it was the assassin’s card.
Wasn’t it odd that the young girl’s card was the Ace of Clubs? Could she be the Black Elf? What a silly thought! Ridiculous! But, didn’t she have blue hair in her ears? Only Elves have that. No, don’t be silly! A girl would never do anything like that. Eclipse glanced around for any sight of the girl, but she had vanished into the mass of people.
Alex left the witches and strolled to the harbor where the ship prepared to sail. The name on it was Narcin. She leaned against a pole to watch and thought about her omen and the other man’s. She could hardly remember what hers was about. She had an Ace of Clubs and the Jack of Diamonds, or did he? It was both, but in different order. The omens were tangled up. Alex scratched her head in confusion and tried to sort it out.
Wait a minute! The witch said this man was called the Horseman. If so, then he was the pirate spy who plotted against the King and gave away his most secret plans. His latest plot resulted in the abduction of eight soldiers from the Forest Army and included the King’s brother, Captain Lawrence. Alex didn’t know how the plot was meant to unfold, but she had rescued him and opened the gate that let the creatures into Pashkina as a diversion. Apparently, the Horseman was waiting here to meet the ship with his hostage, but it didn’t show up.
Alex took special note of his appearance for her report to the Colonel. The Horseman was a handsome man in his twenties, of average height and weight, brown hair, brown eyes, wearing a perfectly tailored coat and polished leather boots. His face had no unusual or distinguishing features. He spoke the common tongue and the local language of Aganan like an aristocrat, unlike the sailors around him. He was very confident and arrogant, prone to violence. He had a walking stick, but didn’t have a limp or difficulty walking. There was no need for it, except intimidation.
Alex watched from a distance. The ship flew a small white flag with a ship’s wheel.
“What you looking at, girlie?” A sailor from the ship approached her, wearing a necklace with a ship’s wheel.
“It’s a beautiful ship.” Alex admired the height of the mast and backed up.
“Come onboard, blue eyes. I’ll show you around.” He smiled at her.
“No, thanks.” She felt uncomfortable with his stare and backed away, disappearing into the crowds that thronged the market.
Alex continued wandering the market, listening for any more discussion about Pashamon, Pashkina or the Horseman. While some merchants openly discussed the destruction of Pashkina and funeral preparations for Pashamon, no one talked about the Horseman or the pirates.
Again, Alex thought about those witches. She was relieved that they couldn’t see who she was and felt safe for now, but wondered how much they really knew. What was this vision they saw? How could the old one see the Wizard die? She’d killed him herself–in the Governor’s bedroom at midnight. That didn’t make any sense. However, it did make sense that the Elves couldn’t detect her. They didn’t alert on her presence while she hid behind the dressing screen. That was good to know.
She paid for some fruit and bread at a stand and hurried to her horse. She checked her pockets for more coins. She didn’t regret spending a brassie on her fortune because it was entangled with the Horseman’s. Now that she’d seen his face, she could identify him. Was it just coincidence? If she was the Ace of Clubs in his future, was he the Jack of Diamonds in hers?
Alex spurred her horse on. Out to sea, the Narcin sailed majestically in front of the circle of storms that surrounded the island. The ship headed east towards Pashkina. Alex paralleled its path until the road turned away from the sea, and the ship sailed into deeper water.
Further away at sea, dark clouds filled the horizon, and lightning flashed. These vicious storms caused the shipwrecks that stranded people on the island and kept them trapped forever. Since everyone wanted to be seaward bound away from here, they named the place, “Seaward Isle.”
Alex had been born here. She didn’t know the world beyond the storms. It was an unspoken custom among most of the island’s inhabitants however, not to talk about their homeland because they couldn’t get back. Still, it made her wonder. Where did the Horseman come from? How long ago? Her frustration rose–she didn’t know his real name, much less where he came from. She reviewed his appearance in her mind again for her report. Then, she spurred her horse to return to the Outpost.
BLOOD MISSION puts the fate of kings and the safety of the inhabitants of Seaward Isle in the hands of a teenaged half-elf warrior, Lady Alexin. When the lives of Prince Darin and Lord Odin are threatened by the rogue Elf Mellen in a plot to kill them both and take over Seaward Isle, Alex trained as a tracker, is charged with her most dangerous mission yet–a Blood Mission. She will have to use her skills to hunt Mellen down and kill him, or die in the attempt. With dark magic, the power of the Shadows and a wizard on his side, will Alex survive her mission long enough to discover her own true destiny? The plot grows more complex when Mellen attempts a coup, and Alex discovers that he is kidnapping shipwreck survivors to enlist them as pirates, even as she is courted by a handsome Colonel, greedy for her inheritance. Will Alex be able to harness her own powers and free the inhabitants of Seaward Isle?
Drenched and muddy, Alex spurred her horse through the heavy rain, more concerned about a possible assassination attempt on her cousin, Prince Darin of the Water Elves than herself. Alex had discovered the plot when she overheard a telepathic conversation in Elfspeak between the Elf Mellen, a pirate leader and an unknown accomplice, someone on the Prince’s staff.
Even though Alex saw faces when they spoke, she wasn’t sure she could recognize the accomplice again. She didn’t know his name, only that he was blond with blue eyes and pointed ears. Hundreds of Elves looked like that.
Alex had tried to warn her cousin in Elfspeak, but he didn’t respond to her telepathic inquiries, so her journey took on a new meaning, and she feared the worst.
With her hood pulled tight around her face, she cast a wary eye at the dark clouds and urged her horse on, reaching the outskirts of the city of Southport along the southern coast of Seaward Isle in record time. To her relief, everything seemed normal when she rode up to the gate.
The guard welcomed her politely.
“Good day, Lady Alexin. Nasty weather today.”
“Is Prince Darin all right?”
“Yes, he’s fine. I told him you were here.” He held her horse as she dismounted.
Somewhat relieved, Alex ran the last hundred feet to the front door through a cloudburst and was shown in. A woman servant handed her a dry towel.
“Welcome, Lady Alexin.” Eskin saluted and curtsied to her.
“Thanks, Eskin. Sorry, I’m dripping all over. How’s Prince Darin?”
“Fine. He’ll be here shortly.” Eskin left, taking her weapons to the armory.
Alex breathed easier, hoping that she had arrived in time to foil the plot. But she needed to see him to make sure. She quickly dried her hands and face and took off her backpack, quickly turning the soldier’s rucksack inside out to find some dry clothes. Behind a screen, she changed into a pair of rough brown britches, a white shirt, and white socks, the uniform worn by soldiers of the Kingdom of Northeast Forest. She set the wet ones to dry beside the fire along with her boots.
Much to her relief, Prince Darin stepped through the door. Alex smiled and greeted him with a salute, by placing her right hand over her chest and curtsied, the traditional Elf greeting for a woman.
“Thank goodness, you’re all right.” She nodded to him.
“Of course I am. What are you doing here?” He folded his arms across his chest.
“Colonel Penser gave me some leave after my last mission. I tried to Elfspeak to you, but you didn’t answer so I got worried.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“I need to tell you something. There’s a plot to free the prisoners from your dungeon. Mellen said–”
“I overheard him Elfspeak to someone, but I don’t know who it was.”
“I thought I told you not to do that anymore.”
“I know, but I can hear Mellen.” Alex shrugged. “I don’t know how it happens.”
“Go on.” He scowled.
“Well, he said he needed the prisoners freed as soon as possible, and he wanted you killed along with the guards.”
The Prince raised an eyebrow. “Very well. I’ll have the guards doubled immediately.” He glanced away to Elfspeak and turned back. “General Tarsin is on his way. Anything else?”
“I was wondering if you could arrange a meeting for me with my Elf grandmother. I don’t remember ever meeting her.”
“Lady Lestin? Of course, I’ll do that in the morning.” He showed her to the sofa and sat in a chair opposite her, looking away, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.
Alex sat, biting her lip. She slid her hands under her knees and wondered what to say to him without pissing him off.
A few moments later, General Tarsin came in, breaking the tension in the room. He saluted stiffly, pounding his right fist on his brown leather vest, as he dropped to one knee.
Prince Darin nodded. “Tarsin, double the guards on the prisoners immediately.”
Tarsin looked up curiously–his face wet, dripping with rain. He swiped his face with his hand and his blue eyes narrowed. “Yes, your Highness, but may I ask why?”
“I’ve received some information that Mellen is going to try to free the prisoners.”
Tarsin stood up. “From whom? I haven’t heard anything.”
“From Alex, my young mortal cousin.” He waved his hand at her. “Take all precautions necessary.”
“Yes, of course, your Highness. She’s your mortal cousin?” Tarsin’s steely gaze settled on her.
“Through Lady Lestin.”
“Oh, I see.” He frowned. “I’ll take care of it right away. Where is Lord Odin, by the way? The guards are expecting him.”
“Running late, but then again, an Elder is never late.” Prince Darin chuckled.
Tarsin pressed his thin lips together in a tight line. He pounded his chest again, bowed, and left the room.
Alex felt the hair at the nape of her neck rise–the way he pressed his lips together seemed familiar. Was he the one talking to Mellen? No, he couldn’t be, she concluded. He’s the Prince’s general.
Prince Darin nodded to her. “Satisfied? Now, join me for supper. Lord Odin will be here soon.”
“Thank you. Where is he?”
“He had a meeting with King Pallis of Southport.”
The table was set with a sumptuous feast of baked fish, roasted tubers, fresh tomatoes, and lettuce, along with a variety of apples and loaves of fresh bread. Alex’s mouth watered–she was starving. All she’d had to eat today was a soggy apple turnover.
Prince Darin sat at the end of the banquet table with Alex to his left. They sipped some wine and snacked on bread while they waited for Lord Odin, the leader of the Elves on Seaward Isle. Alex felt a palpable chill in the air, as well as the effects of wine on an empty stomach. She ate another piece of bread, slathered with butter.
Fortunately, Lord Odin came in and smiled at her, extending his arms to embrace her. “Alex, how wonderful to see you again. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long.” His blue eyes sparkled with delight as he took the chair next to her and began chatting about his conversation with the King.
However, Alex was more interested in eating than talking, but nodded frequently to show her interest in the discussion.
