Wow! It's been five-and-a-half weeks since I last posted a Ray Bradbury Challenge. Our new release and everything else on my plate really took up a lot of my time. But I'm back on track and can hopefully keep it going.
Since I was late this week with posting the continuation of my web serial – Legends of Evanterra – I decided to do a separate post for today. AND since my readers voted for which storyline to continue – Cleris in Evanterra or The Stone of Fate – and they were one vote away from being a tie, I've also decided to give each storyline some attention. So today you're getting BOTH.
A Slight Change in Format
I've decided that since we're following two stories that I know are going to eventually intersect, I've switched the point of view for Cleris's storyline. So starting today and moving forward, I'll be writing it in third person limited instead of first person. I hope you enjoy both installments for this week's episode.
Episode 10: Legends of Evanterra
Stone of Fate: The Truce
A truce with a human. Faelar struggled with pushing his racial preconceptions aside and attempted to put his trust in a man. They were not known for their word. At least that was Faelar's opinion of men, but this one had so far proven otherwise.
“So,” Mace said as he put the skinning knife and rabbits onto the cutting board. “We need to be in accord over what, exactly, this truce means.”
The mage waved his hands and an aethereal table materialized off to the side of the campfire in their cave. He set the cutting board onto the magical surface and began preparing the conies for the stew.
Mace sliced the rabbit down the belly, from chin to tail. “Personally, I think we need to set any differences aside and be honest with each other. No more secrets. No more hiding things from each other. If we're going to be working together as a team, we have to know exactly what each of us is bringing to the table.”
Faelar nodded. “Then let me start by apologizing.”
“You already did.” The mage smirked.
“That was for knocking you on the head.” Faelar finished binding the sticks into a tripod, and straddled it over the hot embers of the fire, ready for Mace to hang the pot. “I was too quick to judge you for killing the dwarf. After what you just said about him taking advantage of people in the dungeon, well…” He didn't like the dark thoughts running through his mind about what the dwarf deserved. “I don't wish death on anyone, but I can see how you'd think the dwarf was a bad enough person to pay for his mistakes. I guess what I'm saying is, I don't know that we really have any differences, now that you've cleared that up.”
“So trusting and being more honest with a human isn't that much of a stretch anymore?” Mace set aside the skinned rabbit and grabbed the second.
I've been more transparent about my distaste for humans than I realized. “You saved my life and you gave me back the list.” Faelar returned to his seat on the boulder. “You really haven't given me a reason not to trust you. In fact, I owe you.”
The human shrugged. “I'd say we're even. You could have left me in Birgalor or kept me tied up and tortured me for the map.”
Faelar huffed. “Yeah, I suppose I could have, but that's not the road I travel.”
“To which I am grateful. Until we build enough of a history together, you keep the list and I'll keep the map and we'll have each other's backs because we're protecting our assets for this journey.” Mace finished cutting the carcasses into pieces, setting the scraps aside, and removed the herbs and root vegetables from the crate on the ground. “Who knows. We might actually become friends during this grand adventure.”
“I'm sure stranger things have happened.” Faelar smiled. “What's our next move?”
“Well, the dwarves will probably keep searching for us in Birgalor Village and Meingard, and they might extend that as far as Bellan Valley.” He hung the pot over the fire and dropped some butter into it. “But I think they'll give up the chase before that, unless they think we've gotten away with something. Did you take off with anything they might miss?”
“I don't think they know I have the list. I'd already stolen it and was leaving, when they cornered me. I'd grabbed the nearest artifact and pretended I got caught red-handed.”
“Smart travelers on the same path.” Mace winked. “I had just finished making a duplicate of the map I was stealing, stashing the real one away, and I got caught red-handed with the fake. Unless they look at the replica more closely, they won't know anything is missing. They don't know you're a descendent of Silveril, do they?”
Faelar shook his head. “I don't think so, especially since the object I was pretending to steal had no connection to him.”
The meat sizzled in the butter when Mace dropped the pieces into the pot. He grinned, adding the onion and herbs he'd chopped. “Am I recalling correctly that you picked up a bottle of wine?”
