Thursday, 2 July 2015

The Brooding Crown - Chapter 3

2 weeks to go until release! Here's chapter 3 for you to enjoy now. If you missed chapter 2, you can find it here. Don't forget to sign up to my mailing list to receive the next chapters, some of which will NOT be shared anywhere else!

The Brooding Crown
The Second Book of Caledan
The door opened before her without a sound and her father beckoned her in. Eve entered with deliberate slowness, wishing she could be anywhere else.
“Have you made your decision?” He sat forward in his chair, his eyes fixed upon her expectantly.
“Yes, Father.”
She took a deep breath in and exhaled. There’s no going back from this. The decision made her miserable, but there was no outcome she would be happy with. At least this way, I’ll get to go to Ednor. There, she could practise controlling her magical abilities, which had blossomed a few months before in a confusing incident while she had been rescuing King Soren’s sister Irumae from captivity. She could also visit her mother’s – and her own – ethereal kin: the Eldarkind.
Eve swallowed. The deep breath had done nothing to still her jumping heart or her shaking, sweaty hands. “I’ll do it.”
Her father raised an eyebrow, but did not speak.
He wants me to say it. Ice cold shivers crawled down her spine. “I will marry the man of your choosing,” she forced herself to say. It came out in a monotone, but she could not have managed any more. To say it was torture enough.
Her father broke into a wide smile, relaxing back in his chair, and then stood to embrace her. He clasped her to his chest, but she was wooden in his grasp and he soon released her. “Good, I’m pleased. I already have some suitable matches in mind. I will begin preparations.”
Her father’s uncharacteristic excitement was tempered by her growing feeling of nausea. I have to leave. She bade her father a quick farewell and rushed to the stables to saddle Alia, knowing a ride would calm her and clear her head.
Alia whinnied in greeting as she entered the stable. It was cool and quiet – a reprieve from the hot summer sun – but the darkness and enclosed space did nothing to ease Eve’s discomfort. As she fumbled with the saddle’s buckles, someone entered the stables behind her. She turned, expecting it to be one of the stable boys.
Luke. Damn it. She had avoided him in the days since returning to Arlyn. Her heart quickened.
“Eve,” he said, moving towards her. “Are you well? I haven’t seen you for ages. I’ve been worried.”
“Thank you, I’m fine,” she said. “I’m going for a ride.”
He scrutinised her face. “I can tell when you’re lying,” he said after a pause. “You know you can talk to me.”
I wish I could tell you, she thought to herself, leaning her cheek against the cool leather of the saddle.
I suppose he’ll find out anyway.
“My father is arranging my marriage,” she said.
“No! It cannot be true.”
“It’s true.” She sighed. “I had to promise him. It’s the one way he’ll let me return to Ednor. I either agree to marry the man of his choosing, and he will permit me to go to Ednor to train, or I do not agree, but he will make me marry anyway, with no certainty of visiting Ednor.”
Luke frowned, shaking his head. “Lord Karn would never-“
“I don’t know anymore, Luke. At least this way he’s promised me that I may go – for as long as I need to – to be trained in controlling my… skills. I don’t understand them well enough. Sometimes I worry they’ll burst out of me again. There’s no one I can ask for help here. If they discovered my abilities, they’d shun me.”
“Please don’t do it,” Luke pleaded. “There must be another way!”
I wish I didn’t have to, she wanted to say, but instead she answered, “I don’t have a choice, Luke.” She made to move away, but he reached out to grasp her hand. She flinched as he touched her, but did not pull away. His hands were warm and clammy, matching her own.
“If you have any feelings for me, Eve, please don’t do this. We’ll find a way to make it work.”
She did not answer, closing her eyes to block the world out. Don’t make this harder for me, Luke!
Even the few days apart had left her feeling lost after they had spent so much time together in the months before. His sudden appearance had removed any notion of indifference. Nevertheless, her feelings did not mean she could change her father’s mind.
Even so, she still found herself stepping forward to lean upon his chest. He took her in an embrace, his warm arms surrounding her and hers encircling his waist.
“I know that you have feelings for me too,” Luke said, “even though you don’t want to admit it.”
Tears flowed from Eve’s eyes. This is so unfair! Why can’t I make my own choice, like Father did! “I wish things could be different,” she croaked.
“I’ll ask for your hand instead.” He leaned back, catching her eye before wiping the tears from her cheeks with a soft touch of his thumb. “If you don’t marry whoever your father wants you to. I will save every penny I have to raise a house and provide for you.”
“There’s no way he would agree to that. He wants me to marry at least a sir, if not a lord,” she said, and the tears poured from her cheeks as she held back sobs.
“I’ll try anyway,” Luke said. He brought her hand to his lips and pressed a warm kiss to her knuckles.
Eve pulled away. Grabbing Alia’s reins, she ran from the stable without a backwards glance.