Just as they finished, Tarsin came in with several soldiers, carrying large bottles of wine. “Forgive my interruption, your Highness. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve doubled the guards.”
“Well done.” Prince Darin sipped his wine.
“In addition, I just found this wine at the market. It’s a new blend. I thought you might be interested.” Tarsin showed him the bottles.
“Indeed.” Lord Odin drank some wine and saw Alex yawn. “However, I think Alex needs to go to bed.”
“I’m all right.” Alex put her hand over her mouth to hide another yawn. “I’m not used to drinking wine.”
“Tarsin, have one of the servants take Alex up to the guest bedroom. You will stay the night, Alex,” Prince Darin said.
“Thank you, but that’s not necessary.” Alex yawned once more. “Maybe it is necessary. Thank you for supper. Good night.” She stood up and followed Eskin, the female servant, to the guest bedroom upstairs.
Alex stood in awe of the room with its plush furnishings–Eskin urged her inside. The floor was covered with a patterned wool rug, resembling a coral reef on the bottom of the ocean, and the bedding was made of sea blue silk with hand-embroidered fish, swimming in colorful schools. Alex had never seen such a beautiful quilt.
She sat on the blue velvet sofa where she found her clothes, dried and neatly folded and on the floor were her boots, dry and polished. She moved her clothes to a nearby table and lay down on the sofa, sinking into the comfortable cushions. She sighed and closed her eyes, relaxing after her hard ride and all that wine.
She was about to fall asleep, when she overheard Mellen’s voice in Elfspeak.
“Tarsin, is it done?” Her eyes popped open. Tarsin’s name came as a surprise, but it confirmed her suspicion–he was the accomplice. She closed her eyes again to listen as the two Elves shared their thoughts. This was the peculiar technique Prince Darin had told her not to do, but she had little control over it and remained as quiet as possible. A few seconds later, Tarsin replied.
“Not yet, Mellen. Darin’s mortal cousin showed up, a girl by the name of Alex. She told him that you were going to rescue the prisoners, so he had me double the guards.”
“How did she know?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t tell me. I have a new plan–poisoned wine. I got some snowflake from the witches.”
“I didn’t know he had a mortal cousin. What does she look like?”
“Tall, skinny, with black hair and blue eyes. Darin called her an ugly mongrel.”
“Hold on, I know her. Where is she?”
“I’ll take care of her. Finish off Darin and Odin, now.”
Alarmed, Alex sat up, glancing around the room. She heard Mellen’s voice shout at her in Elfspeak, and his cold blue eyes glared at her.
“I know you can hear me, bitch!” His eyes narrowed. “You’re going to die!” He laughed.
A tingling sensation began at her temples and quickly radiated across her scalp. Then pain stabbed at the center of her forehead–Alex grabbed her head and tried to block the pain, but it grew more intense until she screamed and curled up into a ball, rocking and crying at the same time.
“No-o-o!” Alex cried. “You won’t break me!” Alex spewed thoughts of anger at Mellen and felt her pain ease. As she braced herself for another round, she clutched her head with her hands and waited, but the pressure stopped altogether, and Mellen’s face was gone.
Her hands shook. She didn’t know it was possible to feel such terrible power through Elfspeak. Her head was pounding, and she felt sick to her stomach. She took several deep breaths and realized she had to find Prince Darin before he drank the wine, even if he did think she was an ugly mongrel.
As she reached for her boots, she froze, alert to a noise outside her bedroom door. Her eyes widened as she swept her long black hair from her face. She leaned against the door and listened. As she slowly turned the knob, she held her breath and opened it a crack to see Lord Odin at his bedroom door, staring at her. She slipped out with her boots in hand.
“I need to talk to you, Lord Odin…privately.” She gently pushed him inside his chamber and closed the door.
“Are you all right, Alex? I thought I heard you scream.”
“Mellen did something to me in Elfspeak–I felt this pressure in my head. I think I’m all right now.” She nodded.
“It’s called cranial thrust therapy. Let me look at you. It can be deadly.” He raised his glass to take a sip of wine first.
“Don’t drink that, Lord Odin.” Alex took his wineglass from his hand and set it on the table. “It’s been poisoned.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Tarsin just poured it out of the bottle. It’s a new blend. I want to try it.” Lord Odin reached around her for the glass.
Alex blocked him. “A new blend? Right–blended with poison. He used snowflake. We have to find Prince Darin.”
“I just left him. He was fine. How do you know this? Are you sure you’re all right?”
Alex grabbed his wrist as he reached for the glass once more. “I heard Mellen talking to Tarsin in Elfspeak, and Tarsin said he poisoned the wine.”
“Elfspeak? You can hear our thoughts?” Lord Odin raised his eyebrows. “Oh yes, I recall this now.” Calmly, he picked a long green leaf from the flower arrangement and dipped it into the wine–it turned white. His jaw dropped. “My stars! We must get to Prince Darin, now.” He grabbed a leather valise and threw it at Alex. “Bring this.”
Her knees buckled under the weight of the valise, but she held onto it without dropping her boots. She followed him to the dining hall as she glanced around on the lookout for Tarsin.
Lord Odin waved his hand to open the heavy wooden door and found Prince Darin sprawled out on the floor, unconscious. His face was as white as a snowflake.
Alex ran in beside him, setting the valise down with a thud. She caught her breath and stared at her cousin as she slipped her boots on.
“Why is his face so white?” She grimaced.
“It’s a sign of the poison.” Lord Odin fumbled through the bottles in the valise. “Where’s my antidote for snowflake?” He checked again. “I don’t have it.”
“I used mint when I was poisoned with it once, but I didn’t turn white like this. At least, no one said I did.”
“Mint? Well, it won’t hurt.” Lord Odin rummaged through the valise and found a large bottle of dried mint leaves. “Get some hot water, Alex.” He examined the bottles once more. “Unicorn horn shavings. This will absorb the poison. Where’s the hot water?” He emptied the bottle of mint leaves into a bowl.
Alex returned with a kettle of hot water, pouring it over the mint leaves.
Lord Odin added the unicorn horn shavings, and the potion sizzled and steamed. He stirred it, put a small amount on a spoon, and blew on it.
“Open his mouth,” he said.
Alex used her fingers to move her cousin’s lips apart, and Lord Odin poured several drops of the cooled potion onto his teeth, then moved his cheeks around.
After several long seconds, the Prince tasted the mint on his lips. His breathing was shallow, but he was alive. His eyes fluttered open, and his hand moved.
Lord Odin and Alex sighed in unison.
At that moment, a male servant ran into the room. “My lord, the guards are dying.”
“Gather the servants. I’ll need help.” Lord Odin waved at him. With Alex’s assistance, he made more of the potion as the servants arrived.
Alex administered the potion to two guards at the other end of the hall. Then, she ran out the door, heading to the front gate with a bowl of potion. When she reached the courtyard, she was knocked over from behind. Her bowl shattered on the ground.
Tarsin grabbed her by the hair and turned her around, punching her in the face. She fell to the ground and saw Tarsin standing over her with clenched fists.
“Tarsin, the ship.” Another male Elf pulled on his arm. “Come on, they’re waiting.”
Disgusted, Tarsin spat at her and ran off.
Alex wiped the spittle off her face and shook her head to clear it. She stumbled to the gate where a whistle drew her attention to the port. A lone ship sailed away with a group of raucous Elves on board. She clearly heard Tarsin’s voice among them.
Lord Odin pulled her back. “Get back inside. We must secure the fortress.” With a wave of his hand, the fallen guards were levitated into the compound, and the gates closed.
Alex stared at the guards in amazement–she had never witnessed levitation before.
She ran to the first guard and turned him over; his face shone white in the moonlight. She administered a teaspoon of the potion from Lord Odin’s bowl and moved on to the next. His face was also white, and she gave him a spoonful. The two guards began to stir as some servants came to help.
“Alex, let’s check on Prince Darin.” Lord Odin grabbed her arm, and they headed inside.
The Prince hadn’t moved, but was awake. His once vibrant blue eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling. He blinked several times, trying to focus, and licked his lips. His breathing was regular but shallow, and his face was still very white.
Lord Odin hovered over him. “You’re going to be fine, Prince Darin. Alex, give him more of the potion and keep his head elevated, so he won’t choke on it.”
Alex sat on the floor and lifted Prince Darin’s head to her lap.
Lord Odin handed her a spoon and placed a bowl beside her. “Here, remember make the doses small and keep his head up.”
Alex monitored her cousin’s condition as Lord Odin and the servants brought twenty poisoned guards to the dining hall for treatment. All were doing better, but still very ill.
Prince Darin reached for her. “Alex, what happened?”
Alex squeezed his hand. “Tarsin poisoned the wine. I heard him Elfspeak to Mellen.”
“Tarsin? And Mellen? What did they say?”
“Mellen asked Tarsin if it was done, and he said no because you had put more guards on duty. Tarsin told him he poisoned the wine with snowflake to free the prisoners and sailed away on a ship. They’re all gone.”
“Tarsin, my own general? No doubt he’d kept Mellen informed all these years. So, that’s how he managed to escape me.” His eyes struggled to focus on her. “What else did they say?”
“That was all. Thank the stars, I saw Lord Odin before he drank the wine. Then, we found you.”
“How many guards?” He tried to sit up and look around.
“Just relax, Prince Darin. There are twenty guards here, and they’re responding to the potion just like you are.”
Prince Darin grabbed her collar, bringing her face close to his. He gritted his teeth and said, “Alex, kill Mellen and Tarsin for me. I know you can do it. Find them and kill them. They must be stopped. You are my cousin–we are bound to each other. Swear it to me!”
“M-Me?” Alex stammered.
“Where’s your blade?”
Alex pulled her assassin’s blade from her wrist cuff and flicked it open, handing it to him. He pricked his finger on the sharp edge and let the blood flow along the thin blade.
“What are you doing?” She gasped.
“This is how Elves assign a dangerous mission–a Blood Mission.” He watched his blood drip slowly onto the blade.
“A Blood Mission? You mean like I must complete it or die?”
