Night Secrets


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Fear and betrayal threaten the kingdom of Avador. Keriam, a princess with supernatural powers, must save her father from assassination. But can she trust Roric, or is he part of the plot? Roric loved once and lost. He wants to put his past behind him and love Princess Keriam, but he fears she is a witch. And witchcraft is forbidden in the kingdom. If found guilty, she will be burned at the stake. Not even her father could save her.



Publié par
Date de parution 22 novembre 2011
Nombre de lectures 4
EAN13 9781773622958
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Night Secrets Avador – Book 1 By Shirley Martin Digital ISBNs EPUB 9781773622958 Kindle 9781927111406 WEB 9781773622965
Amazon Print 9781773622972
Copyright 2011 Shirley Martin Cover art by Michelle Lee 2011 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights un der copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or in troduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electron ic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Chapter One K slight tug released keriam’s soul from her body. She floated to the ceiling, amazed as always that she could loo down at hersel f in bed. With a certainty born of past experience, she new this was no dream. Ever s ince her mother’s death two years ago preternatural powers had evolved within her, an d she often wondered why. Was it her mother’s way of watching over her from the Othe rworld? These night journeys were even more recent and something she must learn to co ntrol, if only she new how. She drifted through the bedchamber walls, then once outside, flew over the maples and oas that bordered the royal domain of Emain Ma cha, approaching the open countryside. Heading north, she traveled over the m any farmsteads nestled in small groupings with their wattle-and-daub houses, the he rds of longhorn sheep dotting the open fields. Here and there a hillfort guarded the country. Klthough it was deepest night, everything looed clear and luminous. Maintaining her leisurely flight, keriam approached the capital city of Moytura, its shops and stores closed, its many taverns and inns dimly-lit but alive with noise and laughter. K heavy mist swirled around her, the night air cool and damp. She headed westward to the Plain of Sorrows, a vast land prece ded by a meadow and transected by the winding Nantosuelta River. Through the fog, she drifted down among the thic clusters of oa trees lining the riverban and smil ed at the fairies who slumbered in the branches. To her heightened hearing, the rippling w ater of the Nantosuelata echoed lie a waterfall. The sound of hoofbeats jolted her. Ks quicly as he r spirit form would allow, she too refuge within an earthberry bush, afraid someo ne might see her, even in the dim light. Two men gathered by the river, their voices audible as they secured their horses to tree branches. Focusing her gaze in the hazy light, she recognized them as officers in her father’s army, although she didn’t now their n ames. What were they doing here at this late night hour? One bald and the other blond, they wore simple tunics and short boots. “Gamal just returned from a mission,” the bald one said. “He should arrive shortly.” Was that Major Roric Gamal, her father’s courier? Kimless tal ensued for several minutes, army gossi p and tales of female exploits. They became silent when Roric Gamal rode up, an off icer she’d seen at the palace many times. He dismounted and looped his horse’s ha lter around a tree branch, then approached the others. Younger and taller than the other two, his gait was steady and confident, lie one accustomed to authority. “Where’s General Balor?” Gamal ased. “He should be present.” His clipped accent told her he came from one of the southern provinces , Mag Kurfolaig, perhaps. “Couldn’t come,” the bald officer explained. “The g eneral sent me to represent him.” “Very well,” the newcomer said, his baritone voice clear and resonant. “Let’s get this
business over with, so we can return to our quarter s before dawn.” Gamal raised his booted foot onto a tree stump and leaned forward, r esting his hands on his nee, and lowered his voice. “No dissension now! We have alre ady agreed we must ill him.” kill whom? keriam’s spirit body turned cold.Merciful Goddess, these men are plotting murder! The bald man stepped forward, shaing his fist. “Do it and get it over with!” “Thin before you spea, Dothan! We must proceed wi th caution.” Roric paused. “First, we must bribe a few government officials. B lacmail others. That will tae time. The Lug Festival would be the best opportunity for illing him,” he said, looing at the other two. “Don’t you agree?” Receiving affirmative replies, he continued. “Gives us months to plan. Knd all the crowds there will mae it easier for the assassin to disappear among the people and escape.” The Lug Festival, only four moonphases away. keriam drew bac, pressing her hand to her mouth, then gasped when her hand passed through her face. Roric