This is the prologue to the first book in my series. Many of you have followed me through thick and thin, and I wanted to share this taste before the first book is published late next month (July 2012). Keep in mind this is all copyrighted to me, and any resemblance to anything else is entirely coincidental.
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Her heart pounded as she moved through the shadowed halls. She didn't dare a torch to light her way, instead relying on the sudden spills of moonlight through the slitted windows. In the darkness, the walls seemed to be shrinking in around her, the blackness engulfing her.
She tried to push away the suffocating feeling. Her only focus had to be arriving at the courtyard in time.
Her slippers hissed across the stone floors, the only sound besides the shallow, nervous breaths that were all she could manage.
She took her first full breath as she pushed open the last door, an old wooden service entrance. She looked out to see that the twin moons bathed the courtyard in their soft glow, both beautiful and eerie. It seemed that the normally bustling, busy space was now entirely devoid of all life. Not even the birds or insects dared to disturb the Mad Queen's demesne—even the wind was still behind the circling walls. The light that had been a guide to the future just moments ago was just as much a weapon, she realized. It left her no place to hide in the open expanse of dirt and stone.
Panic jolted through her as she heard the nightly guard coming toward the corner of the building. Blind fear froze her body. She had only been told to make it to the courtyard where Ragnar would meet her. The hated wall surrounding the Renzorrian kingdom was a black-stone horizon laughing at her hope, now.
She pressed a palm tight to her bulging stomach, making a silent promise to the delicate, powerful life growing inside. You will never be a prisoner to anyone.
No matter if that freedom was found only in death.
The deep voices and heavy steps of the night guard grew closer. It would do little good to close the door now; it was an entrance that was used only by servants and slaves. The druids the Queen used as guards, though banished by their clans, would have no problem scenting her with their innate animal connections. Her seer's blood would obviously not belong among the slaves' entrance.
She was about to make a dash across the exposed dirt of the courtyard, the costs be damned, when a hunched figure in a ragged black robe suddenly appeared before her out of the grayed night.
Anyette nearly screamed before she collapsed against the wall in relief.
Her daughter protested the abrupt fear and subsequent adrenaline as she rolled and kicked fitfully. Anyette gave a shaky laugh and pressed a reassuring hand against her.
"Hush, baby," she breathed, her eyes never leaving Ragnar's bent form.
The old woman looked up at her from the depths of the cowl shadowing her face. Ragnar's eyes, as always, were the first thing to capture her attention.
"The guards," was all Anyette could manage, her body still weak with relief. She believed, perhaps for the first time, that she could actually escape these walls. Ragnar was the only being Anyette knew of who was capable of holding off the Mad Queen for any amount of time.
Either Ragn ar did not hear her or chose to ignore her. The calm eyes didn't even acknowledge the first set of booted feet that rounded the corner.
Anyette's hand clenched against the rough stone wall. Time slowed. The small, enigmatic smile that spread on Ragnar's face was like a taunt at Anyette's fear. Maybe the old woman was fine with being discovered, but Anyette could not disappear and reappear as she pleased in order to escape, or she would have gone years ago.
The guards turned the corner. All three of the banished druids were now in full sight of where both women stood in front of the door. The men's light armor jingled with their steps as they moved past without any alarm, not even a glance in their direction.
Anyette could only stare at their backs, her body still frozen. Ragnar held out a gnarled hand, the knuckles swollen and crooked, and Anyette could do nothing less than accept the offer. It was almost as if she were in a haze. She knew the seer was different, but she had never expected just how much. Anyette hadn't even felt a flare of power to explain the guard's indifference.
As the papery, smooth skin settled in a surprisingly firm grip around her hand, Anyette wondered yet again who this seer was. She had never known anyone more powerful than Ragnar. Even the Mad Queen feared her. The old woman seemingly came and went as she pleased, and answered to no one. She spoke when she saw fit, but fell prey to the visions all of the women kept here were forced to suffer through. But the result of those visions, the debilitating weakness that was the price for their knowledge, never seemed to touch her.
Ragnar was a mystery, but she was the only person who could lead her daughter to freedom, and for that she was a mystery Anyette was happy to accept.
