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WEEK OF APRIL 27th WINNER FEATURE
Author of the Epic Fantasy, The Coming Storm
Elon of Aerilann, Elven advisor to the High King of Men, helped negotiate the treaty between Elves, Dwarves and men. He suddenly finds that fragile truce threatened from without by an unknown enemy and from within by old hatreds and prejudice. With the aid of his true-friend Colath, the wizard Jareth and the Elven archer Jalila, he goes in search of the source of the threat.
Ailith, the Heir to Riverford, fights her own silent battle. Her father has changed, but her quest to discover what changed him puts her life and very soul in danger and leaves her only one direction in which to turn. Elon.
To preserve the alliance, though, Elon will have to choose between his honor, his duty and everything for which he fought.
Ailith glanced back once as she rode away, the Named sword and the bow bound in their wrappings once again.
Even in motion Dorovan wasted no energy, he moved smoothly and seemingly effortlessly. He’d taught her some of that as well, the meditations Elves used to keep themselves centered in the world. In many ways he was like the uncle she’d never had, or an older brother. It was that kind of a closeness. There were a thousand lessons he’d taught her that had little and everything to do with what he taught her about the sword and the bow. The Elven concepts of Honor, their language, patience, stillness, more. She couldn’t name them all.
He was gone through the trees in that long, steady lope he’d told her Elves could maintain for days. She’d never told him of mornings she’d spent in the gray light of dawn running through the hills to test her own legs to see if she could run as he did. There was a joy in it, in the feel of muscles moving, of setting a pace that took you over hills and through valleys. She didn’t do it often now, not any more.
With a pang, she wished she could call him back. She couldn’t. She’d been gone for some days now, visiting her grandmother. It was a long ride home, and she dreaded what she would find there.
The breeze cooled her face, drying the sweat.
It didn’t cool her fevered thoughts, which crowded back now she was alone.
High on a distant hill she caught a glimpse of some of the Woodsmen she thought, riding along the edge of a wood. She wondered if Gwillim were among them but she didn’t see his familiar head. He’d taken a group of Hunters up into the east highlands, as there had been many reports of things from the borderlands coming across up there. These, though, seemed to have no urgency to them, no air of alarm. Nothing for her to worry about, then, simply the usual patrol.
She’d never thought that at any time in her life she would dread going there, but she did.
It was like wading along the familiar shore of the river only to find a sharp stone awaiting unseen beneath the murky water. One false step and there would be pain. Her mother, usually a cool, calming presence, had become a shadow. There was a puzzled worry in her eyes on the rare occasions Ailith did see her. Else she stayed in her rooms or wandered through the small library off the great room like a ghost. She wouldn’t speak of what worried her though Ailith had tried. Selah looked drained and tired, as if she didn’t sleep well these days.
Nor did Ailith often of late. Odd dreams troubled her sleep, some she could remember, some she couldn’t. Often it was of lying frozen in her bed, unable to move, while something terrible stood just outside the door listening to her breathe. She feared it, that unknown presence, feared the shadow that fell on the space beneath the door cast by the torch outside her room.
Firmly, she thrust those thoughts behind her.
She should have told Dorovan, he would’ve known whether her fears were groundless or not. She could still tell her grandmother. Not today, it was too late to go back now. It would be some days before she could arrange another visit. She thought maybe her mother might have said something but there’d been no sign of it. Her grandmother Delae, that firm practical lady, would know whether she was being foolish or not. But she was her mother’s mother and it felt as if Ailith were betraying her parents by speaking of it.
Dorovan she could have told.
For all his friendship with her grandmother – she knew it was more than that but it was a good enough description – he wouldn’t betray her secrets unless he felt she should speak. In some ways for her, he was a neutral party.
It didn’t matter, that chance was lost until the next time he came. That could easily be months. Once it had been almost a year. A short time in the long lives of Elves.
Her horse clattered up the causeway. The gates were open as they often were during the day. The sun wasn’t too low on the horizon – it still cast a warm golden glow. A stable boy came up to take her horse, which she gave up gratefully and with a smile.
“Thank you, Gellin,” she said, softly.
“I’ll walk ’im a bit for you, miss,” Gellin said, ducking his head.
A bellow startled them both. “Get out!”
Stunned, horrified, her package cradled in her arms, Ailith spun as Gellin flinched.
She knew that voice. It was her father’s voice. But he never shouted.
There he was, though, standing between the entryway doors. His face was red, nearly purple. She’d thought her shock couldn’t be greater than when she’d heard him shout. She was wrong. This couldn’t be her father, this red-faced furious figure in the doorway. It couldn’t.
He couldn’t be shouting at Tanith. He couldn’t.
Tanith had been chatelaine at Riverford since before Ailith was born. In all her years Ailith had never seen her father like this, so angry. She hadn’t known him capable of it.
All around people stopped to stare, sharing her bewilderment.
Tanith backed away from the doors in the face of Geric’s fury, then finally she broke and fled, her skirts flying as she ran for the gates. Her hands were at her face, and Ailith could tell she was weeping.
Past shock, Ailith was sick at heart as her father reached out for the doors on either side and drew them shut with a bang.
“Gellin, take the horse into the stables and brush him down until he’s cool. Go quietly, lad.”
Somehow, she didn’t think the storm that was her father had passed. Rather than face that uncertain wrath herself she slipped into the castle through the kitchen entrance.
The cooks all stood frozen, their eyes on the door to the castle interior. They looked frightened. The head cook looked at Ailith with a shaken expression. Ailith shook her head at the unasked question. She didn’t know either.
Swiftly, she ran up the back stairs with her precious gifts cradled in her arms. When she reached her rooms, she thrust them beneath her bed where they would be safe. Why she felt they wouldn’t be safe in her own home didn’t occur to her. She only knew she had to hide them.
Relieved, she sat on her bed and then realized with fresh fear that someone stood outside the open door. Cold alarm washed through her.
It was her mother.
Arms clasped around herself, her eyes wide and staring, Selah stood at the top of the stairs and listened to the brooding, waiting silence below as Ailith did. She was more of a ghost than ever, dressed in a gauzy gray that matched her eyes, she was like a shadow.
A softly held breath slowly escaped her.
Valerie Douglas is a prolific writer and a genre-crosser, much to the delight of her fans. A fan of authors in almost every genre she writes classic fantasy, romance, suspense, and, as V.J. Devereaux, erotic romance
Happily married, she’s companion to two dogs, four cats and an African clawed frog named Hopper who delights in tormenting the cats from his tank.
You can visit Valerie on her website.