Rose of the oath, p.1
Rose of the Oath, p.1Hope Ann
Rose of the Oath
Copyright © 2017 Hope Ann
Published by Writing in the Light Publishing
Cover design Copyright © Hope Ann, 2017
Cover image retrieved from Pixabay.com
Cover designed by Kate Flournoy
Thank you for downloading this eBook. This book remains copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support and consideration.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Rumors and Roses
Chapter 2: My Brother’s Life
Chapter 3: Silent Host
Chapter 4: Inked Words
Chapter 5: Wolves in the Night
Chapter 6: Promise of the Rose
Chapter 7: Oaths
Chapter 8: A Mirror and a Name
Chapter 9: The Key
Chapter 10: Fear and Flames
Chapter 11: Beneath Wolf Skins
Chapter 12: Rebels at Dawn
Chapter 13: Oathspeaker
Beyond the Novella
About Hope Ann
More books by Hope Ann
Dedicated to my mother who started me on the path to writing, and to my father who always encouraged me in it.
Claim your FREE SHORT STORY!
A rebellion, a Separation, a promise, and an Oathkeeper who will save those he doomed, no matter how long it takes.
Claim your FREE novelette!
Stieg Der: Steeg D-er
They were coming. They never stopped coming.
He stood still, wrapped in the cold shadows before dawn, only the faint twitch of a muscle in his cheek revealing he was more than a statue. A gust of wind slashed down from the enclosing mountainsides, tearing at his hair and twisting his thick cloak.
He didn’t move.
A wolf howled, the call rising to an eerie pitch before dropping, hurtling downward. The echo had barely faded when another howl replied.
His jaw tensed. His fingers whitened over the hilt of the great sword resting in his hands, the weapon’s point piercing the turf. Always… Always, forever, and yet again, they would come.
The wind returned, buffeting him from behind. From the side. Sweeping out before him, then circling around, retreating from a rose resting in the center of a sprawling patch of vines.
Other roses carpeted the ground, brushing upward against iron trellises, but his eyes remained focused on the one. No wind brushed its petals, which trembled against the tossing of blossoms and leaves at either side.
His breath slipped between his teeth and he finally lifted his gaze as the wind hurtled off, whistling through the narrow pass that led outward. Out into the forest. Out into Aslaria.
And he waited.
Chapter 1: Rumors and Roses
But the fruit of the Spirit is love…
“You will be careful, Eldric, won’t you?” I raised my eyebrows as my older brother fastened his faded cloak.
“Am I ever not?” His brown eyes glittered in the light that knifed through open shutters. He winked at the two younger girls clinging to my skirts, then shifted his cloak to free the hilt of the sword strapped to his back. Stepping forward, he wrapped his arms around me.
I returned the embrace, ignoring the rigid sheath digging into my arm. His black hair brushed my forehead as I rested my cheek on his shoulder. “Get back quickly.” I lowered my voice to a whisper. “If there is any truth in the rumors to the south, we’re going to need you, not to mention there is the added danger of your trip there and back.”
“You’re speaking of danger, Elissa? It must be serious.”
“Stop it.” I pushed him away. “It is serious.”
“I shall use extra caution, you may be sure,” Eldric said.
He crouched down and held out his arms to the girls. “You shan’t have another chance for at least a week,” he warned.
Helene didn’t hesitate and threw her arms around his neck. “You’ll bring us back food?”
“Do we need some?” Eldric ran his fingers through her long, auburn hair and raised one eyebrow in mock surprise.
“Sweet food!” Helene expounded, shifting from one foot to another. “Candies!”
I pressed one hand to my mouth to mask a smile. To be that age again…
“Ah.” Eldric nodded. “We’ll see what is left after I buy the spring supplies. I’ve had time for a few extra carvings this winter.” He held out his other arm. “No words of farewell, Klara?”
Helene’s twin blinked. “You can’t bid two people farewell properly at once. I was biding my time for Helene.”
I choked on a laugh while Eldric fell into a fit of coughing. Rocking back on his heels, he masked his face in the crook of his arm and recovered quickly. Moving Helene to his side, he held out both arms and wrapped them around Klara’s slim figure. She pressed her cheek against his.
After a long moment, she pulled back and regarded him with wide eyes, as only a seven-year-old can. “You’ll be home for our birthday?”
“A whole nine days away? Of course I’ll be back.” Eldric ran one finger down her cheek. “I can guess what you want for a present. Another of those books, don’t you? Or would you prefer pencils?”
Klara bit her lip, twisting a strand of flaxen hair about her finger. “I don’t know. They would both be so nice.”