“Yes, my blood authorizes you to complete this task, whatever it takes. If you need anything, just ask. I owe you my life. I will be in your debt forever.” Exhausted, he fell back against her lap and closed his eyes. The knife clattered on the floor.
“Prince Darin?” Alex shook him, but he didn’t wake up. “Damn it, wake up!” Just then, Mellen’s face flashed through her mind–his evil smile gave her the chills. Her head began throbbing once more, and her vision blurred.
“No–” Alex stopped mid-sentence, directing angry thoughts at Mellen. She envisioned blood dripping from his nose–then everything turned black, and she slumped to the floor beside her cousin.
When a modern day reporter is stranded on the mysterious Seaward Isle, she begins an investigation into its location, its history and mythic origins even as she and her husband struggle to make their way in this strange, uncharted world.
Have you ever played the island game? You know the one–if you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you bring? My friends and I used to ponder the philosophical answers and laugh at the impractical ones, like when I wanted to take my blow dryer. They laughed at me. No power, they said, but look at my hair, I replied. It didn’t matter. It was just for a laugh. None of us would ever be stranded. At least, that’s what I used to think.
My name is Olivia Richards. I’m a free lance journalist from New York City. I lived there with my husband, John, the architect. That was before we actually got stranded on an uncharted island called Seaward Isle along with thousands of other people.
John and I were on vacation, sailing on a small yacht in the Mediterranean Sea when a storm appeared out of nowhere. We rode it out below deck, clinging to each other, but when we felt it crash, we scrambled to safety on the shores of Seaward Isle. The place wasn’t on our charts nor was it on anyone else’s. The truth is, we don’t know where we are. The local residents took us in, treated our minor injuries, and released us to join the rest of the population.
Island life has its own share of problems, not the least of which is finding a job. In the few weeks we’ve been here, neither of us has found any meaningful employment. Most of the jobs here are menial and unskilled. I have over ten years of experience in journalism, documenting wars and revolutions, but never anything like this.
I have a wild idea to start a newspaper to make some money, so I’ve scheduled an exclusive interview with Lord Odin, leader of the Elves on this island for today, July 30, 2011 according to my calendar, at 3 o’clock this afternoon. And just so you know, I haven’t gone island crazy yet. There are people here who claim to be Elves. I intend to find out who they really are.
Since there’s no electricity here, I’m not sure how I’ll be able to produce a newspaper, but I’ll write it by hand if I have to. No power also means that most of our salvaged equipment won’t work. My husband heroically dove underwater to retrieve a bag containing our most precious electronic equipment, not to mention my blow dryer. I threw it away when I realized there was nothing to plug it into, and my friends had been right to laugh at me. My light brown hair is a mass of unruly curls, but I’ve noticed all the women here have the same problem.
Our laptop and phones were soaked, so my husband rinsed them with fresh water and let them dry. To our surprise, one of the phones turned on–for a few minutes. I tried to call my mother in California, but couldn’t get in touch with her. I left her a message. I hope she gets it.
The island residents led us to a small salvage yard where we found a solar charger for double-A batteries for the hand-held tape recorder that was in my jacket pocket when we crashed. As a reporter, I got used to carrying it all the time, just in case. We also found an old manual typewriter. Now, all I need is a good source of paper.
We were told that there is no way to escape this island, and I can confirm that. Just last week, I witnessed an attempt by a brave family in a homemade sailboat. The boat was destroyed in the storms that surround the island, and the family drowned.
But I want answers. Hopefully, we’ll get off this island someday, and I’ll be able to share my experiences with the world.
For the first time, all three books of Joni Parker's Seaward Isle trilogy available in one bargain bundle! Including The Black Elf of Seaward Isle, Tangled Omens, and Blood Mission, readers will relish the adventures of the young female warrior Lady Alexin.
After a thousand years, Lady Alexin (Alex) Dumwalt breaks the spell around Seaward Isle, a ring of storms so powerful no one could leave the island. She joins the exodus of Elves, Dwarves, and mortals to Eledon, the World of the Elves on the other side of the entry point. But Alex faces a difficult decision. Her Water Elf grandmother expects her to stay in Eledon, but Alex was born and raised as a mortal. Her mixed blood, Elf and mortal, means that she must choose between staying in Eledon or following the other mortals who will soon leave for the mortal world through a special entry point created for them. What will she do?
The fate of Seaward Isle and all its inhabitants weighed heavily on Alex’s mind as she trudged up the stairs at her cousin’s fortress in Southport. Her thoughts wavered between doubt and fear—doubt she could achieve what was being asked of her and fearful of the consequences should she succeed. Her black boots scraped against the stone steps leading to the turret, and she straightened her brown uniform as she reached the top landing. There, she was greeted by bright sunlight, forcing her to shield her blue eyes from the glare. The wind caught her long, black hair and blew it into her face.
Across the rooftop, her blond-haired cousin, Prince Darin of the Water Elves and Lord Odin, the leader of the Elves on Seaward Isle, stared out to sea as a line of storms moved in closer to shore. She stopped short of them and saluted by placing her right hand over her chest and curtsying, the proper greeting to the two most powerful Elves on the island.
“Good morning, Lord Odin…Prince Darin.” She nodded to her cousin who returned a nod of his own.
“Good morning, Alex.” Lord Odin smiled—his long blond hair shone in the sun and his blue eyes twinkled. “I hope you don’t mind doing this experiment.”
“Sure, no problem, but I don’t think it’ll work.”
“Of course it will. Think positive.” He put his arm around her shoulders. “Sit over here by the turret. You’ll have the best view.”
“Thanks.” Alex squinted in the sunshine and sat in a wooden chair at the base of the turret, staring down at the beach far below her.
“By the way, Prince Darin and I took the liberty of bringing the storms closer to shore.” He pointed to the line of dark clouds less than a mile away, where thunder rumbled.
Alex grimaced. “Why didn’t you stop them?”
He shook his head. “I can’t and neither can Prince Darin. We can only move them around.”
“What makes you think I can?”
“I know you can. I have the utmost confidence in you.”
Although grateful for the vote of confidence, Alex paled, and beads of sweat formed on her upper lip. For a thousand years, Elves, Dwarves, and mortals from different lands and times remained stranded here because of the storms. Now, they were so close she could see them as never before. Sweeping winds churned black clouds into a boiling rage—pierced by long fingers of lightning as sheets of rain fell into the turbulent sea. It was a terrifyingly beautiful sight.
“You may begin, Alex.” Lord Odin stepped aside.
Alex paused, flinching as lightning flashed. After a few seconds, she looked up at Lord Odin. “What am I supposed to do? Tell it to stop?”
Lord Odin raised his eyebrows. “Yes, well…let me help you. Close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Relax. Inhale and exhale.” He breathed in and out. “Now, imagine yourself flying through the storms…see the dark clouds…feel the rain as it falls…watch the waves roll by.”
As he spoke, Alex closed her eyes, holding her arms out to the side—her body tingled, as if raindrops pelted her skin. Playfully, she swished her hands to increase the size of the waves, and they grew at her command. But she opened her eyes and caught a glimpse of a ship’s white sail, tossed high as it crashed against the barrier rocks.
“Oh no! Stop!” Alex leapt to her feet and bolted past her cousin, running and jumping down the stairs.
“Alex, there’s nothing you can do!” Lord Odin shouted as she ran away.
At the front gate, Alex rushed past two guards, nearly knocking one over. She careened to the left and sprinted to the beach, a block away. Wind tossed her hair, and she swiped at it with her hand. Her heart pounded as tears ran down her face. Once on the beach, she slid to a stop, yanked off her boots, and ran towards the water.
A heavy-set man, knee deep in water, pointed out to sea. “Someone’s in trouble out there.”
“I see him.” Alex’s heart sank—it was another failed attempt to escape Seaward Isle, and it was her fault.
“I’ll get the ghost patrol, Miss Elf.” The man left the water, shivering as he did.
The ghost patrol was the nickname for the Coastal Police unit designated to help shipwreck victims on the beach. At least one wreck occurred each week, sometimes more, but more dead bodies than live ones washed up on the sand.
As she swam, Alex saw a child waving frantically from the ship, screaming for help. She choked on a mouthful of water and coughed as the cries grew more desperate. She couldn’t bear to listen anymore, so she put her head down and swam harder.
When she reached the ship, she pushed the broken mast aside and climbed aboard, finding the bodies of a man and a woman with two children. She pressed her lips together and knew they were dead without touching them—their glow of golden energy was gone. The left side of the ship was badly damaged, but she moved to the bow where she found the only survivor—a young boy; she guessed he was seven. His black hair dripped with water, and his thin body had several cuts and bruises. He burst into tears when he saw her.
Alex embraced him, rubbing his back to comfort him. “I am so sorry.” Her eyes filled with tears, knowing he was now an orphan, just like she was. “Are you hurt?” She pushed him away to examine him.
“Mi papa say time to go to America. He say we see nana there and become rich, but we no make it.”
Her jaw dropped. She’d heard of America—her foster father came from there. “But you can’t get to America from here. What’s your name?”
“Carlitos…we come from Havana.” He sobbed and held up his arm with a rope tied tightly around it.
Alex wiped her face dry. “Carlitos, my name is Alex. Can I help you?”
Alex slid her assassin’s knife from her wrist cuff and flicked it open. Carlitos gasped and opened his eyes wide. His reaction made her stop to reassure him. “I won’t hurt you.” She cut the rope from the ship and tried to remove it from his arm without cutting it, but he cried out.
“No, it hurts.” He backed away, but Alex grabbed him and brought him closer to her.
“Stay still and don’t look.” As soon as he looked away, she slid her blade under the rope and cut it. She set her blade down and removed the rope with a quick swipe. Carlitos winced, but didn’t cry out and looked down at his arm as blood oozed.
Alex clamped her hand over the gaping wound. “I told you not to look.” He turned his head away again and tears fell as he began to shake.
Alex closed her eyes. “Heal.” She said in Elfspeak, a form of mental telepathy to command her blue light to heal without anyone hearing her. She opened her eyes and saw a faint blue light glowing under her hand, healing the wound without leaving a scar.
