The gnome stopped walking and spoke in his stern elder voice, gripping his staff hard enough to make the faceted sapphire cast its prisms over the tunnel. “You must have risked capture more than usual today, Raymond, to be the benefactor of so much information. You will want to be extra cautious next time you go topside. The elves might set a trap. They also might realize it is the Sapphire Gnomes guarding the whereabouts of the human who evades them.”
When Ray opened his mouth to speak, Tsealie held up a hand. “That is all I have to say about that. I’ve taken the usual precautions to hide your tracks. As for the ruby, it is said to be a bloodred stone the size of a man’s fist and in the possession of the Siren of the Undine Sea Caves. If any mortal should survive the vicious tides that rise up at her will and all her other cruel tricks to reach the stone, they will gain immortality.”
Ray said, “From what I know of this man, that would fit with his purpose.”
Tsealie snorted and once again sounded like a carefree gnome. “First, the stone is a myth and not even the Undine Elves believe it exists. Second, humans without a Fae sponsor who are ignorant of the supernatural kingdoms have never found their way here.” He gave Ray the side eye. “Until you. And lastly, the siren who allegedly possesses the stone is deadly to all who cross her path, not just feeble humans.” He caught Ray’s eye again. “No offense.”
Ray laughed. “I am the first to admit to my human weaknesses.” Then, his jaw clenched, and his voice turned serious. “I don’t care what this man is close to doing. Let him risk himself over a grab at immortality. The king can worry about keeping him out. My only purpose is to get home to my family.”
He inhaled, then let his breath out slowly. “Even though I’ve lived in Undine through the changing of seven seasons and witnessed many incredible things, as a dedicated scientist, I’m struggling to embrace the idea I must find a pair of ancient battling trees if I want to get home.”
“Well, my friend. That may be something I can help you with.”
“You have a way to locate them?”
“The trees and gnomes cannot exist without each other. Do you see what makes up these walls? He gestured around them as they moved again along the winding tunnel. “The interlocking roots are lifelines to the tree kingdom and the gnomes not only shelter within them, but care for them. The problem we will have this time of year is getting the kings’ attention because the two will be focused only on their relentless competition.”
He peered at Ray from under his pointy cap. “It’s not like they will ever be allowed to rule on their respective wrong sides of the year. That would defy the laws of nature. One king must always give way to the other every solstice. But they never stop trying. And they certainly won’t be bothered with human problems while they are at it.”
“They don’t have to be. The portal’s energy will be affected by the clashing kings, opening and closing as the season passes to the victor. I just have to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve waited so long, only to learn my window of opportunity is slim. If I’m too late, I’ll have to wait another year, or find another way.”
“It’s not like you to be negative, Raymond. Just think, you might have discovered this after the solstice. But how in the name of the Sapphire Imp did you figure it out?”
“Believe me, I am just as flabbergasted. But this wonderous place has taught me that science and magic are not so different. They operate on the same principles. And it all starts with miniscule elements that comprise what human scientists call atoms, which form molecules, which cause reactions to the energy around us. An example of that is what will happen at the site of this traditional battle.”
Ray stopped and laid a hand on the small shoulder. “So, how will we find them, Tsealie?”
Find this free workshop on Eventbrite or visit Richie Billing for information. My Writers Alliance page also has information about Richie and his Fantasy Writing Toolshed, a wealth of writing resources, often completely free!
This story is a single journal entry in Book One, Ursus Borealis, in The Starlight Chronicles series. I found it rather fun to write a story within a story within a story. It nestles in a chapter featuring Kuliana Hada, a character that appears throughout the series, who is an Anurashin Captain of the Guard. Cynthia is her ancestress.
Cynthia’s story is incorporated into an actual historical account about the White Ship that sailed in 1120 as described. Its sinking changed history.
An End at Barfleur
I am Cynthia, a marked maiden, a human born with a destiny entwined with a race from another world. I was trained to fight alongside my mate Aldric and his pack with the guidance of my magus Zigan Meshara of the Order of Hala against three rebellious princes who were banished from the planet Anurash.