Chuckling, Faelar crossed the cave to the cart and opened the second crate. “I could use a drink myself. Red or white?”
“We have a choice? How nice. Red, please.”
He handed the jug to Mace, who popped the cork and dribbled a healthy portion of the burgundy over the meat. Steam and smoke curled from the iron vessel.
Mace fanned the air toward his face, eyes closed. He inhaled and sighed. “Ahh, I do love to cook.”
“Good, that'll be your duty then. I'm not very good at it and you'll be a happier man for it.”
“Ha! I'll be more than happy, if you handle firewood duty.”
“Deal.” Faelar took the bottle from Mace before he set it down and poured two cups for them. He set Mace's cup on the magical table before returning to the rock. “Are we going straight to Whelenora Canyon then?”
“No. We need to lighten our load.”
“What do you mean?”
Mace scoffed and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “You bought enough supplies to last us a month. We don't need that much.”
“But it's going to take us almost a month to get to the canyon.”
The human twisted his face as if Faelar had grown horns. “Is this your first long-distance journey?”
“No.” Faelar tried to ignore the heat rushing into his cheeks. “It took me two weeks to get to Birgalor from my city.”
“And I'll bet you packed for the whole two weeks, didn't you?”
Faelar pursed his lips, annoyed the human read him so easily.
“Only bring enough for a few days.” Mace dumped the chopped root vegetables into the pot. “We can sell the cart and trade the extra supplies for more practical items. There are towns along the road where we can get a hot meal and a bed, and we'll camp like this and live off the land in between. Besides, I have a few connections to make the trip a little shorter. We're going to take a faerie portal and cut the time by two-thirds, at least.”
Faelar's jaw dropped. Faerie portals were for the rich and well connected. “I got lucky meeting you. You have the map, you cook and you have connections.”
Mace chortled and covered the pot with the lid. “This'll need to simmer for a bit.” He snatched his cup and sat on the crate across from Faelar. “We'll head to Bellan Valley first thing in the morning and I'll show you how to pack for the road.”
“Brilliant.” Faelar lifted his cup in a silent toast of accord. “To Bellan.”
Cleris in Evanterra: The Princess of Veils
“You're telling me all the disputes about my legitimacy to the throne could be silenced once everyone knows I'm your daughter?” Relief washed over Cleris like a gentle rain. Could the solution to some of her problems be so simple?
“Unfortunately, doing that will create some complications.” Estelar sighed and clasped his hands before him, worry creasing his handsome face.
Of course it wasn't going to be that simple. Silly girl for considering it. She propped her elbows on her thighs and hung her head. “Let's hear it.”
“The Blood Lord would love nothing better than to have leverage against me. Once he knows you're my daughter, he will stop at nothing to get his hands on you.”
Cleris lifted her head and frowned. “He's been pretty determined to kill me. Why would he capture me if my death could easily achieve his goals? And you hardly know me. Why would that be leverage?”
“Sweet Cleris.” A sad smile graced his lips. “You may have not known about me, but I have loved you since I saw you in your mother's eyes. If Nicolai captured you, he would most certainly have my heart at his mercy.”
She had waited decades to hear such endearments from Myril, to be seen so precious to him. The urge to run into Estelar's arms and claim that fatherly love at last was so overwhelming, she rose from the stone bench to act on the impulse.
But froze as grief graveled his voice.
“As the Prince of Veils, the keeper of forbidden secrets and dangerous knowledge, the entire safety and fate of Evanterra would be at stake. Your throne will be taken from you if we stay silent. But you cannot return to your kingdom once Nicolai learns you're my daughter. And I certainly won't let you get that close to him.”
Estelar and Cleris turned to the fae woman who stood on the balcony overlooking the garden.
“Come, Sumina.” Estelar beckoned her with a princely wave. “I can sense your distress. What is it?”
