Hello my lovely readers, I have some excellent news on this fine fall day. I’m a bit late with this blog post because I’ve been working over the weekend to polish up Draft Two of The Enduring Flame for beta readers. I am so glad to say that it is finally ready!
I have some excellent readers already, but if you’re interested in trying your hand at critique, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In exchange for your honest thoughts and timeliness – I am asking readers to be finished by the end of October – I would send you either a signed copy of The Lantern-Lit City or The Fading Glow, OR a free epub of the finished version of The Enduring Flame once it’s ready. Your choice!
As a thank-you for your patience as I deal with my personal issues, here is the very first scene of The Enduring Flame.
*Please note that this scene is not the final, polished version, and is subject to changes made during the last editing phases.
The Enduring Flame, Chapter One: Seanna
Snow fell continuously. It would have been peaceful, had Seanna been able to watch it from the warmth and safety of the keep in Con Salur. She held baby Landin close, her hands bundled in whatever cloth she could find to cover them. Her breath steamed in the winter air, and shivers passed over her. After days of walking, her feet ached and her still-healing body burned with pain. A hidden root caught her shoe, and she stumbled in the snow. Portia was by her in moment, her strong hands helping Seanna to right herself.
“Thank you,” Seanna said through chattering teeth.
Ahead of them, Dyle Belrose and Gavriel Ropaz pushed doggedly through the snow, leading the way to some unknown destination. The wizard and predicant walked side-by-side, their forms identical in the blizzard. Behind Seanna came a small group of straggling people: rustics, nobles, and servants from Con Salur, all that were left of the mighty city. Barely a hundred had managed to escape the siege. Seanna gritted her teeth. It won’t matter if we all die in the cold.
Belrose and Ropaz stopped, their heads bent together. Belrose turned to Seanna. “Your Grace, we think we’re near the borders of Lord Felder’s estate. The town of Larthearth is a few miles past it.”
“Lord Felder is obligated to help us,” Seanna said, her shivering making it hard for her to think. “We’ll go there first.”
Belrose nodded. He and Ropaz continued to plunge through the swirling white, and Seanna followed, hoping for a hot meal and a blazing fire. She blinked away the snowflakes on her eyelashes. When she glanced behind her, she saw that some of her people struggled as much as her. Though it was hard to pick them out in the storm, she thought that the nobles stumbled and straggled the most, while the rustics looked forward with determined gazes. We nobles have been spoiled our whole lives. We’ve never had to brave a storm, yet these rustics have known such hardship every winter. She bit her lip and adjusted her grip on Landin. The baby’s face was pale, his lips turning blue. If they didn’t find shelter soon…her heart clutched at the thought.
Wrought iron gates loomed out of the white. No one manned them. Ropaz pushed them open, and the refugees slowly moved up the long drive to the manor house. Seanna could already imagine the meat and wine and her feet drying by the fire.
A few lights shone from the manor’s windows. Seanna surged forward, ready for the warmth. The rest of the refugees huddled in the yard as she, Belrose, and Ropaz made their way to the doors. Belrose pounded as hard as he could on the fine timbers.
After a few moments, a servant carefully opened the door. He stared out at the bedraggled group.
“Rustics are not welcome here,” the servant said frostily.
Ropaz stepped forward. “I am the High Predicant, Gavriel Ropaz, and I escort Her Grace Queen Seanna Bergfalk and His Grace King Landin the Third, heir to the throne of Dotschar.”
The servant paled. He stepped aside, and the three entered. Though the stone halls were chilly, Seanna was grateful for the reprieve from the wind and snow. She and the others followed the servant through a set of rooms to a cozy dining hall where a great fire roared. Seanna edged toward the fire as the servant bowed and went to find his master.
Just as Seanna began to thaw, Lord Felder entered. His gaze darted between his guests, and he licked his lips nervously.
“Your…Your Grace,” he muttered, giving a perfunctory bow. He didn’t even address Ropaz. “I-I’m afraid…I mean, I didn’t–”
“We need food and shelter,” Seanna said. “Our people are freezing outside. And whatever furs and cloaks you can spare for the road ahead.”
Lord Felder licked his lips again. “Ah. Well, I-I-I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
Seanna drew herself up, though she was still shorter than every man in the room. She turned so that Felder could see the infant’s face. “This is your king, Lord Felder. Would you really–”
“Shh!” Felder put a finger over his lips. He turned frightened eyes to the doorway. “They could hear you!”
Ropaz and Belrose glanced at the door. Seanna stared at Felder. “You don’t mean…?”
“Yes!” Felder spoke in a low, furtive voice. “The elves are here! Why do you think I’m still alive? I surrendered the moment they came through. They left a few of their own to keep an eye on me.”
He tried to shoo Seanna and the others back to the door, but she didn’t budge. “Lord Felder–”
Seanna’s objection spluttered to silence as three elves ducked into the room, looking cold despite the many furs slung over their shoulders. The air in the room dropped to an icy tension.
“Felder, who are these people?” asked the first elf in a lilting accent. His eyes lingered on Seanna.
“R-r-rustics begging for some food and shelter,” Felder stuttered. “I was just sending them away.”
“And where do these rustics come from?”
Felder sputtered, but Ropaz stepped in. The polished edges of his words dropped into a slur, rounding into any rustic’s speech. “From Haverly, sir. West o’ the capital. We’ve been walkin’ for quinns and deshes, an’ with the snows–”
“Enough.” The elf waved him into silence. “Give them some food and send them on their way.” He swept from the room, the other elves following him. Lord Felder let out a deep breath.
“I’ll give what we can spare,” he said. “You may have better luck in Larthearth. The elves don’t care to guard the rustics.”
He looked at little Landin. “And I’ll provide something warmer for the child.”
He scurried from the room before Seanna could ask for more. When he disappeared, she slumped into a chair in front of the fire. Her vision blurred, and she angrily wiped away her tears. Ropaz put a hand on her shoulder.
“We’re still close to the city,” he said. “I doubt any nobles in this region could help us. Be grateful for what he can give us.”
“I know,” Seanna said. “At least we weren’t recognized.”
“We’ll have to be more careful,” Belrose said. “They’ll send word to all their soldiers once they realize our escape. It’ll take days to search the whole city, but they’ll come into the countryside eventually.”
Seanna nodded. “Distribute the food to the children and elderly. We’ll see if the village can give us shelter for the night.”
“Of course,” Ropaz said. “And you need to eat, too. You must keep your strength if the child has a chance.”
“I know.” Seanna looked to Belrose. “You sent word to the prince in Rengu Forest, yes?”
Belrose nodded. “I used my fastest messaging spell. I’ve received no word in return.”
They went quiet as servants bustled in with packages of food: bread, dried meats and fruits, and cheeses. One of them brought a fur to Seanna, which she wrapped around Landin. She nibbled on some cheese and meat as they went back out into the cold. Her belly ached with hunger, and the skies were beginning to darken, but they had to make it to the village before they could rest again.
The weary band pushed back out into the storm.