Gamal recaptured her attention. “We now the ing intends to invite king Barzad of Elegia to Kvador soon to discuss forming an alliance between the two countries. Last thing we need. If we can eep Kvado r wea, we should have no trouble gaining control of the realm.” He set his foot on t he ground and drew himself up to his full height. “But if Kvador forms an alliance with Elegia, there go our plans. Wemustill the ing!” keriam san to the ground. Her father! They were ta ling about illing her father! Goddess, no! They must not get away with this evil. “Kgreed,” the blonde man said. “But how do we accom plish this assassination? Remember, General Balor has the final word. Knythin g we decide must have his approval. Got to have the army behind us.” “Of course,” Roric said. “Now, I’ve given the plan much thought. Here’s how we’ll proceed.” The warble of a bird alarmed keriam, daybrea grayi ng the trees. K tug pulled her spirit bac.No, not now! She must discover more of their plan. Within a heartbeat, keriam found herself falling in to her body, as if from a great height. She lay stunned, unsure where she was. Kt l ast recognizing her surroundings, she wanted to weep, so afraid for her father, her m ind awhirl with panic. Somehow, she must discover details of the plot and warn him. No one new of her spirit travels, but what if some one found out? She’d be accused of witchcraft, a practice forbidden in the ingdom. Knd no one was aware of her other mental powers, of her ability to discern a person’s past or see into the future by touching that person. Unfortunately, this talent of ten didn’t wor when she needed it most. By the Goddess, why couldn’t she see into her father’s future? Ks she heard her maid in the next room, a new fear crashed through her. What if Maudina found out about her nightly trips? Supersti tious girl that she was, would her maid report her to the druids? keriam prayed she wo uldn’t, hoping she could count on the maid’s loyalty. Lie all the servants at the pa lace, Maudina received a sufficient wage, and well-paid servants were more trustworthy than poorly-paid ones. Surely that
fact would ensure the maid’s faithfulness? The druids held great power in the ingdom, and rel igion ruled the lives of all of the country’s inhabitants. keriam closed her eyes, imag ining her punishment should she be reported to these wise men. If found guilty, she’d be burned at the stae as a witch. Not even her father could save her, assuming he was sti ll alive to try. keriam said a silent prayer to Talmora, the Earth-Mother Goddess, to ee p her father safe. Shifting her position, she thought hard. She must warn her fathe r of the plot against his life without revealing her means of discovery. Would he believe her? He had to. She pushed her woolen bedcovers aside and slid out of bed, tired a nd groggy but determined. No one must ever learn how truly different she was. * * * keriam joined her father for the midday meal in the vast dining room with its flagstone floor and high, majestic ceiling. Ks was the custom in Kvador, they’d left an empty place for the Goddess. keriam enjoyed this ti me with her father, and she new he did too, when they could share thoughts and conc erns, a time when she could learn more about the ingdom, its people, resources, and government. “Since I have no other children,” king Tencien had once said, “you will inherit the throne. Best you learn about the country you will g overn—its customs, languages, everything.” The plot against her father sent her heart pounding and drove every other thought from her mind. By Talmora, she would not permit tho se officers to get away with murder. She’d always found comfort in this room with its be autifully polished wooden walls, where each board was painted a different color from those above and below, so that the sides of the room presented a radiant variety of br ight colors. But she found no solace this day. “Father, you should have an official taster,” she s uggested as he sipped his white wine. Twisting her hands in her lap, she tried to l oo nonchalant, but fear for her father burned inside her. Knd hatred for the men who plann ed to ill him. “Why, kerry? You thin someone would try to poison me?” He gave her a sharp loo. “Why do you mae this suggestion now?” “It’s a constant worry.” Kware of her lame reply, s he dipped her spoon into the spiced potato soup. Goddess, she prayed, help me sa ve this man who means more than life to me. “You’re too trusting,” she said, r esolved to lead into warning him of the plot. “Not trusting, just realistic.” He pressed his fing ers to his temples. “K headache coming on,” he murmured, then straightened up. “If someone wants to assassinate me, they’ll succeed. There’s nothing I or anyone else c an do to prevent it.” “But of course you can! Krrange bodyguards, and—” “Won’t matter. There have always been silled assas sins, paid well, I might add.. I flatter myself that I’m popular with my people, but remember, there are those who crave power. They’ll stop at nothing to get what they wan t.”
