This is a little bit of a tease of what I’m working on at the moment, the sequel to Burning Embers! Here is the opening of Chapter One… I really hope you like it.
Forging the Fire
The City was called Kalit, or the Diamond City in an older language. It hunkered down in a protective curve of the Spine Mountains and opened on one side to the Sea. The mountains rose in regular jagged peaks covered in a thick pine forest and deep snow. Spring had only started to touch the world and would take longer so spread so far north. The evening sky was hooded with clouds.
Kalit had one entrance overland. Its walls, hewn from the mountain itself, glittered with traces of diamond dust. A promise of the wealth found within the mountain and a fortune from its mines. The single tall gate opened to the North, Arngeir and a solitary road that led through the Spine. Travelers were rare so early in the year but two guards stood beside the iron portcullis, stamping their feet and muttering curses. Once the last rays of sunshine slipped from the sky they could close the gate and return to the barracks and their dinner.
‘It’s bloody freezing,’ the elder blew into his gloved hands before clapping them together. His halberd staff gripped between armpit and body.
‘Do you think they’ll make it?’ The younger, who wore a red knit hat beneath his helmet had his eyes fixed on a pair of distant travelers.
‘I don’t care,’ the first kicked his foot against the dark stone walls. ‘Soon as that sun is gone, I’m shutting the gate.’
‘They’ll be trapped outside for the night,’ the youth protested, ‘I wouldn’t like to sleep outside in the snow.’
‘Then they’d better hurry up!’
They approached Kalit with all the weariness expected of those passing through the Spine in winter. It was a long and lonely pass. One of the riders, a girl, stared at the city as it came into view.
Feia could see the buildings sprawling against the edges of the snow covered range. In the fading light, lanterns were being lit and the glow of a thousand flames spread through the distant streets like stars appearing in a night sky. She’d never seen so many people living together, so many houses or buildings or streets as they stretched out below in a warren. She had expected to feel relief that their long journey was over, that she’d be able to sleep in a bed, that she’d feel warm for the first time in weeks. But as the dark stone walls rose from the mountains, all that she felt was unease; as though she was a mouse sneaking towards a sleeping cat.
‘They say you can buy anything in Kalit,’ Feia she kept her voice lowered as they approached the gate.
‘I’d love to meet these ‘they’. They know so much,’ Rhyode replied. He nudged his own mount forward to catch up with her, the black irises of his eyes fixed on the dark granite of Kalit’s defenses as they drew closer.
‘So it’s not true?’ She persisted, intent on drawing out an answer from her protector. The man, Rhyode, let out a long suffering sigh. Although he looked less than a decade older than the teenaged-girl beside him, his gaze held a depth of knowledge beyond his apparent years. Something Feia had determined to take advantage of. She wanted to learn as much as possible about the man who had sworn to protect her; after all she’d sworn to travel with him to Lluridi, the world capital. A pact made on the promise that Rhyode would help save her family from invaders. Rhyode had upheld his promise so far and so a faint band of light encircled her wrist, a sign of vows that were unbreakable, except in death. Something that many people would be glad to offer the pair of them. From Kalit they would take a ship to Lluridi, the fastest way to end their perilous journey. Until then, Feia wanted to know more about the man who had kissed her once. To understand how he saw the world. Perhaps then she could understand why he had kissed her, or why he wouldn’t do it again.
‘Are you listening?’
Rhyode was staring at her and she checked the hood of her cloak covered her hair. Hair the colour of fresh blood.
‘I’m listening,’ she lied, and wondered what she had missed.
‘Many things can be bought in Kalit, some things which should never be traded,’ Rhyode replied eventually.
‘Girls?’ Feia felt a familiar thread of tension pulling at the back of her neck and shoulders. Once, she had almost been sold.
Rhyode looked back at her, his taller horse had pulled ahead. The last light was fading quickly but they were just a few short strides from the gate itself.
‘All life,’ he replied. His voice was a low rumble as his horse started to climb the stone bridge towards the gates. They stretched high above, almost blocking out the sky beyond them.