Eldric lifted a helpless gaze to meet my own. “They’ll make a pauper of me: that’s what they’ll do.”
I crossed my arms and smirked as he rose. “Serves you right for spoiling them. You don’t have to get me anything, if that’s a comfort.”
“Are you sure?” He slung his knapsack of choice carvings over his back and twisted concern into every angle of his face. “No diamonds or sapphires or flowing gowns?”
“A lean, black-haired trader with a penchant for lingering even though the sun rose an hour ago would fill anything I need.”
Eldric raked his fingers through his hair and straightened his shoulders. “I’ll see what I can do about that, shall I?”
My chest tightened. “You’d better.”
Helene clung to Eldric’s cloak. “You have to get her something.”
“He’ll get her a rose.” Klara retreated a step, her hand folding into mine. “He always does, you know.”
“Traitor.” Eldric scowled at Klara. She laughed.
I bit my lip. “If you don’t leave soon, night is going to take you while you’re still in the Blackwood.”
Eldric shrugged. “The wraiths and wolves have yet to trouble the main path. Never you fear.”
Never you fear, indeed. An ache wrapped around my throat. As if he understood. Of course he understood. He just… he had…
I blocked the thoughts as Eldric scanned the room, searching for anything to delay him further. I strode across the threshold and unlatched the door. A gust of cool, spring air, heavy with the promise of rain, rushed inward. I turned and inclined my head. “In a week, Eldric.”
He grimaced. “In a week.” His hand closed over mine. “I’ll be back from Corivan before you know it. Seriously, be careful here. If the rumors—”
“Now who’s worrying?” I shook my head. “You do this every time.
“The King will protect you,” Eldric spoke the words like a prayer.
Where did he find such conviction? I forced a smile. “And He’ll protect you.”
Eldric’s eyes wandered over my face and dropped to the two little ones. Abruptly, he turned away and hurried down the path. At the gate, he turned once and waved before striking onto the rutted road that turned into a small wood. The track twisted through the lower slopes of the mountains until it rose to cross a distant pass.
My fingers traced the beginnings of a scar at my wrist as I stared after him. A web of iron mesh constricted about my chest. The King would keep him safe, if He cared to.
“What did he say about wraiths and wolves?” Klara asked.
I blinked, my breath catching as the empty road refocused under my gaze. I touched the dagger at my waist. “Nothing. Come along. Time for chores.”
The promised rains didn’t begin until the lengthening day faded into the dark clouds. Klara huddled against me as we sat by the small fire, her head against my knee, her book unnoticed in her hands. The rain rattled against the shingles and the wind moaned outside. Helene knit a stocking and my needle flashed in and out of a new dress meant for whichever girl happened to tear hers first.
I rose as the lights dimmed. The door was latched. The windows shuttered. I checked each one before placing my dagger on the headrest of my bed. Klara and Helene crawled under the blankets on either side of me and we drifted off to sleep to the lullaby of the rain.
A week passed swiftly, anticipation growing tenser with each dawn. Spring cleaning; early planting… none of it barred the whisper of rumors that reached even us. Rumors of war, mixed with the howl of wolves each night.
I crouched in the garden the eighth day after Eldric left, stabbing seeds into the earth. Beside me, Helene stiffened. “Someone is coming!”
She pointed down the road and I sprang to my feet, tugging my sleeve over a long scar slicing from my wrist to my elbow. Brushing my hands against my skirt, I squinted as a horse cantered up, its sides dark with sweat. The man on its back bowed over the saddle, mud and stains of a darker hue intermixing on his clothing and cloak.
Darting forward, I caught the horse’s bridle as it stumbled to a stop. “Helene, fetch some water!” I ordered. The man swayed and I gripped his knee to steady him.
His head shot up. “By the blackened rose.” He rubbed his hand over his eyes. He was young—couldn’t be much older than Eldric. “Where did you spring from?”
I glanced down the road, half-expecting dark riders to break from the forest in pursuit. “I could ask the same of you. Has something happened?”
“Something?” The man raised his eyebrows. “You’ve not heard? Uprisings, all over the land. Bands of robbers, declaring freedom from the King’s law. Haxron to the south…” his breath hitched. “The harbors are burning; Corivan… there were even rumors of rebellion at Zahava, though I’ve no doubt the King’s soldiers were more than a match for that rabble.”
My fingers clenched around the horse’s bridle. “Corivan? Rebels are there?”
“They were a few hours out when I passed them.” The man dragged a hand over his brow. A dirty bandage peeped from under his sleeve. Helene brushed my side and I took the water, offering it to the man.
