Free Preview: Chapter One, “Noble Magic”

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“Noble Magic” is the fourth and last book of the series, “The Chronicles of Eledon.” Alex must restore Seaward Isle to the rest of Eledon before it breaks away, but encumbering her path are wizards, Elf rebels, the Queen of the Water Elves, and government reform. Here’s a free preview of chapter one.

Chapter 1

NOBLE MAGIC

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.

 

 

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