Carlitos peeked when she lifted her hand. “You fix me.” He smiled a little.
His wan smile brought some joy to her heart. “Don’t tell anyone. It’s our secret.” She put her finger to her lips.
“Fix them.” He waved at the bodies. “Fix them!”
“No, it’s too late. Their energy is gone.”
Carlitos put his hands together and fell to his knees. “Please…you must.”
“No, I told you I can’t help them. Their energy is gone.” She picked up her blade and folded it up, sliding it away into her wrist cuff, once again out of sight.
The little boy wailed, cradling his mother’s face in his hands. Alex didn’t know what else to do and looked away, glancing towards shore.
“They’re coming for you.”
On the beach, a dozen men hauled out their rescue equipment—a rowboat, long ropes, towels, and blankets, as the crippled ship drifted closer to shore. Two men rowed out to the wreck, now about three hundred yards out and tied a long rope to it. They climbed aboard, shaking their heads at the bodies. After checking on Alex and the little boy, they signaled to the men on the beach, and the broken ship was slowly pulled to shore.
Once beached on the sand, a man stepped up with his arms outstretched. “Give him to me, Miss Elf. He’ll be all right. This happens all the time.” He bit his lip when he saw the bodies. “I almost ended up like them. This island is nothing, but a trap. At first, you’re so desperate to leave you’d try anything. But there’s nothing you can do. It’s not so bad here once you get used to the place. We’ve got food, water, and shelter. What else do we need? We’re all going to die one day. I guess I’ll be here.”
“What are you going to do with him?” Alex nodded at the boy.
“Don’t worry about this fine lad. We’ll find him a good home. What’s your name, son?”
“Name’s Sam. You’re in good hands.” He patted his shoulder. “Now, Miss Elf, don’t go swimming out there the next time. We’ll take care of it.”
“All right. Thanks.” Alex helped Carlitos out of the ship, but Sam continued to stare at her until she blushed. “Is something wrong?”
“Well, you look like an Elf; you even got that blue hair in your ears like their kids, but your hair’s black and your ears aren’t pointed. How come?”
“My father was mortal.” Self-consciously, she tugged her hair over her ears to hide the blue hair.
Sam chuckled and raised his eyebrows. “Lucky man. Come on, lad. Stop shaking. Are you hurt?”
“She fix me, but she scary.” Carlitos eyed her warily.
Sam chuckled. “Used some Elf magic on you, did she?”
Carlitos nodded and showed him his arm. “Arm cut here, but now nothing.”
Alex groaned. She climbed off the ship, watching the other men place the bodies on the wagon.
Once the crew left, Alex plopped down on the beach near her boots and sat quietly, her hands on top of her head and tears on her cheeks. A few minutes later, her cousin, Prince Darin strolled up and sat down next to her.
“It’s all right, Alex.” He placed his hand on her shoulder.
“No, it isn’t. Four people are dead, and there’s another orphan on Seaward Isle, thanks to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
She sighed. “I did what Lord Odin said to do, and I made the waves grow bigger, but a ship crashed on the barrier rocks before I could stop it. The only survivor was a little boy.” She covered her face and shook her head.
“Hold on a minute, you made the waves grow bigger?”
Alex nodded and sniffled. “Yes.”
“Then you can do it.” He raised his eyebrows.
“Control the storms. Alex, you can do it. You must stop them the next time.” He clenched his fist.
She looked at him and then out to sea. “I guess.”
He exhaled sharply. “What do you mean, you guess?”
“I don’t understand how I do it.”
“I don’t care if you don’t understand it.” He scooted closer to her. “You must do it again, so we can all escape from this…prison. Do it for them, if for no one else. At least do it for that little boy.” He paused. “You’re the only one who can, Alex.” He ran his hand over his blond hair. “You must try again…please.”
Alex forced a tight smile. “All right…for you…and him.”
He patted her on the back. “That’s better. Get back to the house and clean up. Lord Odin will be in the parlor waiting for you.” He stood up, brushing sand off his uniform and helped her to her feet. They returned to the fortress in silence.
As soon as Alex got to her room, she checked her blade and cleaned it. Then she bathed and put on a clean uniform. Even though she’d been dismissed as a soldier, she still dressed like one—she didn’t have any other clothes to wear and no money to buy any. For years, she’d been a soldier in the Northeast Forest Army, an elite tracker known as the Black Elf.
Before she left her room, she leaned in closer to a mirror and stared at her right ear and then her left. A tuft of fine blue hair grew out of each ear canal. Although less than a half-inch long, the hair stood out like a beacon. She had no idea why all young Water Elves carried the marking and recalled with a grimace that two men had called her, Miss Elf. Until now, she’d been raised as a mortal and never considered herself to be one of them. Maybe she was.
Alex went to the parlor to meet Lord Odin. She saluted and curtsied to him, blushing. “I’m sorry I ran out, Lord Odin. You were right—there was nothing I could do.”
He cupped her face in his hands. “Prince Darin told me that you thought you caused that shipwreck. You didn’t.” He kissed her on the forehead. “Did you really make those waves grow larger?”
He raised her chin. “Good, you can do this. Make them smaller this time. Follow me.” He turned to the door.
Alex followed behind, the knot in her stomach tightened, as she feared another failure.
A few moments later, Lord Odin turned to her. “I want you to understand that this is very important to me. I only have a few months left.”
“A few months?” Alex gasped. “What’s wrong? Are you sick?”
“No—no, it’s not my health. It’s my seat on the Council of Elders.” He sighed. “I never thought I’d be here this long and it has a heavy cost—it’s been almost a thousand years. After that, my seat will be declared vacant, and they’ll look for a replacement.”
“Why didn’t you say so before?” Now this ordeal made sense to her.
Lord Odin simply smiled and continued up the stairs.
At the top of the fortress, they met Prince Darin, who slapped Alex on the shoulder like an old comrade-in-arms. They went to the turret, where Alex sat down and rubbed her hands together with renewed determination.
After taking several deep breaths, Alex pulled her hair from her face and blinked several times, wiping her sweaty hands on her britches. Leaning forward, she focused her attention on the storms, but her thoughts wandered to the little boy, Carlitos.
“I can’t concentrate, Lord Odin.”
“Here, start over. First, sit all the way back in the chair. Close your eyes and inhale slowly to a count of four. Yes, that’s it. Now, exhale-two-three-four. Inhale-two-three-four and exhale-two-three-four. Now, feel the wind and rain. Inhale…and exhale. Now make the waves smaller.”
Alex closed her eyes as Lord Odin spoke. This time, her imaginary flight through the storms came easier. She lowered her hands and calmed the waves.
“Stop the storms,” she chanted and tapped her foot two times. “Stop the storms.” Tap-tap. “Stop the storms.” Tap-tap.
To her surprise, a small break in the storms appeared, but when she paused, the storms returned. She didn’t know where the words had come from or why she tapped her foot, but when she started her chant again, the clouds thinned and a patch of blue sky appeared through a clear break in the storm line.
“Sun, come out.” Alex tapped her foot. Sunlight burst through the clouds. She squinted at the bright light and screamed excitedly. “I did it!”
Lord Odin clenched his fist. “Yes, you are the Spell Breaker.”
Prince Darin squeezed her in his arms. “You did it, Alex—I knew you could do it.” Tears fell from his eyes, and he ran over to embrace Lord Odin. They danced and whirled about in pure exhilaration.
Alex grinned at the two distinguished Elves expressing joy like children. But a strong sense of foreboding came over her. It seemed too easy. Now that the spell was broken, the people of Seaward Isle were free to leave, but to where? Where should she go? This island had always been her home. What did she do?
The second installment of The Chronicles of Eledon finds Lady Alexin in Avalon, seat of King Arthur's throne. The mortal world is far from what she'd imagined, and the mortals are less than hospitable. Trouble abounds when Alex is accused of being the “Blue Witch” and sentenced to die for treason. In addition, the mysterious death of one of Arthur’s courtiers by seemingly magical means complicates her situation. Back in Eledon, trouble is brewing. Civil unrest and the threat of war demands Alex's presence to assume her responsibilities as Keeper of the Keys for the Council of Elders. Only too glad to escape the noose, Alex executes a series of quests to prove her abilities to handle the keys and their strange magic. But can she save the Elves from Civil War? And commute her own death sentence by finding the Holy Grail?
Alex glared at the bread merchant as she handed him two copper coins. He grinned, a glint in his eye—he’d won this bargain and forced her to pay twice as much as the woman next to her for a loaf of bread. She was a villager, not an islander like Alex. Pushed from the side, Alex stumbled away from the stand, only to hear laughter at her expense. Her face flushed in anger, but she didn’t know the local language well enough to curse at the people around her. She turned and marched away, stuffing the bread into her basket and pulling the hood of her cloak over her head. I’m never going to buy bread from him again!
Horns blared from the town gate and Alex was pushed from behind across the cobblestone street. She stood crushed between two men who backed her into a brick wall as a column of soldiers rode through the gate. At the lead, a young soldier, barely old enough to shave, carried a banner with the image of a red hawk encased in flames. Behind him, four more soldiers with similar banners were followed by a single soldier in black metal armor, a long sword in a black scabbard by his side. He was an older man with long white hair tucked under a black helmet. Trailing after him were another twenty fully-armed soldiers. The men stared ahead, grim and determined, as if they were going to war.
As the formation moved forward, the horse under the old man reared up on its hind legs and bumped into the bread merchant’s cart. The merchant scrambled after his bread and the crowd surge around him, spooking the old man’s horse once more. Alex lost sight of the bread merchant, but heard the confusion as women screamed, men shouted, and horses whinnied. The old man’s soldiers moved in, shielding their leader from the angry mob and regained control.
Alex watched, still pinned against the wall across the street, but certain the bread merchant had been severely injured. She could push her way through the crowd to help him and perhaps even save his life, but she hesitated. Should she help a man who’d cheated her so he could cheat others? Or, should she help him anyway, out of the goodness of her heart? The merchant was carried away and screamed out in pain. He was still alive. A wave of guilt washed over her as she leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. She couldn’t save everyone.