He drank, sighed, and inclined his head, handing the cup back. Beside me, Helene’s fingers traced the horse’s damp coat, then she darted away. “I’ll get some for him too!”
The man’s gaze followed her. A wistful smile twisted his lips. His gaze flicked back to me, studying, probing. “Are you alone out here?”
I tensed, but there was no need for a stranger to know Eldric was gone. “I have a brother.”
“Good.” The man’s eyes scanned the low wall surrounding our cottage and came back to me. “I’m headed to warn Bruen. The village is north of here?”
“Half a league down the road,” I confirmed, then bit my lip. “The rebels… is it a sporadic uprising or are the rumors true they have a leader?”
The man’s eyes stabbed through my own. They were so sharp, so blue. “No leader has been revealed, as of yet, but it seems likely. Some rumors place him as a servant of the King Himself. Perhaps a steward or a general in His army.”
I stiffened. Let the King tend to His own if He could. If He cared to. What did it matter to us? Helene panted behind me. I pivoted and took the wooden bucket of water. Rebels, Corivan… where was Eldric? As the horse drank, I stared into its dark eyes, my pale face reflecting back at me.
“I don’t know if the rebels will come this far north.” The man spoke in a low voice as I handed the bucket back to Helene. “But you’d best be careful.”
I swallowed hard. “There will be war, then?”
The man nodded. “The rebels aren’t leaving peaceably, and there are too many for a quick suppression.”
My chest tightened until I could barely breathe but I forced my lips into a smile. “Thank you for the warning. I’ll be sure to speak with my brother.”
“Good.” The man straightened. His left arm bent stiffly and he winced.
“Ask for Mother Karlin in the village,” I said. “She knows more about wounds than any other around here. Tell her Elissa sent you and she’ll help you, no matter how much she might grumble.”
“I thank you, Elissa.” He lifted his good arm in a salute. The hilt of a sword gleamed from beneath the folds of his cloak. “If you are ever in need, be assured Captain Dachs will aid you in any way he can.” He winked and slapped the reins against his horse’s neck.
I watched the captain vanish, then turned.
Helene clutched the bucket to her chest as she stared at me, wide-eyed. Beyond her, a book hanging from her fingers, Klara leaned against the doorpost.
“This is hardly the first time we’ve heard news of rogue outlaws and rebel uprisings.” I stepped forward, taking the bucket from Helene. “Eldric will be back today or tomorrow.” I forced a smile. “Like as not, the rumors will die before a week is past.”
That night, the wolves howled closer than I’d heard them in months, their calls mingling with distant cracks of thunder. I squeezed my eyes shut. They couldn’t enter the cottage. Couldn’t reach us. Reach me. My fingers clasped about my wrist.
The next dawn was heavy with the threat of a storm. Dark clouds built against the mountains. Shadows deepened over the road—an empty road.
“He’ll come, you’ll see.” I tried to smile. I left the window by the door un-shuttered and placed a lamp on the sill. I shivered as the wind lashed against the windowpanes.
But Eldric didn’t come and the new dawn only brought Dachs’s swift passage back south, with a grim face and grimmer words.
“Can’t we save our birthday until tomorrow?” Klara asked as dusk fell. Her chin quivered. “Eldric will be home then, won’t he?”
I swept her into an embrace. Helene forced herself under my other arm. I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath. “You heard the Captain earlier. Eldric probably had to go out of his way to avoid the rebels and I doubt the storm helped conditions. He’ll be here soon. He might be on the road even now.”
Klara looked up at me, her eyes bright. “You really think so?”
“I hope so.”
“He’ll bring candy. And gifts.” Helene grinned and I chuckled.
“The King will protect him, after all,” Klara said softly. She gazed up at me. “The King will protect Eldric, won’t He?”
I bit my lip. “Of course, Klara. The King will protect him.”
I tucked the girls in, then sat alone, the lamp once more burning in the window. The night was broken by the quivering flame that cast stark shadows over the walls. The rain was now reduced to a heavy patter. I exhaled softly. No footsteps. No lifting of the latch.
A howl broke through the retreating storm. I stiffened, clenching my dagger’s hilt. Nothing.
I closed my eyes. Darkness thickened, drawing me downward. White gleamed—glittering s
Something pounded, a dull thud against the starless sky.
I gasped as I jerked upright. The lamp flickered, its golden glare barely touching the shadows where I sat. I pressed my palms against my eyes. The rumblings had faded along the valley, and the rain eased—dripping, dripping, dripping off the eaves. Even the wind had lulled, but in my sleep had there been… knocking?
