Epic Fantasy Novel in Progress
Brynna Dasveld serves as an attaché in a small Norinian province until the Hykosi, their Northern enemy, destroys her town and massacres her people. She and members of the mysterious Council of Norin must rally the country to war and march toward the sea. After a battlefield catastrophe, Brynna is cast into a dark world of cruelty and intrigue where she wonders whether it is even possible save her country or to free herself.
“The beast is within our province.” Brynna slid the map closer to the king. “Attacks here and here,” she said, tapping the border line. “And here.” King Wyclythe rubbed his chin, toying with his sparse white beard. His signet clacked against the other rings encircling his wrinkled fingers, and his measured wheezing rattled the amulets on his chest.
Chancellor Trinan Walyss leaned back in his chair, frowning. His stiff cravat framed his disapproval; his eyes aimed that disapproval toward her. He would have been a valuable ally. Brynna’s shoulders drooped.
“I believe it’s magical,” she said, wiping her sweaty hands on her skirt. “Indeed, my King, I dare to say—”
Trinan clapped his portfolio closed. “You’ve dared enough.” He shoved his chair back from the table and stood. “There is no such animal in existence.” His voice carried through the room, echoing off the stone walls. “Your claims are,” he tilted his head back, “for lack of a better word—absurd.”
Brynna’s cheeks flushed scarlet. “I…” Her voice failed her, a faint burn building in her eyes. She blinked twice to freshen them.
Trinan towered over her, his lips a thin, stern line. “Enough,” he hissed to her hearing only.
His words seared her, but her shame flashed into anger. Brynna lifted her chin, determined to prove her point. “I’m only an attaché, my Lord, but I’m no clerk or scullery maid.”
His eyes narrowed.
“I have years of experience gleaning reports from our province and from the rest of Norin,” she said. “I know the stories and the rituals. I’ve studied each and every parable.” She counted on her fingers. “And every myth, dance, and legend for ample background and context. I know well how to determine truth from hearsay and falsehood—just as you, my Lord, have trained me to do. That you dislike this particular report does not change its validity.”
Trinan sucked his tooth. “A twelve-foot, iridescent wolverine.”
“Hairless wolverine,” she corrected.
They locked eyes, and she willed herself to not look away.
“A twelve-foot, iridescent—hairless—wolverine,” he repeated.
Her eyes stung. “Yes.”
Brynna averted her gaze.
Pushing his hand through his brown hair, Trinan sighed. Brynna recognized that particular sigh too well and cringed in anticipation of the tongue lashing that was sure to come from this outburst in the king’s presence. She was not a member of the cabinet, and a reminder of that was now overdue. She braced herself.
Trinan walked to the far window sill and leaned his forearm on the wide stone edging. The golden sunlight of late afternoon poured through the glass, and a sunbeam fell on his side, highlighting the ceremonial knife at his waist.
Under the weight of the heavy silence, Brynna sank into her chair. She had burned the bridge, and he was abandoning her to flounder in the rapids.
The king coughed. “I have heard of this beast,” he said, his voice feeble.
Brynna tilted her head. “Have you, my King?” She would puff gently on this ember for fear it would fade out. The king extended his hand toward his goblet. Brynna knelt by his side, lifted it to his lips, and he drank.
“Yes.” He swallowed again, wine dribbling into his beard. Brynna dabbed his face with a damask napkin. “Stories of—”
“Brynnalyn! Get my spyglass. Now!” Trinan leaped onto the window ledge.
Brynna clambered to her feet and ran around the table to where his leather bag hung over the back of his chair.
Trinan shielded his eyes. “Damn sunset! I can’t read the flags!”
“What flags?” she called, digging through his bag. She found the scope.
“Hykosi clipper,” he said. “On the horizon.”
Brynna handed Trinan his spyglass and climbed up beside him. He extended the scope and held it to his eye.
Resting her hand on her forehead, she shielded her eyes from the sun. From this high vantage point in the castle, her gaze swept across the countryside’s brown fields and winter-burned pastures, across to the town of Robynton, Wylcythe’s southernmost port. She peered out at the sparkling ocean beyond, and her eyes widened as she spied a small black dot. Cold dread seeped into her chest as she looked between Trinan and the horizon.
Trinan twisted the brass, focusing the scope. His jaw held tension, but Brynna read defiance, not fear. Typical of him. Level-headed and calculating. Always strategic. Some would say shrewd and opportunistic, but she saw calm control.
Brynna’s eyes tired in the bright light. She squinted. All was red, and her stomach knotted.
“Bullshit,” he muttered.
“What do they say? The flags?”
He closed the glass, dropped it in his pocket, and stepped down from the ledge. “‘Defensive training,’” he said, his voice dripping with disdain. “They’re trying to convince us that this is play.”
Standing on the window ledge, Brynna made up their difference in height and stood a few inches taller than Trinan. “Defense against what? We have no warships. The harbor only reopened last week.” She grasped her skirt to climb down.
Taking her waist, Trinan lifted her from the ledge and set her on the ground, his firm grip pinching the hilt of her ceremonial knife into her side. “You don’t take six cannons and a company of soldiers on a pleasure trip,” he said. “The sailors are restless on the decks. This is no game.” His tone lacked the mocking bite to which she was accustomed, and in that, Brynna realized the extent of his concern.
Trinan stepped to the king’s side and dropped to one knee. “My King, the Hykosi have sailed their warship to our harbor. I believe they are hostile.”