An older guard glowered as they passed, stamping the end of his halberd against the frozen ground.
Rhyode reached out, touching his hand to her own and nudging his horse closer. His breath tickled the top of her ear as she forced herself to look ahead. Where she had expected busy city streets, Kalit almost seemed deserted. But light flickered against windows, and curtains moved. There were people in the city, she could feel them watching.
‘Keep your tongue and your opinions to yourself within these walls,’ Rhyode warned. ‘The Champions are powerful in Kalit.’
Feia had lost count of how many times he had issued the same warning. But never, had it caused the hair on the back of her neck to rise as it did. She swallowed her fear.
‘Champions, Nethari…’ She rolled her eyes, ‘and I almost forgot about all the people trying to kill me.’
Rhyode withdrew his hand and nudged his horse forward. Embry’s hooves seemed to rattle on the stone paved streets. ‘I mean it Feia.’
Her own pony was determined to keep up and Feia couldn’t blame her.
‘You can buy diamonds from Kalit,’ Rhyode continued to speak softly, ‘you can trade goods from all around Arenith. So long as the mines are open, Kalit will trade. But-’ he hesitated, ‘you can buy life or death. If we’re heard speaking ill of the city it’s likely we’ll end our days in the mines. You can never be sure who is listening.’
She wanted to point out that surely people could hear Rhyode whispering now, but Rhyode was powerful. His magic was rooted in darkness, as night descended no one would hear a thing he said, unless he wanted them too. She held her questions and turned to watch the gateway as they left it behind. The impenetrable border of Kalit stretched higher than any castle walls she’d ever seen. She’d assumed they were to keep attackers out. The final sweep on sunlight vanished from the city and a call rose for the gates to close. The portcullis began its creaking descent behind them. The impassable wooden doors thunked shut behind her and the guards stretched to bring iron bars down. Not to keep people out she realized but to keep them in. Rhyode guided the horses forward, deeper into the city streets.
At first, the way was lit by lanterns hanging from the walls of shops on either side of road. Rhyode motioned to them, explaining that each lantern held quartz stones filled with magical energy. They were taken each day to the Temple of Saelil, the Spirit of Light, to be infused with power. An enormous undertaking, but they provided a sure and steady glow and a safe place, well lit for the wealthier population of Kalit to wander in the night-time. But the main streets were a difficult place to travel quickly. Despite the late hour they bustled. People dressed in rich colours moved from vendor to vendor in groups. Their laughter rose into the night air, but the throng was difficult to pass. Rhyode soon led Feia to narrower streets, where the lighting dimmed and crowd thinned. The lanterns or quartz holders in the main street had been elaborate. Beautiful shapes made from precious metals, Feia had selected a particular favourite on the wall of the apothecary. Hanging from a hook, intricate vines of silver had fallen, and curved. Tiny metal leaves of Ivy, embellished with green glass, had then woven together to form a ball to hold the stones. In the side streets, the lanterns were made of wood. Passing, Feia could see cracks in the quartz stones. Soon, as Rhyode led the way through narrowing streets, lanterns vanished altogether. Dotted in the cracks of walls were stones the glinted with a sickly glow.
‘Why is it so much dimmer?’ She asked softly, ‘isn’t the magic as strong?’
‘Not in these stones, they’re filled with impurities and the temple will not infuse them.’
‘So who makes them? Do they still relight them each day?’
‘No,’ Rhyode replied, ‘they are created and then fade overtime. Apprentices with a talent for Saelil’s Spirit are paid to keep them burning; but it is a large city.’ Without warning he swung himself down from the saddle and stretched. ‘Stay out of trouble.’
‘You say that like it’s easy.’
‘Just don’t set anything on fire. Don’t set the tavern on fire. Don’t set the stables on fire. Don’t set anything on fire.’
‘You say that like it’s easy,’ she grinned.
Burning Embers is available on Amazon and through Kindle Unlimited!
The first chapter is also online just here.