I blinked. It couldn’t have been Eldric; he knew how to lift the latch from the outside. I forced myself to my feet. It was a dream, nothing more. Stilling the trembling in my hands, I swept up my bow and notched an arrow before creeping across the floor.
I pressed my ear to the door. Silence. No scuffing of boots or scraping of claws. I flung up the bar and wrenched the outer door open.
There was no one there. I bit the inside of my cheek. Of course not. Eldric was safe in a tavern somewhere, staying up late and sharing stories of escape from wolves and rebels. I shoved against the door, then froze. Golden light glinted off damp, red petals lying on the threshold. I stared into the night, still moist with rain, before crouching and tilting my head. A rose? A strange night for a lover to be out.
Quivering drops of water beaded on the velvety petals, glittering like tears as the rose shivered in the wind. I peered into the night, then reached out, my fingers closing about the stem.
Light blazed through my mind, searing my sight as a cold chill rushed up my arm. I gasped, staggering backward. The bow clattered from my hand and echoed loudly. A mist clouded my gaze; gray, tinted with red. The red of roses. The red of blood.
My breath rasped in my ears. The picture cleared, distant and yet sharp. Marching soldiers. Rebels, falling in place under the command of a man in a black mask. Cities burning. Villages on fire. Eldric…
Eldric struck off on a faint path to circle a camp of rebels. The night closed in, thick with tangled shadows, until I could barely see. He was on a path, deep into the Blackwood. Where was the main road? He should be back on it. Where was the path? He stumbled through the brush now, the pouch on his back thudding against him at every step. Lightning crackled. Thunder crashed above the trees.
My throat tightened.
Eldric was drenched, his face pale in the brilliance of each bolt of lightning. A valley opened up, spilling him from the forest. Eldric huddled under a ledge, his arms wrapped around himself as he shivered.
Then he was starting forward again, more quickly. A ghostly, gray fortress rose from the edge of the valley. Or perhaps it was built into the cliffs—it was hard to tell. Gaping windows stared into the storm while others were shuttered tightly. Then Eldric was inside. The door thudded shut behind him and a warm glow spilled into the corridor.
He hurried forward. The room was lit with several lamps and a meal laid out for one. He hesitated in the doorway and glanced to either side. I heard his calls as from a distance. Something flickered once in the shadows, but no one replied. Eldric hunched close to the fire, waiting. As the hours passed and the food cooled, he finally rose and ate.
I blinked as he stretched himself on the hearth. In a flash, it was morning. Another meal was set at the table. Eldric ate and scribbled a note of thanks before leaving the room.
His boots splashed through the damp grass. Sunlight set stray drops glinting in the dawn. A wind spiraled past him, ruffling his hair, carrying a sweet scent.
A faint smile twisted his lips as he pivoted, his gaze finally resting on a pool of roses in the center of the valley. Another blink and he was among them, caressing their petals. They brushed themselves against his hands, but I followed his gaze to a luscious crimson bloom in the center of the patch. He reached out.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. He plucked the rose with my name on his lips.
A guttural growl shattered the silence. Eldric spun to meet the glittering blade of a tall man. His face was cloaked in shadow, but I could see the anger blazing in his eyes. Pale scars gleamed over his hand.
For a long moment, Eldric and the figure stared at each other, then the figure raised his blade.
All went black.
I gasped as a cold wind washed over me. Wooden walls closed in on each side. The familiar couch. The lamp flickering in the window. The door swinging in the wind.
I stumbled to my feet and slammed it shut. My breath rattled and I sank down against the wall, my knees to my chest, my gaze fastened on the rose lying several paces away.
What… what the stars had just happened?
Of all the inconveniences…
He scowled, standing on the top step and staring into the wet gloom that smothered the predawn garden.
How many wolves had he fought off? How many nights had he watched and waited? Only to have the rose picked by some young trader who’d taken refuge from a storm. The idiot had already taken his supper and written a very pretty thank you for breakfast. Then he strode into the morning and undid over two hundred years of guarding.
His grip clenched about the hilt of his sword and he pivoted inward, slamming the door behind him. Faint shouts, coupled with pounding on wood, drifted up winding corridors.
The man was persistent, he’d give him that much. Perhaps he’d even be of some use. The rose was picked. Stolen away in the night by Tauscher himself, to add insult to failure. King only knew what he wanted with it. But war was coming, and perhaps it was best the rebel be unveiled.
His jaw tightened and he closed his eyes for a long moment.
He’d stayed here long enough. It was time to go.
Rose of the Oath by Hope Ann / Fantasy have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on16 votes