The king’s head sank to his chest, depleted. The aggressive nation of Hykos, their neighbor to the north, already occupied much of Norin, overruling much of the authority he and the other provincial kings claimed. Their advancement had been a progressive domination of failed treaties and boundaries set and broken. The raids and clashes that had annoyed his father before him had become battles and devious diplomacy during his own reign. And now another bout. Another row. Another fight. Even stones weather and break. Brynna shivered.
“My King,” Trinan pressed, “I will summon General Rhettyn to Robynton Hall. Will you command us when she arrives?”
“Do what you will,” the king said, staring at his hands that lay still in his lap. The signet was silent, his rings dull in shadow.
Trinan touched his fist to his chest and bowed his head. “My actions for your majesty.” He stood and straightened his shirt cuffs. “Come with me,” he commanded Brynna as he strode from the room.
“Yes, my Lord,” she said and hurried to the table to gather her papers and his bag. She ran to the door but paused and turned back.
The weak sun glowed in dull purple. Shadows spilled from the stone pillars and covered the room with darkness while King Wyclythe slumped in his chair, alone. His head hung down. Each breath labored in his chest. His aloneness prodded her. Trinan had summoned her and battle neared, but the king, his essence and majesty, whispered to her.
Brynna pulled the bell cord to summon the servants, then stepped to the sideboard, set down her load, and took up a candle and holder, lighting it with a match from her pocket. The bright flame flickered to life, and she cupped her hand to protect it as she walked back.
Brynna set the candle on the table’s edge, and with slight hesitation, reached behind the king to pull his blanket back up to his shoulders. She wrapped it snugly around him, taking time to arrange the soft purple folds. She patted his shoulder.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said in his raspy voice. He placed his gnarled hand on her soft one. “I will remember this moment.”
Brynna smiled. “My actions for your majesty, my King.”
He slowly nodded. “Now go. Trinan will not want to be kept waiting.”
“Yes, my King,” she said, and with a final squeeze to his shoulder, she returned to the sideboard, gathered her papers and the bag, and went to the hallway.
Her eyes adjusted to the torch light. She gathered her skirts with her free hand and trotted down the stone corridor, her thoughts anxious and flying. Robynton, again. Never Jarta. Never Tadsyn. Never the other ports. Ever Robynton, the whipping boy of Norin. Always her town. Always Robynton. Cat and mouse.
The door at the corridor’s far end opened, and a tall man dressed in dark clothing entered the passage. Long black hair and thick dark furs draped his body, inflating him to an even more imposing size. His deep set eyes were as black as the aura he carried, stealing the torchlight around him. He walked with a warrior’s stride, a quiver of arrows and a longbow thrown over his shoulder. His Norinian ceremonial knife shone at his belt, and a second hunting knife was strapped to his thigh. The smell of pine, loam, and blood seeped to her nose as the intensity of his presence slowed her steps. She reached her fingers to the stone walls, not to steady herself, but to seek a reassurance of sorts, reassurance that other strength still remained outside of the man in front of her. Brynna averted her gaze, angling toward the wall until he swept past her and continued along the corridor. She peered back to watch him knock on the door she had just left. He entered, the door closing behind him. The torchlight seemed brighter in his absence.
With no time to delay, Brynna released the breath she had been holding and ran to the end of the corridor and down the stairs. Trinan would be cross at her tardiness. She ran faster and soon arrived to knock at his office door.
Brynna stepped into the cavernous room. Candles cast a soft glow, and a fire burned on the hearth. The air smelled of sandalwood, cypress, and smoke, as familiar as her own chamber.
Trinan, in his blue riding jacket, stood beside his ornate desk, gathering papers. His decisive movements flicked the documents back and forth, selected, discarded. Brynna closed the door behind her, testing his reaction to noise and interruption. He rustled in a drawer.
“Sol has arrived,” she said. “I watched him enter the king’s presence.”
Trinan waved his hand. “I don’t care about him right now.” Even so, she heard him mutter, “Skunk,” as he seized the next set of papers. “Come here.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
He paused, his hand remained suspended. “Brynnalyn.”
She met his eyes with her stomach clenched.
“We’re not in that room,” he said.
“It’s a habit to speak formally to you. Always has been.”
“No. Not before.”
Brynna said nothing and picked at her knife sheath with her fingernail. She let the jab go. She didn’t have an answer that would please him.
Trinan grunted and picked up a pen. He wrote while leaning on his desk, no time to sit down. Brynna felt like a piece of furniture out of place, forgotten at an awkward angle. She tried to think of a way to be useful. Even an occasional chair could be used occasionally. She retrieved his riding cape, pulling it from the coat rack behind the door. It was heavy in her arms. The wool scratched her skin.
Trinan folded the page and dropped sealing wax onto the paper. “I want you with me at Robynton Hall tonight. War may be at hand, and time is critical. I should have left by now.”
“Of course.” She had expected that, though she wondered what exactly she could do for him while the Hykosi were in the harbor. Paperwork, certainly. Messages, perhaps. Keep up with his memos and letters. And his cape.
Trinan pressed his seal into the wax. “Here are orders for you to appear should any Hykosi bastards try to stop you. My seal will be sufficient.” He held out the order, and she crossed the room to take it. “Bring the maps from here and the east wing and my satchel from the library. Meet me there as soon as you can. Avoid the road. Ride straight across the fields. Stop for no one.” He pulled back on the order just as her fingers touched it. “No one,” he emphasized. She nodded and took the paper.
Brynna tucked the order into her pocket. “Do you want all of the maps or only the rolled ones?”
“All of them. I don’t know what the night holds for us,” he said, taking his cape and throwing it about his shoulders. “Hurry.”