This sounds impossible, I know. But you will just have to take my word. That is, if you are from the realms apart from this hidden place beneath a volcano, and this missive makes its way to you as I hope.
My life started on a farm in the county of Anjou. Then it changed forever when I met a bear from Normandy.
After immersing myself in the astonishing world of my mate and the kingdoms of the shifters, learning there was life beyond this Earth and before reaching the heavens took only a few extra pints to swallow it down. That, and meeting Zigan. It turns out Zigan and I are old souls and have done this dance before.
How my soul was chosen for this repeated Earth-bound destiny is a mystery, but my magus spent much time over wine in our chateau sharing what he knew of our history or rather, the history of the prophecy of the marked maidens.
As for Zigan, up till we met… in this time, he had spent his life training with the Order, which included studying the records in the extensive archives and all forms of alchemy, in addition to being honed into a warrior. Even more astonishing, he could transform into a stunning feline I learned was called a tiger.
For eight years I experienced what it was to be part of the Pack, to be soulmates with its alpha, to be one piece of a wondrous whole, and we were successful in our purpose, keeping the machinations of the princes from the human population, and mitigating the damages.
This is the part at the end of our story and writing it down is agony because it chronicles the event that halted our purpose violently, tore me from those I loved, and marked the beginning of my slow and lonely death. Still, it must be told.
It takes place starting mid-morning of the 25th day of the month of November in the year 1120. We arrived at Barfleur near the coast of Normandy, after confirming the location of the current scheme of Aviel Enair, the oldest and most formidable of the three sibling princes. We lacked the details, but we knew his scheme would involve the sailing vessel known as the White Ship, renowned for its speed and beauty, and now carrying the only legitimate heir to King Henry I across to England.
Frustration gripped me, and I wrapped my arm around myself, trying to catch my breath after having run the length of the docks. I called out to my mate behind me, “It is just as we feared, Aldric. The ship has almost reached the Quilleboeuf!”
There were three hundred souls sailing away as I spoke, other nobles as well as the heir, and the loss would be catastrophic to the burgeoning English monarchy. When we learned the king’s seventeen-year-old son, William Adelin, desired to sail on this elegant vessel while his father sailed ahead of him, and that Aviel had set his sights on it, we considered the hazards the Anurashin prince might exploit.
The ship had a good reputation and so did its captain, Thomas FitzStephen, whose father had taken the prince’s grandfather, William the Conqueror, across the same sea. The only evident risk was sailing past Gatteville, where hidden rocks like the Quilleboeuf lay waiting for careless sailors. But FitzStephen was surely used to navigating such hazards.
I breathed in the salty air to sharpen my mind while I considered our options. The raucous calls of seagulls ebbed overhead as they congregated, fought, then flew off with morsels of fish as their prize. Despite the size and piercing eyes of the warrior next to me, we stood unnoticed among the throng of bodies rushing towards their duties on the bustling docks.
“You must call Zigan, my love,” Aldric said, drawing me to his side and offering his warmth as I shivered from the urgency of our task and the breeze cooling the sweat of my exertion.
Though we were French, our purpose as part of this prophetic trio was to protect the balance of power fated for this world. When the princes interfered, it fared badly for the indigenous populations, according to Zigan’s archives.
That meant we trained to take risks, and we discovered this scheme by becoming captives of the princes while each enjoyed inflicting painful retribution on us for our past successes. But Aviel allowed his brothers’ torment to go only so far, which we’d learned to count on, though we didn’t understand it, and our plan included an escape.
It went perfectly, until we ran into a trap and had to leave our pack behind to fight, which also delayed our arrival, and a worry was taking hold in me that the last eight years of joy and strife might culminate on these docks. Still, I pushed on.
After placing the insides of my wrists together, my tiger appeared, first as an image on my skin, then as a man stepping out of a gray mist, calmly taking us in with fathomless dark eyes. His markings glowed bright gold against his bronzed arms, and his silky black hair waved in the breeze.
“We need to get aboard that ship, Zigan.” I pointed to the sails disappearing north along the coast to Gatteville. “Can you haze us there?”
“I can, but I may not have enough energy to get you back.”