They approached a small, hidden door in the castle wall used to slip small goods back and forth from the surrounding town into the castle kitchen. It was kept locked and magically warded at all times, but when Ragnar touched the rusted handle, its time worn hinges fell open in a silent, smooth swing.
Opening a door was such an unassuming, simple thing that so many took for granted. For Anyette, it meant freedom, her first glance of the world outside the walls that had trapped her since birth in this gilded cage.
Her heart throbbed in her ears. With a quick glance at Ragnar, she took the few, small steps out the door. The sudden impact of emotion was unexpected. Tears pooled in her eyes as she took in the darkened town down the hill, the sparse trees, the lightest breeze against her face. Those walls had been her cell her entire life; they would have been her daughter's prison, too.
She was free for the first time since she had been born with the sight.
Anyette turned quickly to Ragnar. The seer stood waiting in the shadow of the arched doorway.
"You will find your freedom and your daughter's future among the persecuted you wish to save. They are hidden deep within the forests to the south. Keep moving by night, hide in the daylight, and the syski will find you."
"My daughter, how will she-"
"Your visions have been hard and true, daughter," Ragnar continued, as if Anyette had not even spoken. "The False King is hunting the syski people. They are in a war they do not wish and one they cannot win. You will be brought before a defeated Queen. If you wish to save their people, the Queen must take refuge in your daughter's soul. Separate they are powerful, but together they will lead a revolution.
Retreat to the human world with the knowledge I give you. Raise her as a human child, as human as you can, because there is strength in any perceived weakness. You will be hunted ceaselessly, and you will be caught, but your daughter will live to be the key to the True King's reign."
Anyette nodded slowly. She always knew she would eventually die for her escape. Her daughter could never know of the magic of this world, not from Anyette's lips, and she mourned for that loss. But she would be free, and she would be safe for a time in the human realm. There was little she could do to protect her from the Fey court that would come, especially if her life was tied to that of the banished True King, but Ragnar knew far more of Fate than all of the other seers put together.
As the strongest seer of War, Famine, and Future, Anyette had already watched the syski people dying, crying out in despair, and their Queen was fighting a losing battle against the Usurper, the False King. Anyette would be honored for her daughter to carry their future with her. A case of soul-sharing had not been heard of for centuries, but it was not impossible, and the two souls were always stronger in the end.
"I understand," Anyette finally said. What more could she say? It was the only thing that would assure her daughter had both the freedom she deserved and the power to keep that freedom when the time came to embrace her true life in the Sieret'su, the Fey kingdom to the east. Anyette knew the Mad Queen would not simply let the daughter of one of her most powerful seers go, no matter how much time passed.
Ragnar smiled once more, but the action was older now, the corners withered. Anyette could almost believe she was exactly as she appeared, a powerful old woman, no longer enamored with life and burdened by too much responsibility to contemplate leaving it.
"You don't understand, my daughter, but one day you will. I wish you luck, high-seer Anyette."
A wrinkled hand reached up to brush Anyette's forehead. Caught in the sudden beauty of the swirling white of Ragnar's eyes, Anyette could not look away. The pupil-less depths dragged her mind deep into the between of Fate and portent until she was lost among the winds of all the shifting times. Anyette was blinded to the outside world as she became consumed by a place beyond time, a place that existed by the power of the Goddess herself. It was a place where Anyette and the other seers could only visit, where they could only be subjected to what it wished to show—but this powerful, limitless place bent the very fabric of its making quickly to the demands of the woman before her.
The words she needed to bind the souls of the syski Queen and her unborn daughter filled her heart, the purity and deafening power of the spell weakening her knees. She fell to her knees, her eyes closed, her hands clutching at the grass and dirt as she tried to ground herself back in this time and place.
Anyette now understood at least one thing in those few short seconds: Ragnar was impossible to ever fathom. The gift the woman had given her was enormous, a blessing from a being far beyond anyone's understanding. She, if it was actually even a she, was a creature nearly as old as the ground beneath them, a creation from the beginning times when the Goddess still walked the newly sown lands and the dempirs and their mates were first set free to explore Her new creation.
When she opened her eyes, Ragnar was gone, the door in the castle wall shut firm against the outside world.
As if the seer had never been.
Anyette stood slowly, still trying to calm her ragged mind. One step at a time, she began the long walk south to her daughter's freedom.