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?
Preview: Chapter 1
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.