The fiasco could have been avoided altogether if she’d made the bread. But her bread-making skills were awful, to say the least. She was planning a special meal for her half-brother Beren and his wife Lila, her best friend, to celebrate their new baby. Alex cringed—her nephew was going to grow up here. The land was beautiful, filled with rolling hills and tall forests, but she hadn’t found the people to be generous, kind, or at all welcoming.
After a few seconds, she opened her eyes. The bread merchant was gone as was his cart. In front of her, the older man in the center of the formation rode by, facing forward, unconcerned about the commotion around him. Who was he? Probably a knight, a soldier of King Arthur, she surmised.
He may be off to war, but she hadn’t heard about it, although she had yet to learn all she needed to know about living in the mortal world at Glastonbury village on the Isle of Avalon. A few months ago, she and several hundred others had migrated from Seaward Isle, located in Eledon, the world of the Elves. Strangely, they became known as the islanders even though Avalon itself was once an island, but it was no longer surrounded by water, only trees and green fields.
The soldiers were followed by a procession of monks from the local abbey, who marched behind a man carrying a large wooden cross. At the end was Brother Trekant, a friendly acquaintance of Alex’s who spoke her language. She pushed her way to him and tapped his arm. He nodded at her, but didn’t stop.
“Good day, Brother Trekant. Who was that man?” Alex stepped alongside him to keep pace.
“The Duke of Leadbury—he’s on a mission of great importance.” He spoke in a low tone, barely above a whisper.
“Is he going to war?”
“No, no, child. Nothing like that. The King is sending him on a special quest. He must search for the Holy Grail, a relic of our religion. Several hundred years ago, Joseph of Arimathea arrived on our shores, bringing it with him. The Holy Grail is the cup that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, drank from at the Last Supper. It was used by Joseph to catch the blood and sweat of Jesus as he was crucified on the cross. With it, he also brought a spear, used by a Roman guard to pierce Jesus’s side while on the cross. According to legend, they were protected in a large castle for years, until it was destroyed and the items lost. King Arthur has promised great rewards to any of his knights who can find them. Now, pardon me, but I must return to the abbey.” He nodded to her and trotted to catch up with the group.
His mention of a Roman spear brought up an old memory—she’d seen one in her distant past, but she wasn’t sure when or where. After he left, she thanked him and waved, but he was already gone. She pulled her cloak tight around her shoulders and glanced at the busy market—normal business operations had resumed. She got the vegetables she needed for her special meal and went home, thinking of the dying bread merchant, a Roman spear, and the quest for a cup.
Two blocks from the market stood the house where she lived with her half-brother Beren and his wife. The house was part of his salary as the junior sword master at the local academy. Made of stone and wood, it was roomy enough for them, but it was old and needed repairs. As Alex headed to the door, she heard footsteps behind her and turned around in alarm. But it was only Sam, one of the islanders. They exchanged silent greetings and went in.
Inside the parlor, thirty islander men were squeezed into the small space. Five months ago, the islanders began the migration from Eledon, and it ended when Alex showed up a month afterward. Most of these men had lived in the mortal world at one time in their lives, but had been stranded on Seaward Isle due to persistent and heavy storms. Once the storms ended, the people fled to Eledon, the home of the Elves who created a special entry portal to the mortal world. Although Alex was part mortal, she’d never lived here. She’d been born on Seaward Isle, the daughter of a mortal father and a Titan/Water Elf mother. And both were killed when she was four.
In front of the fireplace, Lord Ellsworth, the former King of Northeast Forest on Seaward Isle, stood with Alex’s half-brother Beren, the son of her father with his first wife, a mortal who later died. The islander men respected Lord Ellsworth as their leader, even though his Kingdom had been destroyed by earthquakes. Beren was today’s host.
“Sorry I’m late.” Alex blushed slightly as she made her way to the kitchen to set down the groceries she’d bought. It wasn’t much, just the bread, some turnips and carrots, but enough for the coney stew she planned to make with a rabbit she’d trapped in the forest.
Lord Ellsworth cleared his throat. “Let’s continue. Jeffrey, isn’t there something you can do about the merchants in the market? We can’t afford to feed our families at these prices.” He directed this comment to his younger brother, standing to the side.
Alex stepped out from the kitchen. “I agree. The bread merchant charged me double for this loaf of bread. It’s ridiculous.” She waved the bread in the air, still upset over the transaction, yet wondering if the bread merchant had survived.
“Thank you, Alex.” Lord Ellsworth rolled his eyes.
Jeffrey stepped forward. He looked handsome in the captain’s uniform of the local guard, which had a metal breastplate emblazoned with the King’s emblem, a red dragon with wings. “My soldiers can’t stay in the market all day. When we’re there, everything’s fine, but as soon as we leave, the merchants raise their prices.” He shrugged. “Even the King can’t control everything.”
“He can control our pay.” Sam voiced his opinion from the rear of the room. He was a former police officer on Seaward Isle, not under the rule of Lord Ellsworth and now, was employed as a common soldier in King Arthur’s guard.
Jeffrey shook his head. “I know the pay isn’t much, but it’s the same as the other soldiers, Sam. We have to live with it.”
Lord Ellsworth added, “Did you tell him about the beatings? Yesterday, one of our lads was nearly beaten to death. That makes five in the last two weeks.” He held up his hand to emphasize the number five.
“Yes, and he encouraged me to step up patrols.”
“Jeffrey, there must be something you can do. You’re the only one with any influence on King Arthur.”
“I’m not a colonel anymore, Ellsworth. I’m only a captain and a junior one at that. I can only do so much.”
Sam folded his arms across his chest. “Those fucking Elves knew this would happen. They sent us here on purpose.”
“It wasn’t the Elves’ fault, Sam,” Alex said. “They didn’t know anything about mortals.” She found herself in the unusual position of defending the Elves. Actually, she was defending Lord Odin, her Elf friend, who had arranged their entry into the mortal world.
Sam sighed heavily and looked away, shaking his head. “Damn fucking Elf,” he said under his breath.
Alex’s temper flared. “I heard that!” She stepped out from the kitchen.
Sam stepped forward; his fists clenched. “So what?”
“Stop!” Lord Ellsworth held his hands out. “We’ll have none of this in here. We need some positive ideas, not arguments.”
“Lord Ellsworth, I do have a suggestion,” Alex said. “We can find the Holy Grail. That’s why all these soldiers have been coming to town. I’ve seen at least five formations this past week.”
“No one’s been able to find it for years, Alex. What makes you think we can?”
“Brother Trekant said that this man by the name of Joseph brought the Holy Grail to Glastonbury to keep it safe. It should be somewhere close by.”
“They’ve already scoured the area, Alex. We’d have better luck finding the Blue Witch.” Jeffrey smirked.
“Who’s that?” Alex wrinkled her nose. She’d never heard of this person before.
“What does the King want with this witch?” Lord Ellsworth asked.
“He doesn’t—he wants her dead. She’s been helping the Blue People.”
In spite of the chilly response, Alex continued, “I understand that whoever finds the Holy Grail will receive a great reward from the King. If we find it, we can ask for our own land and put Lord Ellsworth back in charge.”
There was a smattering of applause, but at the back of the room, Sam groaned and rolled his eyes.
“Thank you, Alex.” Lord Ellsworth nodded to her. “But we need to think of more practical ideas. Gentlemen, think about it. We’ll meet at my house next week.”
Alex bit her lip and her cheeks turned crimson. As the men left, she placed a pot on the stove to prepare supper.
Jeffrey came into the kitchen, smiling. “Alex, what makes you think we can find this thing when no one else can?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It was just an idea.”
“I suppose you know where it is.” He chuckled as he leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest.
She shrugged again. “Maybe.” She focused on washing the vegetables in the sink.
He straightened. “What?”
“I said maybe.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Then how do you know?”
“I remember seeing an old spear once, and it seemed out of place. Based on what I’ve seen here, I’m pretty sure it was Roman. I just don’t remember where it was.”
“I thought this Grail was some type of cup, like a wine glass.”
“It is, but Brother Trekant said that there was also a Roman spear with it. It was used to kill Jesus when he was on the cross.”
“What do you know about Jesus?”
“Not much. I learned about him at the Sword Academy when I was growing up. He died for our sins, you know.”
“Not mine.” Jeffrey put his arms around her from behind and snuggled his face into her neck. He pulled her hair back to nibble on her ear as she peeled a turnip. “How about joining me for a picnic tomorrow?” he whispered.
Alex laughed. “So you can get secrets out of me?”
“Of course. Meet me at the stables at noon. I’ll bring lunch.”
“Deal. I’ll be there.”
Jeffrey laughed as he left. He could cajole a secret out of any woman, and Alex was no exception. Recovery of the Holy Grail wouldn’t just benefit his brother Ellsworth, but Jeffrey as well. And Alex’s memory was better than anyone else he knew. Now, all he had to do was find out where it was.
Lady Alexin, Eledon's Keeper of the Keys must continue to prove her powers when her grandmother, Lady Lestin and her friend, Lady Opaline of the Gossamer Elves are kidnapped by rebels and held for ransom. Alex attempts a daring rescue, only to discover that there is far more to this plot that she immediately suspected and the betrayal extends to the highest levels of the High Council of Elders. Threatened by rebel factions, suspected by Council members and under attack by deadly spiders, the young warrior has only her wits, her fighting skills and the powers of the Keys to help her. But will they be enough to save them all?
Alex tiptoed through her foster parents’ home as they slept and quietly shut the door. She inhaled deeply, stretching her arms above her head; the early morning air of spring was brisk and invigorating. She trotted to the horse pens at the Nyla Army Garrison on Seaward Isle, where a group of twenty men silently jogged in place, waiting for her. The last to arrive, she was appointed the rear guard and assigned to carry the backpack filled with canteens of water for the morning run.
The formation headed through the sleepy village of Nyla to the ridge. A daily ritual, the five-mile uphill run strained every part of Alex’s body, no matter how many times she’d done it before. With the backpack on, the trek was even harder.
