The Middle Continent
t the center of The Sea of Grass, Tharan-Tul, Great Shaman of the Thrun, sat on a hilltop by the dying flames of his fire. His gnarled hand smoothed an area of fine gray ash.
He waited, listening, closing his eyes.
They came – the whispering voices rising from the Sea of Grass. They sighed and sang of past and future.
Tharan-Tul drew three interconnected circles in the ashes with his forefinger – Ascendance, Balance and Descent.
He drew his runes from their small leather pouch and passed them from hand to hand, the worn bone discs clicking together softly. His mind called to the Spirits at The Light At The Top Of The World to help him see clearly. He cast the runes across the drawn circles.
The rune of the Winter Sun was in the uppermost circle, Ascendance, but the other two had fallen together in the adjacent circle of Balance. The third circle, Descent, was clear.
Not a bad sign, but unexpected.
Could Light Of The Winter Sun ascend so soon? The runes of Reflection of My Friend and Light Brighter Than The Sun had fallen under another influence, when before, all three of the chosen children’s runes had always been unified in one circle.
The whispering voices sang that this was the near future he was seeing, not the present.
Sweeping the fragile discs together into his hand, Tharan-Tul replaced them in their pouch, then erased the circles in the ash. Sitting back on his heels, he looked up at the night sky.
The prophecy might yet come to pass, despite the division between the chosen children he had just seen. They could be reunified. There was still time.
In the interim, there was much to be done.
The Shadows, Mordania
Visits The Shadows
for Trantz, former Mordanian spy, was riding home from a day of hunting when he saw a woman burdened with a particularly large portmanteau trudging along the road from The Shadows’ railroad halt. He frowned. No visitors were expected today. This was a serious breach of security.
Ifor urged his large black gelding forward and rapidly overtook the figure toiling along in the dust of the midsummer road. As he got within earshot, it was obvious that not only was the woman toiling along, she was swearing expertly as she did so.
“Gladdas, you old biddy,” Ifor grinned as he drew even with her.
Piercing eyes as dark as his own glared up under heavy, shapely eyebrows.
"Retribution for those tight shoes you sold me will begin,” Gladdas Dalmanthea, the only female freelance spy and assassin on Eirdon, snapped.
“Gladdy, that was twelve years ago,” Ifor chuckled, sliding from his horse’s back and taking the portmanteau from her without a by-your-leave. “My back was so bad that day, it’s a wonder I didn’t sell you hobnail boots.”
“They would have pinched less,” she retorted as he began securing the portmanteau to the front of his saddle. “Don’t think I’m going to flop around behind you on that grundar you call a horse,” she continued.
Ifor smiled to himself and tied the portmanteau behind his saddle instead.
“Should we leave her to cope with the dust and heat, Blackie?” he asked his very large saddle mount.
“You call your horse Blackie?” Gladdas Dalmanthea asked sarcastically.
“Makes sense. He’s black,” Ifor responded laconically. He remounted and crooked a booted foot for her to step onto, pulling her upward to sit sidesaddle before him. He pretended not to hear her involuntary sigh of relief. She had walked almost halfway to The Shadows from the halt on an unpaved road – a difficult journey on a hot day, particularly for a woman wearing very citified shoes.
They were silent until they rounded a bend in the road and the great estate house called The Shadows came into view.
“Good gods!” Gladdas Dalmanthea burst out. “Is that Menders’ little hut in the woods?”
Ifor grinned to himself. The Shadows was as striking as it was imposing, four stories of elaborate Old Mordanian architecture. It soared against the sky, its onion-domed turrets frosted with decorative painted woodwork. Sixteen years of loving restoration and maintenance had made what was once a neglected, near-ruin into a gracious home for nearly seventy people – including Princess Katrin Morghenna, second Heiress to the Throne of Mordania
“That’s it,” was all Ifor said.
“It’s incredible – but not worth Menders staying out here in this wilderness,” Gladdas sniped.
“He didn’t have any choice about it, if you’ll remember,” Ifor rebuked gently. “These days it’s far from a wilderness. You’re just grumpy because you were shuffling along in the dust. What brings you out, Glad?”
“I thought I would take a look at the place I’m exiling some of my best operatives to for the next three years,” she responded, still staring at the house and grounds as Blackie strutted along.
The grounds of The Shadows were at their summer best, green lawns sweeping up a gentle slope to the house. A lake on the right side of the curving oval drive shimmered in the sunlight, ringed with purple flag flowers and lilies. An extravagant rose garden nestled against the south side of the house – a dense forest of old growth trees guarded the sunlit gardens adjacent to the massive house. The display of light and shade was dazzling.
A small, blond man sauntered out onto the massive front steps of The Shadows, shaded his eyes and stared in their direction. Ifor waved before the man darted back inside, to emerge a few seconds later with a pair of binoculars. He surveyed them and dashed indoors again.
“Gone to tell Papa?” Gladdas sniped.
Ifor smiled, but he pinched her waist just hard enough to get her attention.
“Now then, Glad – we’re happy to have you, but if you’d let us know you were coming, we would have met you at The Halt,” he chided gently. “What’s more, I could have come and brought you over from Erdahn on the boat. That would have saved you the two day delay the trains have been having outside of Rondheim.”
She groaned and he could hear the weariness in the sound. She leaned back against him. He wrapped a big arm around her waist affectionately. They had known each other for more than twenty-five years and nothing she threw could rattle or offend him.
“You may take me back on your boat,” she finally said as they started up the drive to the house.
The blond man reappeared with a companion who wore dark spectacles and thigh length black hair held back with a decorative clip. He peered through the binoculars held out to him by the blond fellow and laughed before he waved.
“That is Sir Slippery Eel?” Gladdas Dalmanthea asked in astonishment. “Last time I saw him, he looked like a naughty schoolboy!”
“It’s been a very long time,” Ifor observed. “Since before he went to deal with the Surelian Problem nineteen years ago? You haven’t run into him since then?”
Gladdas shook her head, staring at the men she knew were Aylam Josirus, Lord Stettan, who went by the name Menders and Kaymar Shvalz, his second in command – first cousins to each other and second cousins to the Queen of Mordania.
“No, it never came up. I spend a lot of time in Artreya now,” she answered distractedly. “And that’s Kaymar. The last time I saw him he was a child – albeit a frightening one.”
“He still is at times.” Ifor smiled at her description of the mercurial man he had been bonded with for eight years. “I believe you’ll find that he’s quite grown up – for the most part.”
Gladdas laughed outright and Ifor smiled. Now her visit would go well and she wouldn’t appear on the doorstep at her worst.
Two heads popped out of a second story window – those of a golden-haired young woman and a striking young Thrun man. Gladdas glimpsed startling blue eyes on the woman and dark spectacles, like Menders’, on the man before the heads popped back out of sight and excited conversation could be heard.
“The Princess, I presume?” she said. “I hope she doesn’t expect curtseying.”
It was Ifor’s turn to laugh.
“Glad, you have no idea – absolutely no idea,” he said, swinging off the horse and lifting her down to the steps, where Menders came forward and to her utter amazement, embraced her like a long-lost sister.
Love and Sacrifice: Book Two of the Prophecy Series is available on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072WPSP65
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