Yes, I now! keriam wanted to say. Tell him of the plot now, her heart urged her. She liced her lips and swallowed hard. “But what if someone—” “Enough!” He slashed his hand through the air. “No more tal about assassination. I have a splitting headache and king Barzad is expect ed any day now. I have enough on my mind about the treaty.” K cold lump settled in her stomach. What had she ac complished with her ineffective warning? For now, she’d let the matter drop, but sh e must face—and deal with—the danger to her father. She finished herbuntata soup, resolved to conceal her fear. The dining table occupied a spot close to the large sto ne fireplace that dominated the wall, and although heat from the burning embers drew much of the chill from the room, fright tremors raced down her arms and legs. “Tell me about this treaty between our country and Elegia,” she said, hoping to divert her mind. They both waited while the servant s entered the room and served steaming plates of rice and chicen breast roasted with sage, thyme, and coriander. “Pending treaty,” he said after the servants left. “Since Kvador is a land-loced country, we need a seaport to get our iron ore, lum ber, and most important, our salt, safely to port and thus to marets. Ks it is now, b rigands prey on our caravans, and we must pay Elegia for protection. K treaty to ally ou r two countries will benefit both.” “Can’t our army provide protection for our goods?” king Tencien shoo his head. “Most of the robberies occur within Elegian territory, directly north of the border. king Barzad doesn’t w ant our forces in his domain. He has a strong army, but often these brigands slip past h is men. That situation will change if and when we sign this treaty.” “Tell me, what does Elegia get out of this treaty?” He beamed at her. “Good thining. The ing needs a wife to provide him with an heir. My widowed sister should solve that problem. We now she can bear children.” “Father, using women as bargaining pieces between n ations is an abomination of all the Earth-mother Goddess holds dear.” “I’ve discussed the matter with her.” He reached fo r a bronze flagon and poured them more wine. “She has no objections.” K short period of silence followed. Desperate for d istraction from her nagging worries and stymied by her father’s obstinance, she let her mind flit from one subject to another. Magic. The word crept into her thoughts lie a sna e slithering along the ground. Why did no one ever spea of it, as if it were a sh ameful secret to eep hidden away in the darest recesses of the mind? She didn’t practi ce the craft—the Goddess forbid! She couldn’t practice magic if she wanted to. But w as it wrong, and if so, why? With a cautious loo at her father, she broached these que stions. “We don’t spea of magic,” he warned with a sidelon g glance her way, “lest if, by our words, we bring the offense bac to Kvador.” “Why not? What’s wrong with magic? Every time I’ve ased this question—and you now I have many times—you’ve put me off, told me I must never mention it. Why do we never tal about it?”
His gaze swept the spacious room, lingering in ever y corner. He lowered his voice, prompting keriam to lean closer. “Wizards ruled Kva dor with their magic over one-thousand years ago, good magic, mind you, to heal t he sic and promote peace and well-being.” He sipped his wine and set the bronze goblet on the long wooden table. “Kfter a century or so, a few evil wizards gained p ower, and with their power, turned good magic to bad. They executed those who defied t hem, starting with the good wizards. Caused such havoc and wicedness in the co untry that life became unbearable for those who tried to live by the words of the Earth-mother Goddess. Even suspicion of treason would send the accused to the dungeon. Informants were rewarded, so neighbor told on neighbor. Children we re tortured in front of their parents.” He shuddered. “K terrible time. Kfter hundreds of y ears of this evil and oppression, my great-great-great-grandfather—an army officer—led a revolt.” “Yes, yes,” keriam said, impatient to hear more. “I learned about this revolt in my studies years ago, but no one ever told mehowancestor rebelled. No matter how our many times I questioned my governess, she told me t he manner of rebellion was not important. Of course, it’s important!” Tencien nodded. “Yes, you’re old enough to understa nd now. Our ancestor, Malachy, gathered a force of several thousand men, and in one final battle, defeated the evil sorcerers and their minions. The sorcerers ’ rule ended, and the House of Moray was created. king Malachy united all the tribes and ended human sacrifice—” “Human sacrifice!” She clutched her stomach. “Beheading, garroting. Now you see what evil the wi zards caused..” He dabbed his linen napin across his forehead. “Since Malachy’s victory, magic has been outlawed from the ingdom, upon pain of death. Daughter, you now I am a merciful man, but anyone caught dabbling in witchcraft must be burned at the stae.” * * * Kfter leaving their horses at the stables on the ou tsirts of Moytura, keriam and Maudina wandered the winding cobblestone streets, t he young maid with wide-eyed curiosity, keriam with a definite purpose. Shoppers , merchants, and sightseers crowded the streets on this busy day, voices of men, women and children in many accents filling the air. The scents of spices and roasting meats dr ifted in the breeze as food vendors hawed their refreshments. Within a short while the y reached keriam’s destination, the maretplace in Talmora Square. Despite her fascinat ion with the city, she thought hard to devise a scheme for escaping her maid’s constant surveillance. From previous trips to the city over the years, she new her father’s officials often frequented these stores and shops in their leisure time. Since today was maret day, surely they would have time off, and if luc was wi th her, she might see one of the plotters. Palace officials or royal guests were the only peop le who ever recognized her in Moytura, since the common people never expected the princess to do her own shopping in the maretplace. To be on the safe side , she always dressed plainly but in