Nine months ago, Alex had started a new training program to improve her fighting skills; she’d lost her edge living with the Elves, where she’d been treated more like royalty than a soldier. In her line of work, toughness mattered. Training with the mortal soldiers at the Garrison had been a good idea. They were elite soldiers who pushed her hard, without regard for her gender or status. The men had survived shipwrecks that left them on the island and they had migrated to the Nyla Army Garrison, where Alex’s foster father, Colonel Penser, was in charge. He, too, was a survivor and a former Army Ranger. But Alex had been born on Seaward Isle and raised by mortals, even though she was part Elf.
On top of the ridge, the men paced with their hands on their hips, catching their breaths, waiting for Alex. She’d fallen behind, dodging rocks and boulders, straining in soft patches of soil, clawing her way up with the backpack. The run had been hard and fast and followed a new route.
“Ooo-rah!” Alex fist-bumped the other men, part of the muster routine. She set the pack down and handed out canteens, as she listened to their sarcastic remarks.
“Lead in your boots?” one of the men asked with a grin.
“More like lead in her ass.” The other men chuckled.
The comments rolled off her back. She drank some water and handed off the canteen. At the edge of the ridge, she paused to take in the view. It was like no other. To the south, the mountains around the city of Agana and the sea beyond were visible in the clear morning air. The water seemed so calm now that the storms were gone; there hadn’t been a shipwreck in over two years. As she caught her breath, she witnessed one of the most beautiful sunrises she’d ever seen. Then, a piece of gossamer drifted across her face. She grimaced, swiping at it with her hand. A spider was at the end of it somewhere. She hated spiders.
Her attention was drawn to a dark object, moving north on the water. She leaned forward, hands on her knees. To her eyes, the object magnified and she could make out its shape and read the lettering on the side of the ship. It was the Elf ship Crustacean.
She gasped and said to the men, “The Elves are back!”
Within minutes, Alex was alone on the ridge. The men scrambled back to the Garrison because there was work to do. The arrival of the Elf ship meant supplies. Seven months ago, the Elf ships had failed to show up and five months ago, Colonel Penser had announced that the warehouses were empty. He sent the Garrison soldiers out to forage for food. It stemmed the problem, but wasn’t enough.
At first, no one knew why the Elf ships didn’t arrive as scheduled, until Rangor, a local barge captain, noticed the entry points were missing...again. Without them, no ships could enter or leave the Wayward Seas around the island.
Alex drained the remaining canteens of water and placed the empties in the backpack. As soon as the Elf ship unloaded its cargo, she’d be heading for Eledon, where her Elf grandmother lived. Thanks to the problem with the entry points, she was six months late for her appointment with her. She slipped the backpack over her shoulders and joined the free-for-all down the ridge.
When she reached the Garrison, she interrupted an argument between her foster father, Colonel Penser, and her friend, Takura, the Japanese scientist. The two men faced off on the docks near one of the warehouses. The Colonel, the taller of the two, was livid.
“I told you it was only temporary! We need this warehouse!” The Colonel stomped his foot and shook his fist. “Now, get a-moving.”
Takura held up his hands. “Please, Colonel. We are on the verge of important break-through. Very important. Please!” He bowed deeply at the waist, his hands pressed together in a sign of respect, but the Colonel remained firm.
Alex stepped between them and smiled sweetly at her foster father. “Good morning, Colonel. Can I help?” She always called the Colonel by his rank and loved to mimic his Texas drawl.
“Alex, explain to Takura here that we need this warehouse for all the supplies the Elves are delivering.” He pointed to the sacks piling up on the dock. “And we need it now.”
As Alex thought of a solution, she glanced at Takura, who was close to tears. “What if we delivered them directly to each household instead of storing them and then issuing them? Everyone needs everything at this point. It would save time and space.”
Colonel Penser gritted his teeth. “That would be a damned good idea if I wasn’t so pissed off.”
“Please, Colonel. Takura’s just trying to help me solve the problem with the island. I’m supposed to fix it, but I don’t know how. We have plenty of wagons, don’t we?”
“You know we do. Oh, all right. I get the message.”
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. In spite of his gruffness, he could be a real teddy bear. As the Colonel strode away barking new orders, she turned to Takura and gave him a thumbs-up.
“We’ve updated the computer simulation, Alex. Come see.” Takura waved her inside where a bank of jury-rigged computers sat on tables in the warehouse. He typed in a few commands and the animated video simulation began.
“Approximately twelve thousand years ago, an advanced civilization called the Mentors created Eledon for the Elves and Dwarves when they were forced to leave Earth. Large enough to accommodate the entire population, Eledon has four continents, surrounded by oceans. Protected inside a “bubble,” the atmospheric conditions are similar to Earth, complete with a sun, moon, and stars overhead. The Mentors also used these bubbles to protect the Elf ships as they sailed to Eledon, through the Ancient Passage, a wormhole. All was well until a thousand years ago, when a major structural defect occurred—Seaward Isle separated from Eledon. The Mentors encased the island in another bubble and connected it to Eledon with a series of entry points, or wormholes.
“The construction and composition of the bubble and the entry points are unknown. Our research vessel sailed as close to the edge as possible, only to be turned away by strong winds and sea currents and a bank of dense fog obstructed our view. The entry points, or wormholes, are just as difficult to study since we can only observe them from below. A drone will help, but we can’t find parts. Questions remain: How can the Mentors create wormholes? What kind of technology is required? We know that wormholes are shortcuts through space with an impact on time. Consequently, Seaward Isle and Eledon may be light years from Earth. In addition, recent studies indicate the wormholes aren’t permanently affixed to the island and frequently detach, striking the Earth’s surface at random. As a result, ships, airplanes, and other vessels have been brought to the island, leaving the people stranded. We believe, however, if all of the entry points detach simultaneously, the Earth’s gravity could pull the island through the Ancient Passage, followed by the rest of Eledon, destroying Earth. The results would be catastrophic.”
After the first showing, Alex watched it again. She had to smile at the thought of the research ship. It was actually Rangor’s barge; she’d had to bribe the old man to take the scientists out. Unfortunately, the simulation didn’t tell her how to fix the problem. Her role as Keeper of the Keys for the Elves was to return Seaward Isle to the rest of Eledon. She sighed and left to fill the canteens for tomorrow’s run, even though she was leaving in the morning.
The next morning, Alex boarded the Elf ship Crustacean. Once at sea, the ship sailed towards the entry points, only to find them gone once more. She stood on the bridge, staring skyward. All she saw was the dark sky, millions of stars, and a moon that was almost full. She tapped her foot nervously. Come on, where are you?
The entry points had always been a problem without a solution. Alex was deep in thought when Lockus, the ship’s captain, came up and cleared his throat.
“My lady, what should we do? His Highness, Prince Darin, said the Keeper is supposed to fix the entry points and you’re the Keeper.”
“I know, Lockus. I wish I knew. But the Mentors fixed them, didn’t they? I mean, that’s how you got here.”
“Aye, they did and we got through all right, but where’d they go? We can’t get back without them.”
“Keep looking. At least you delivered supplies. Thank you for that.” Alex nodded.
“Yo!” One of the crewmen perched on top of the mast shouted and pointed to a white ring in the distant sky. Lockus ordered the crew to the site and within an hour, the ship was near.
Alex felt her ears pop, a sign that there was a change in air pressure and the entry point was properly connected. Thank the stars! Relieved, she exhaled and leaned her head back. Catastrophe averted.
Lockus stood amidships and raised his arms in the air. His blond hair was ruffled by the wind as he said the spell to take the ship through the entry point:
“Winds of Eledon, take us to your lands.”
With full sails, the large wooden ship rose out of the Wayward Seas around Seaward Isle, passed through the entry point into Eledon, and landed gently in the Elf Seas. Alex’s knees buckled during the process, but she felt no other distress. How the process worked remained a mystery to her, but she had been through it at least a hundred times. Each time seemed like a miracle. Her shoulders relaxed and she breathed more easily.
Ahead of her, the dark line on the horizon marked the continent of Easton, but it would take six more hours to reach the port city of Meridian, where Alex’s grandmother lived. It was the capital city on the Easton continent and the home of the Water Elves. Now that Alex was through the entry point and into Eledon’s bubble atmosphere, she could use Elfspeak to talk to her grandmother telepathically. She closed her eyes to visualize her grandmother’s beautiful face and focused her thoughts.
“Grandmother, may I speak?”
“Alex, is that you? My, you’re up early. Is the sun even up?” Grandmother Lestin covered her mouth to stifle her yawn.
“Sorry to wake you. We just came through the entry point. I wanted to let you know that we should be there this afternoon. I’ve missed you and I’m looking forward to our visit to Themia.”
“I’ve missed you, too. I’ll be at home waiting for you.”
Alex smiled as the vision of her grandmother faded away. Her plan was to meet her in Meridian and then visit her cousins at their farm in Themia. After that, she could take care of the mission she’d prepared for. The Marsh Elf Sawgrass was a known criminal. At their last meeting, she thought she’d killed him, only to find out he was alive, although severely burned over most of his body from the fireworks explosions she’d set off. His survival left a gap in her otherwise perfect record—the only mission she’d failed to complete successfully. That would never happen again. She intended to lure Sawgrass into a trap, like a spider to a fly.
It was well past noon when the ship sailed into Meridian’s harbor. Alex picked up her valise and thanked Lockus and his crew for the ride. As she strolled down the gangplank, a dozen Water Elf ships blew their horns as they left port. Caught by surprise, she lost her balance and nearly fell into the water. She blushed upon hearing the crewmen laugh at her near disaster, but brushed herself off and marched on.
After passing by the large white Council building, she turned at the corner but stopped short when she saw two Water Elf soldiers standing guard in front of her grandmother’s house. Alarmed, she rushed forward and stared into the eyes of the first guard, who wore dragon armor and was fully armed.
“What happened? What are you doing here?” Alex’s heart rate skyrocketed as she set her valise down.
“We’ve been ordered to guard the house, Lady Alexin.”
“I can see that. Why? What’s wrong?”
“Don’t know, my lady.”
“I’m going in. Stand aside.” Alex picked up her valise.
“No one is allowed inside, my lady. Prince Darin’s orders.” The guard blocked her way.
“I live here!” Alex gritted her teeth and pushed by the two guards. She opened the door, only to find the house eerily quiet. She broke into a cold sweat.