Gossamer wings of blue, green and pink spread behind her and she closed the distance between her and the prince. Sumina bowed and her wings vanished, then she turned her eyes to Cleris. “The Blood Lord wishes an audience, Your Highness.”
Panic propelled Cleris toward the messenger. “He's not here, is he?”
“No, princess.” She dipped a curtsy. “He contacts us through the Eastern Kingdom mirror. He…” She dropped her gaze. “He has a prisoner, Your Grace.”
Estelar's face hardened and his eyes burnished with an orange glow. “Tell him I will be there in a moment and do not say a word of the princess.”
“It is the princess he requested, Sire. He knew she was here.”
Sumina paled. “N-not from me, Your Grace.”
Conflicting emotions battled for dominance on her father's face: anger, fear, despair, resolve. He nodded. “We will only be a moment.”
Dismissed, Sumina bowed once more and took flight, disappearing over the balcony into the palace.
“I don't know how he knows you're here, but we must be cautious. He still may not know who you are to me.” With a guiding hand, he led Cleris to the stairs and they ascended toward the balcony and inside. “Just be the Princess of Lourean and let us see what he wants and who this prisoner is.”
Their footsteps echoed off the towering corridors of woven branches and they entered a chamber with a dozen standing mirrors arranged in a half circle. But the center mirror was the one animated with a dark scene, and Cleris covered her mouth to stifle the gasp. Melchor.
The wizard was strapped to a table, which was tilted to display the evidence of his torture—a split lip, a black and swollen eye, the tips of his index and middle finger on his left hand dripped blood, and she realized, as they drew closer, that his fingernails had been torn off.
Nicolai Moonfall entered the frame and grinned, revealing his fangs. “Princess Cleris.”
Melchor stirred and squinted with his good eye, seemingly straining to find her.
“What a delight to see you are safe.” Malice laced the Blood Lord's voice. “Imagine my surprise when Melchor came through the portal alone, when I had it on good authority you were to accompany him on your journey home.”
“Cleris,” Melchor wheezed. “There's a traitor in Lourean.”
An orc appeared at the side of the table and used his fist to silence the wizard. Cleris cringed.
Nicolai lifted his hand and a familiar Matron of the Forest shuffled into view. Her once-purple eyes, now shrouded in glossy red, turned toward them and dread seized Cleri's heart. Thalia was now his thrall. Just a single drop of the vampire's blood into each of her eyes was all it took. She would do his bidding until the blood spell was broken.
The vampire wrapped his arm around the faerie's shoulders and squeezed as if they were pals. “My new friendship with Thalia has been very enlightening. Not only did I learn she had diverted your trip through the portal to Merellien, but she had some interesting news to share. Seems you're not the half-commoner your kingdoms believe you be. You're not even half noble. No, no, no.”
Cleris exchanged a worried glance with her father.
“I bow to your mighty royal bloodline…Princess of Veils.”
She clenched her fists behind her back and held her temper in check. “What do you want?”
“Originally, I wanted a union between our kingdoms. An everlasting peace that can only come from the bonds of holy matrimony, just as I attempted with your mother.”
“And you thought to bargain by exchanging Melchor for my hand in marriage?”
“Not anymore. Once Melchor came through the portal alone, you sealed his fate and doomed your kingdom. Now I will thrall him and he will become my new advisor. Through him, I will finally breech your walls and conquer the Gateway to the Eastern Kingdoms.”
“If you have what you want, then why are you bothering with this audience?” Her heart was breaking and her knees grew weak from defeat, but she refused to let the vampire see her pain.
“To inform you Lourean is no longer your home, so don't bother returning. And to extend a sliver of compassion by letting you tell your old friend goodbye.”
*Cue dramatic music* And that's it for this exciting return of the web serial! I'm excited to see how this continues to develop. I hope you are, too.
I'll be posting a new installment of one of the storylines next Tuesday in my weekly newsletter. We have 36 more posts to go, so plenty of room to see how these storylines evolve. Hopefully, we'll see a satisfying conclusion. If not, I may have to continue past the 52 weeks until we do.
Until next week, that's my two pence…