Her father had invited her to dinner; a worrying sign that meant something serious was afoot. He never eats with me. What does he want?
Eve slipped into her chair, opposite Karn. They were not in the main dining room, which was too large for the two of them, but instead in the small dining room, which gave beautiful views of the forested mountains.
The smallest smile flitted across her lips as he greeted her with unusual cheer, but it did not reach her eyes. She tried to covertly scrutinise him.
“I have something to discuss with you, Eve,” he said at last as they finished the main course.
It was her favourite meal – chicken breast wrapped in salty bacon rashers and served with sweet, roasted potatoes and vegetables – but she had not been able to enjoy it, worrying what her father would say. Please don’t let it be about marriage, please, she prayed.
Her father cleared his throat. “I have found a suitable match for you.”
No! Her heart sunk and her face fell in dismay.
“I am happy to announce that you will be betrothed to Dane Edmundsson of House Arendall. It is a good match, do you not agree? A familiar face to you – and Edmund, of course, is like family to us.”
Eve was silent. Dane Edmundsson? She couldn’t remember him well. It had been many years since she had last met him.
“What do you think?” her father prompted, his smile fading.
“Isn’t he really old?” She wrinkled her nose in distaste.
“Eve!” Karn stifled a chuckle. “You should not say such things! He is older than you, yes, but he is not old. I believe he is about thirty-two. I forget when his birthday is. A fifteen-year age gap or thereabouts is not so great, and not as large as it could be! Despite what you may think he is still young, but well established upon his lands and from a good family.”
Eve had stopped listening. Fifteen-years different! That’s almost double my age. She tried to imagine his face, but her memory of him was so incomplete that it was Dane’s father Edmund’s face she visualised.
She stared at her plate, which was still half full. The vegetables were growing cold but the chicken steamed. The meaty smell wafted into her nose, but she felt nauseated and pushed back her plate, taking a great gulp of water to empty her mouth of taste.
“Aren’t Arendall lands far from here, in the south?” Eve asked, realising the implications.
Karn nodded.
“Then we won’t see each other much?”
Karn frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ll be here and he’ll be there, won’t he?”
“Oh, Eve.” Karn shook his head, smiling with a tinge of sadness. “You will be expected to accompany him wherever he desires, perhaps to his own lands, to Pandora, or even elsewhere, should he so choose.”
“I’ll have to leave? No! Please, can’t I stay here?” Please don’t make me leave Arlyn! Eve’s heart pounded with the force of a horse kicking a stable door, and her mouth dried as though parched for days.
“It is the way things are. You will return. After all, these are to be your lands, but it may not be for some time.”
Eve swallowed, wetting her lips. “Is there no one closer?”
Her father shook his head. “You are worth far more than all the lordlings hereabouts combined. I would not have considered any of them.”
Eve slumped in her chair, wishing it would somehow swallow her up and take her to a land where she did not have to marry a stranger, and an old stranger far away at that. However, its wooden surface was hard and unyielding, offering her no comfort.
Karn continued to speak, but Eve’s eyes had glazed over as her attention drifted.
“Eve, pay attention,” he admonished. “Did you hear what I said?”
She straightened in her chair.
“I take that as a no. Within the month you will be betrothed at Arlyn chapel. The marriage will then be arranged at Pandora, or perhaps on Arendall lands.”
So soon. Eve’s belly lurched in fear. “Please may I be excused?” She stood up before he had finished giving his permission and ran to her bedchamber as swiftly as possible. She threw open the shutters, which the servants had closed, breathing in great gulps of the cooling evening air.
The room lay in the shadow of the March Mountains, and the familiar scent of pine wafting through the window reassured her. Her breathing slowed but her pulse was still erratic, and the fear coiled in her stomach refused to dissipate.
What have I agreed to?

Before long, the day of the betrothal was upon her; no amount of dreading could delay it. The dawn matched Eve’s mood. The weather was miserable. It was one of the first days heralding autumn. A deep mist clung to the ground, smothering everything with dew and coldness, permeated by drizzle.
It was dull, the sun too low in the sky and too weak yet to break through the haze, so daylight came late to Arlyn that morning. Eve woke, thick headed in the faint light, feeling as if she had woken in the eleventh month of the year, not the ninth. Shivering under the cooling water as she washed with deliberate slowness, she tried to steady herself for what was to come.
In the weeks since her father’s announcement, no amount of thinking and rethinking had managed to give her a solution. There seemed to be no honourable escape from her predicament. The fear she had felt that night over dinner had not vanished, instead returning with malicious glee to torment her again at whatever waking moment it could.
A dress had already been laid out for her. It was pretty, she could not deny it, but knowing what it symbolised made her want to burn it rather than wear it. Her skin crawled as the maid’s cold fingers buttoned it from the back. There had been no time to send for fabric to have a new garment made. Instead, an older dress had been altered, fitted with lace trims and resized to fit with perfection. I preferred it how it was. She fingered the lace with dislike.
Although the dress was not optional, breakfast was out of the question thanks to her roiling stomach. She turned away the plate, instead going to the stables – taking care not to catch her dress in the mud – to see Alia. Alia never failed to calm her, and, as usual, the horse moved to greet her with a gentle whinny, nuzzling her shoulder and nibbling at her palm for treats.
“Nothing for you today, girl,” Eve mumbled, leaning against Alia’s neck and closing her eyes.
Eve stayed there for as long as she could, until the inevitable occurred.
“Eve!” her father’s voice rang out in the distance. “Eve!”
“Wish me luck, Alia,” Eve whispered.

To be continued...
I hope you enjoyed the first taste of The Brooding Crown! Don't forget to sign up to my mailing list to receive the next chapters, some of which will NOT be shared anywhere else!

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