“Grandmother?” She stepped in, waving her hand over the panel on the wall to light the crystals overhead, filling the parlor with light. “Grandmother, I’m home.” Alex cupped her hands around her mouth. “Where are you?” When she received no answer, she felt a lump rise in her throat and her heart pounded in her ears.
In the dining room, she picked up her grandmother’s cherished teapot from the table and looked inside. It was clean—no tea had been made in this pot today. In the kitchen, the hot water kettle stood empty and no dishes had been used. Alex frowned and bit her lip. Her grandmother said she’d be here. So where is she? Maybe she went to the market.
Alex closed her eyes to Elfspeak and said, “Grandmother, may I speak?” But there was no response. She tried again, without success.
Confused, she went into her grandmother’s bedroom, only to find the bed perfectly made. As she stood staring at the empty bed, the front door opened. She grabbed the hilt of her sword.
“Who’s there?” She stood, ready to pounce.
“Alex, where are you?”
She sighed and relaxed—it was her cousin, Prince Darin. “In my grandmother’s bedroom.”
The Prince came in, breathing hard and sweating. “The guards said you were here. It’s good to see you again.” He embraced her. “Thank the stars; you made it back from the mortal world.”
Alex saluted and curtsied to him. “I never got there. The entry point to the mortal world was blocked and I couldn’t get through. I couldn’t let you know because there was a problem with the entry points from Seaward Isle. Lockus made it just in time. We were out of everything.”
“I know. He told me. More ships are being loaded as we speak. Lockus will lead them back.”
“What about those ships that just left the harbor?”
He paused; sweat beaded on his upper lip. “I guess you don’t know. Your grandmother is missing. I’ve sent those ships out to look for her.”
Alex’s jaw dropped. “What? I talked to her this morning. Missing how?”
“All I know is that I heard her call for me earlier and she sounded like something was wrong, but I haven’t been able to get in touch with her again. I came to look for her, but she wasn’t here.”
Alex swallowed hard, trying to control her emotions. She covered her mouth to keep from crying.
“How long ago did you talk to her?” The Prince placed his hands on her shoulders.
“Around sunrise.” Her tears came anyway. Alex choked and wiped them from her face.
“Over six hours ago.” He sighed. “There’s more bad news, I’m afraid. Lord Odin told me that Lady Opaline never showed up for the Council meeting this morning. She was spending the weekend with your grandmother.”
“Lady Opaline, the Gossamer Elf?” Alex grimaced. She didn’t like that woman. “I don’t know anything about Gossamer Elves, do you?”
“Not much. There aren’t very many of them and they’re very secretive. During the war, they caught me in a trap of stinging gossamer and it took a dozen soldiers to get me out. We couldn’t catch them either; they knew how to hide.”
“Can they tell spiders what to do?”
“Like I can tell fish what to do.” Prince Darin smirked.
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
He rolled his eyes. “I can’t, Alex. I was being sarcastic. Come to think of it, with those keys of yours, you’re the one who can control everything.”
“They’re not mine. What about Lady Opaline’s servants? Do they know?”
“They thought she was on her way home.”
“What do we do now? Maybe they slept upstairs?” She turned to the stairs, but the Prince held her back.
“No one’s been here, Alex. I’ve already checked.” He gripped both of her arms. “Listen, I’ve alerted all of my forces and sent out land patrols. As soon as we have their location, I’ll send them in.” He glanced away for a moment and touched two fingers to his forehead.
Alex knew that was how he reacted when someone contacted him in Elfspeak. Before she could ask, he said, “Lord Odin wants us at the Council building—he said there’s some news. Come with me.”
In the final installment of the critically acclaimed series, “The Chronicles of Eledon,” Lady Alexin battles a band of mortal wizards known as the Octagon, discovers the mysteries of some legendary diamond eggs and finally comes into her true powers gifted to her by her conquests and the gifts of her Titan ancestors. Tasked with the seemingly impossible as the Keeper of Eledon's Keys, she must find a way to restore the entry points to Seaward Isle or see its inhabitants face certain destruction as the whole of Eledon's energy grid threatens to fall apart.
Seething, Alex pounded her fist against the saddle as she rode north on the coast road. Her last exchange with Lord Ashur, the senior member of the Council of Elders, had left her wondering, both about her safety and his sanity. He was the last of the Fire Elves and over ten thousand years old—something had to give by that age. Their conversation still rang in her ears.
“Keeper, the caretaker reports that there have been intruders on the property. You will return to Lady Opaline’s cottage immediately and take care of them. The Council is responsible for it until it’s sold.” Lord Ashur had stared down at her, making her feel small. He didn’t need to press the issue—he stood over nine feet tall. She’d never met anyone taller.
“My lord, if there are intruders, shouldn’t the Council send a squad of guards, instead of me?” Alex had asked politely and even bowed her head to show respect.
“I will decide who to send, Keeper! And you are the one I’m sending.”
“At least let me take a squad of Council guards with me.”
“Be on your way.” He frowned and waved her to the door.
Alex left, but once outside of the chamber, she clenched her fists and shouted, “Unbelievable!” The guards in the hall turned to look at her, and she left without looking back, marching to the Council stables, stewing about her orders.
Now here she was, riding alone to resolve a problem with the potential for deadly consequences without any support. Besides, Lady Opaline’s house was empty. There was nothing left to steal. A few weeks ago, Alex had inventoried it and shipped the contents to a warehouse in Meridian near the Council building. These intruders must be the most misguided thieves in all of Eledon.
To make matters worse, the Council’s stable master refused to let her have a faster horse. Haze was lovely and reliable but not a fighting horse. If she did encounter intruders, Alex wanted a horse to help her in battle with quick maneuvers and a fast getaway. Any horse but Haze.
On the way north, gathering clouds over the sea attracted her attention. They floated over the area where the entry points to Seaward Isle (where she was born and raised) were located. Apparently, the Mentors were making another effort to fix the island. Over a thousand years ago, it had detached from Eledon and was only being held in place with entry points. A feeling of dread washed over her. As Keeper of the Keys, it was her job to fix it, but she’d been so busy, she hadn’t had time to figure out how. After being appointed the executor of Lady Opaline’s estate, she’d been involved in more legal matters than she cared to think about. She hated it. Once her life slowed down a little, she’d devote some attention to the problem. Thus far, she hadn’t heard of any more difficulties with the entry points nor anything from her half-brother Beren, who lived on the island, so she could only hope that all was well.
By the time she reached the large gate to the sprawling country estate, her anger had cooled. She reined in her horse and took a few deep breaths. The elaborate wrought iron fencing attached to stone pillars spelled out Silk Nest amidst a web of black metal. The name raised the thought of spiders and a chill ran up her spine. Alex hated them, especially after Lady Opaline had unleashed her pet spider to kill her. She shivered at the thought, even though she’d killed it herself in a ferocious battle during a lunar eclipse. It’d been so dark that she could barely make out the location of the spider, but her blue light didn’t miss. The light had shot out from the palm of her hand and killed the spider with one shot. Although she’d been warned not to use her blue light without permission, she felt it was a matter of life-and-death and expressed no regrets during the inquiry.
The house before her wasn’t a typical country cottage, but a huge mansion stuck in the middle of nowhere. Remote didn’t even begin to describe its location. As Alex sat on her horse, she heard the caretaker’s voice from inside the stables.
“Get back! I’m warning you.”
Alarmed, Alex leapt off her horse, tying Haze to a bush. She raced to the side of a cart, standing next to the barn—her breathing shallow and her heart rate rapid. She eased up to the corner of the barn and peeked around the corner, where the estate caretaker was holding off five male Elves with a large pitchfork. They were younger and fitter, wearing red scarves, marking them as Red Elves, rebels to the Council, her employer. Clenching her fist, she regretted leaving her bow and arrow sleeve on her horse and turned around to retrieve them.
At that moment, the caretaker’s pitchfork struck against a blade with a loud clang and a child screamed. Alex froze.
A few seconds passed before she glanced around the corner again. The caretaker’s son, Riv, had grabbed another pitchfork and stood beside his father. Two more children were held in the arms of the caretaker’s wife, the little girl who’d screamed and a baby who began to wail. Alex narrowed her eyes and her mouth went dry. There was no time for her bow; the entire family was in danger, and there was no time to waste. She edged closer, still out of sight of the rebels. Her breathing became rapid and shallow as she prepared to attack. She drew her sword…
“I’m warning you!” The caretaker shoved the pitchfork at the closest rebel who jumped out of the way. “Stay away from my family!”
“Where are Lady Opaline’s papers?”
Taken aback, Alex hesitated. What papers? She knitted her brow as she reviewed the inventory in her head. There weren’t any papers. If they were important, she would have remembered them.
The caretaker jabbed at them with his pitchfork, forcing them back. “I told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about. The Council’s Keeper of the Keys removed everything from the house weeks ago. Now get out of here!” The caretaker blocked the charge of one of the rebels, as his son poked at another. The intruders closed in.
Alex took a deep breath. Yelling at the top of her lungs, she sprinted around the corner, attacking and slashing wildly. Her sword cut one of Red Elves across his stomach, spilling his guts on the ground, and she severely injured another across the shoulder. While the caretaker and his son fended off the other two, Alex attacked again and dug her sword in deep. The other intruders ran off. She turned back to check on the caretaker and saw him goring the body of a dead Elf with his pitchfork, splattering blood everywhere.
The caretaker’s brutality had taken her by surprise—she placed her hand on his shoulder. “Caretaker, stop…he’s dead.” Bitter bile rose in her throat; she swallowed hard, holding her vomit down. She wiped her blade on her cloak and checked the edge of her sword. “Are you hurt?”
“No…oh, it’s you. You’re back.” He gasped—his eyes opened wide. “Lady Lestin’s granddaughter…the Keeper of the Keys! Kneel, we must kneel!” His family knelt, even his little blond-haired daughter with her tear-stained face. Alex’s heart melted.
“No, no. Please stand up and tell me what happened.” She motioned for them to rise, but they remained kneeling, clasping their hands as if they were begging for their lives. Although kneeling was a proper gesture when greeting a member of the Council of Elders such as herself, it made her feel uncomfortable. She was only a staff member.