Aldric said, “Let me go with him. If the ship were to sink and Zigan cannot return us both…” He let that thought trail off as he looked at me in that fierce way that melted my heart.
The powerful love I had for this man, this larger-than-life Norman-born warrior who shared the spirit of a mighty brown bear, still overwhelmed me after all these years. We had not taken one moment of our time for granted, knowing the dangers inherent in my destiny.
Clutching his hand, I said, “But I must be the one on that ship, Aldric. We have no idea what is planned, and we need my instincts as a marked maiden.”
“You will be noticed. I can blend in and discern the situation. We must go now, as they approach the rocks.”
I stood on my toes and brought his face to mine, peering into his brown eyes to see his bear gleaming at me, a magnificent beast he could transform into at will. Our lips came together for a precious moment before I stepped back.
Zigan gripped my mate, nodded to me reassuringly, then they disappeared. I took shelter and waited. In less than thirty minutes they were back.
Aldric and I stepped towards each other as he gave his report. “Nearly everyone on board was drunk on wine and betting on a race to beat the king to England. The ship sailed fast, pushing its limits. Not more than ten minutes after we arrived, it hit the rocks and foundered.” I gasped in dismay, but he assured me the king’s son made it to a lifeboat.
Suddenly, warriors in the garb of another time appeared in a heavy mist that seemed to have blown in from the sea. They surrounded us. Zigan and Aldric drew their swords, and I followed with mine.
The sound of steel rang out, and we held our own against a dozen, until my sword was knocked from my hand. Strong arms grabbed me from behind. Aldric’s roar shook the planks beneath our feet. But the Anurashin warrior held me fast and kept me from my mate’s reach, letting the others leap in between us, forcing Aldric to slice his way to me.
The warrior said in my ear, “The prince has his sights on you, maiden. Did you not think he would find you?”
“He may have found me, but he’ll not have me!”
Springing my knife from my sleeve, I lunged back, shoving it between his ribs, and twisting it. The warrior grunted in pain, but his grip did not loosen. Aldric dodged blades, slammed his fist into faces, and rammed bodies, while I tried to pull free.
Zigan moved so fast arcs of blood hovered in the air where he last appeared. But when he hazed close and tried to grab me away, the warrior jerked us back and two others lunged for him. To my utter horror, they took his head.
My knees gave out as unbearable agony ripped through my heart, then my entire being, when his soul was wrenched brutally from mine. This couldn’t be real. Never had I imagined our bond could be so viciously severed, or that the warrior magus was anything but invincible.
A sickening realization plummeted like a stone in my belly. This was Aviel’s plan. Why he let us escape before. These moves had been orchestrated for this purpose. To kill my magus. To take me. To destroy the Pack de Normande.
What was left of my heart was crushed to pulp when Aldric stepped into the path of a blade not bothering with the pain, to reach for me, desperate to save me as he felt the agony of my loss, and our loss to come.
The mist I dreaded grew thick, and I sensed I was breaking into tiny pieces. This couldn’t be happening.
I locked gazes with the bleak eyes of my mate who was coming to the same conclusions as I faded into bits, so close to him our fingers nearly touched.
My heart and soul poured into my words. “I will love you forever!”
The sound that followed was the mighty roar of a wounded bear.
I recently got swept up with an amazing group of indie authors from around the globe, all at different stages of their writing careers, in the genres of fantasy and sci fi.
Granted, I’m on the fringe of the group with my writing that focuses more on the romance and relationships forged with amazing beings in a fantasy world created within the human world we know…. or think we know. But I’m having a blast learning from and sharing support with so many fellow shepherds of pod people (aka developing characters). The worlds they build are staggering.
And the help we offer each other is phenomenal.
We’re doing a writers lift today on Twitter. You can join us, support us, and find some great books by checking out #fsfwritersalliance on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. More about the alliance can be found on my Writer’s Alliance Page.
I will be interviewing members and other indie authors I’m privileged to meet every few weeks. I’m starting this exciting feature in August with fellow member and Swords and Sorcery fantasy author from New South Wales, Australia, Douglas. T. Smith. I will keep you all posted on the details!
Thanks for checking out my books before you leave, and happy reading… happy writing, and have a happy day.