“I reported these troublemakers to Lord Ashur like you told me to,” the caretaker said. “But they broke into the house. I told them not to go in, but they pushed me down and kicked the door open. When they came out, they threatened to kill us if I didn’t tell them where Lady Opaline hid her papers. I don’t know anything about any papers. I work outside most of the time and so does my son, Rivulus. My wife would cook and clean the house for her ladyship when she was here, but we don’t go in the house otherwise. We don’t know where she hid any papers.”
“I believe you. I didn’t see any papers when I was here last, but I’ll look again.” Alex placed her hands on her hips. “Were there only five of them?” Her eyes darted to the left, following the rebels’ last trail. “You won’t be safe here. Can you take your family someplace?”
“Yes, we can go to my mother’s house in the hills.”
“Pack your things quickly.” Alex wiped her sweaty hands on her britches. “I’ll take a look inside. We won’t have much time before they’ll be back.”
The caretaker nodded. “Keeper, the house is empty—you did it yourself. We’ll clean up out here and pack our things in the cart. Rivulus, take care of the Keeper’s horse.” He nodded to his son and gathered his wife and small children, herding them to their quarters, attached to the barn.
Alex strolled to the house, wondering if she’d ever be rid of Lady Opaline. The woman had died almost a year ago. She recalled the gruesome sight as Lady Opaline died in her own funeral pyre. Everyone had thought she was already dead, but when she stood up on the pyre and called for a revolution—no one could believe it. The bad dream was fading. Finally.
With a wave of her hand, Alex opened the front door, using her newly perfected skills of Elf magic. The Tree Elf, Lord Odin, had married her grandmother recently, and as her grandfather, he spent the last few months teaching her Elf magic. It still seemed foreign to her. After stepping through the elaborately carved wooden doors, she gawked at the grand staircase around the sides of the entry hall. An elaborate crystal chandelier hung above her head, and the floor was covered with blocks of black and white marble in an elaborate geometric pattern.
However, she recoiled at the sight of cobwebs hanging everywhere. Streamers of gossamer encased the chandelier and the staircase rails—a sure sign the house was infested with spiders. The last time she was here, she’d cleaned them off, but they were back with a vengeance. No wonder the caretaker and his family don’t wander through the house. Lady Opaline, a Gossamer Elf, kept both poisonous and non-poisonous spiders as pets, using the poisonous ones to kill. Alex didn’t want to take any chances.
The quickest way to check the house for spiders was to use one of the Keys of Eledon, which she held as the Keeper of the Keys. Alex opened her leather pouch and took them out, pulling the Grasshopper key off the key ring. It was about three inches long, made of galactic tromium—a metal stronger than any other and looked like a grasshopper had swallowed a skeleton key.
“Grasshopper key, kill any spiders you find, especially poisonous ones.” Alex used Elfspeak, a form of telepathic communication, to speak to the key without anyone knowing it. She had less to explain that way, in case anyone heard her.
The key flew out of her hand and landed on the wall. Alex followed its journey as it leapt from wall-to-wall until it disappeared through an open door. This particular key could control insect populations, dangerous or not. She knew spiders had a right to live in the world; she just didn’t want to die by one. Her last experience had almost been fatal.
Using her sword to swipe at the gossamer, Alex wandered through the empty parlor and went into the kitchen; the rebels had torn down the cupboards, searching for the phantom papers. The next room, the study, had been severely damaged—the carpet was pulled up, the drapes torn down, and an empty safe, ripped from the wall, was left open in the corner of the room. Alex bypassed the damage and found a few old letters on the floor. She perused them and stuffed them into her jacket pocket. The rest of the rooms on the first floor were bare.
Upstairs, the rooms on the second, third, four, and fifth floors were also empty, just as she’d left them when everything had been removed. On the top floor, she stopped in the largest bedroom, standing with her hands on her hips. She hadn’t seen anything that would lead her to believe there were papers around, but they had to be here. So where were they?
She paused, taking a long, slow breath. Based on building designs she’d seen in other mansions, this bedroom was the most likely place to have a vault in the wall. It was the largest and the most secure, since it was located on the top floor. A vault could have been situated behind the headboard, but the bed was gone. She didn’t recall where the bed had been placed, but she searched every inch of the wall.
From across the room, a slight deviation in the wallpaper caught her attention—the lines didn’t match up. It was hardly noticeable so she stepped closer to examine it. A thin crack ran perpendicular to the vertical pattern of the wallpaper and was filled with a cobweb. She slid out her assassin’s blade from her wrist cuff and flicked it open. Running her knife along the seam, she popped out a wooden panel, uncovering a gray metal vault with a locking dial and silver lever, covered with a white layer of gossamer.
After cleaning away the cobwebs, she said, “Gorian.” The Dwarf spell released the lock and clicked it open. She liked using the Dwarf spell more than the Elf one, which was longer and more complicated. One word was enough to do the job. And it could both lock and unlock a door. She turned the lever and pulled the door open. Inside were several scrolls of parchment stacked on top of each other and a black velvet bag. The papers! Excitedly, she threw them on the floor. She had no time to waste and rolled them together, tying them with a leather strap from her hair.
Then she removed the black velvet bag—it was heavier than she expected, and she almost dropped it. Cautiously, she pulled out a golden chest, encrusted with jewels—emeralds, diamonds, pearls, and rubies. She knew each of the stones represented one of the four major Elf clans, but she didn’t expect what she found inside.
When she flipped the top back, she removed a black velvet cloth and uncovered a large, clear diamond. She gasped and held her breath. Her jaw dropped. The beautiful stone sparkled in the sunlight and reflected a rainbow of colors on the walls around her.
Before she had a chance to examine the rest of the box, the caretaker’s son, Riv, shouted from below. “Keeper—Keeper, where are you?” His voice echoed.
Alex set the diamond back in the box and snapped the lid shut before she ran out to the banister. “I’m up here.”
His face stared up from the ground floor. “They’re coming. Hurry!”
Alex ran back and slid the chest into the black bag. After closing the vault, she replaced the panel in the wall and ran out of the room with the scrolls tucked under her arm and the black bag in her hand. Just as she got to the stairs, the Grasshopper key landed on her shoulder. She screamed and nearly dropped everything.
“Oh, it’s you. Did you find anything?” she asked.
The Grasshopper key buzzed.
“Large spiders?” She ran down the stairs. “Are they dead?”
The key buzzed again.
“We have to get moving. Company’s coming.” Alex nearly flew down the stairs to the front door, which she slammed shut with a wave of her hand. Horses’ hooves rumbled from the forest—her heart pounded in her ears. Riv held her horse as she leapt on and grabbed the reins.
“Go!” She turned her horse around, checking for rebels and caught a glimpse of the caretaker sitting in a cart waiting for her. His wife and two little children were in the back with their belongings.
The caretaker released the handbrake and rolled the cart forward so his son could jump in. “Keeper, lock the front gate and follow me!” He pointed to the main gate on the right.
Alex wrinkled her brow and hesitated, staring at the gate, turning her horse in a circle.
“Quickly, Keeper! They’ll be here before you know it.” The caretaker slapped the reins against the horse’s rump, and the cart lurched forward.
Alex waved her hand at the gate, using magic to pull it shut. She waited until it clanged. Then she shouted, “Gorian!” The Dwarf spell locked it with a loud click. She turned her horse around, spurred hard, and clicked her tongue while still holding tightly to the papers and black bag under her left arm. Her horse took off after the cart. She only slowed down when she passed through a small gate on the far side of the barn.
The caretaker turned in his seat and pointed to the smaller gate. “Lock that one, too!” He slapped the reins and clicked his tongue twice, and the cart rolled ahead.
Alex closed it with a wave of her hand and locked it with the Dwarf spell. She urged her horse on to catch up to the caretaker’s cart, but the path was too narrow to ride up beside it. Behind her, horses whinnied, and voices shouted when the rebels encountered the locked gates, blocking their passage.
As they disappeared into the trees, Alex slowed her horse to a trot. She relaxed her breathing. When she calmed down, she wanted to ask the caretaker why he didn’t lock the gates, but she couldn’t get close enough to speak to him. Along the way, she turned around in the saddle and removed her travel bag, stuffing the scrolls and black bag inside. Then she strapped it back on the saddle and rode on, fixing her hair with an extra leather strap and wiping the remaining gossamer from her sword and clothes.
The cart rambled along a narrow path rising up the side of a mountain. When it met up with another one, the caretaker stopped at a wide spot in the road and waved Alex alongside.
“Keeper, if you stay on this path, it’ll take you to Meridian. It parallels the coast road and meets up with it at the bend. You’ll be at least an hour ahead of them. Be careful. I see you found those papers they wanted. I don’t know where you found them and I don’t want to know.”
“Thanks, Caretaker.” She pulled a pouch of coins from her pocket. “This should tide you over for a while. The Council plans to sell the house, sometime soon…I hope.” She nodded back to the gate. “Why didn’t you use your Elf magic to lock the gates?”
“I’m not allowed to use magic, Keeper. I’m only a worker. Only nobles like you are allowed to use it. I knew them hooligans couldn’t open those gates without magic. They have to go the long way around.” He chuckled.
Alex gritted her teeth and blushed at the same time, not because she had successfully locked the rebels within, but because she never knew the use of magic was restricted. She was embarrassed and upset at the same time.
“Why can only nobles use it?” she asked.
“That’s the way it’s always been. Guess no one told you. You’re very young to be the Keeper.” He smiled at her. “We’d best be on our way. Safe journey.” He waved and slapped the reins, clicking his tongue twice to get the horse moving. As the cart rolled away, his son, Riv, held out his hand—Alex slapped it and grinned at him. The caretaker’s little blond-haired daughter waved and blew her a kiss as the cart left.
Alex caught the kiss in her hand and touched it to her heart. She smiled and waved at the family, watching them leave. As she rode forward, she kept a lookout for anyone following her, but apparently, the caretaker was right. The rebels had been forced to take the long way around. She kicked Haze in the flanks and urged her on—she had the advantage for now.