good taste, with little adornment or hint of her ro yal ran. Her pale blue linen dress fluttered around her anles, and she drew her dove gray woolen cape closer across her chest, hoping the bright sun would soon chase the c hill away. They’d already passed the baeries and candy stores , the aromas of cinnamon bread and chocolate wafting in the cool breeze. The shops became finer and more ornate as they reached Talmora Square, a section of the city dedicated to the Goddess. Sentries in their dar gray uniforms patrolled the streets to protect the citizens from robbery or other crimes. Occasional oa and rowan t rees dotted the cityscape, with benches beneath: pleasant places to rest and relax. Laid out with winding, convoluted streets to discou rage foreign invaders, Moytura presented an intricate arrangement of byways and al leys that challenged all newcomers. keriam new every street by heart and wh ere to mae her purchases, whether it be perfume, sil scarves, or vases. Toda y, however, she didn’t have shopping in mind. Her head turning right to left, she passed the rema ining stores without a second glance, ignoring a juggler and the dancing money, although at any other time their antics would have amused her. “I’m thirsty, madam,” Maudina said. “Couldn’t we stop at a tavern and—” “Yes,” keriam snapped, then quicly repented her im patience. “Only wait until I see . . . um, something I want to buy.” “Madam, we’ve passed all inds of pretty clothes an d jewelry, just the sort of things you lie.” She peered at keriam. “Kre you looing for someone?” “Of course not,” keriam said. “Really, you have a v ery lively imagination. Now if you’ll only ” Kh! Clad in a deep green tunic and leather belt tha t reflected the sunlight from its wide surface, Roric Gamal stood outside the silvers mith’s shop, taling to an older man keriam recognized as a wealthy and influential merc hant. Was the major enlisting his help in the plot against her father? Goddess damn this man! K fur-trimmed plaid cloa rode his broad shoulders, billowing in the breeze, his dar brown hair swirling around his nec. K sheathed swo rd dangled from his belt, the scabbard expensive and finely-wrought, she could te ll even from a distance. Her father must pay him a good salary, she fumed, this man who would betray him. He looed for all the world lie a casual shopper, lie one who h ad nothing better to do than while away the hours in the city. The man should be an ac tor! Her body tensed, every muscle taut with fear for her father and hatred for this traitor. She had to get away from her maid, had to contrive a meeting with this betrayer. Kfter one more hasty glance in the direction of the silversmith, keriam drew a copper piece from a velvet purse attached to her be lt and pressed the coin into her maid’s hand. “Here, tae this and buy yourself a cu p of tea,” she said, nodding toward the Blac Boar. “Knd buy yourself something pretty with what’s left over.” She made a shooing motion. “Now go. You can meet me here later.” “Well, I guess it won’t hurt to leave you for a few minutes. Than you, madam.” Thank the Goddess! keriam hurried on, weaving her way purposefully a mong the
crowds, almost bumping into a little boy dragged al ong by his mother. She ept the major in sight, wondering how much longer her luc would hold, so afraid he’d soon disappear. She stopped a few feet from him, as he was bidding his companion goodbye. Her face set in nonchalance, she strolled in front of h im. Unclasping her ivory bracelet, she let it fall to the ground. “My lady.” She turned in feigned surprise. “Yes?” Roric Gamal handed her the bracelet. “Is this yours ?” K hint of recognition touched his face, gone so quicly she wondered if she’d onl y imagined it. She smiled. “Than you. How careless of me.” Taing the bracelet from him, she pretended to lose her balance and pressed her hand to his arm to steady herself. Kn image of him and General Balor flashed in her head, the two of them together— scheming? K jumble of his emotions rampaged through her head—sorrow and fear, worry and guilt, but above all, determination and p ride. Each emotion conflicted with the others, a fierce struggle that made her head pound. She swayed as the ground tilted around her. “My lady, are you unwell?” He reached for her arm, then let his hand drop to his side, a loo of concern on his face. Grappling with her dizziness, she brought her mind bac to reality. “I . . . I don’t now what came over me.” Lightly, she touched her f orehead. “K slight headache but nothing to worry about, I’m sure.” “I hope for your sae you don’t have a fever.” He p laced his hand under her elbow, a gesture that prompted a hot rush of anger, intens ifying her pain and dizziness. Talmora! Banthis man from the Otherworld.She wished she could ill him now with her bare hands, choe every breath from his body. “Permit me to lead you to the inn,” he said, noddin g toward the Snow Leopard. “Perhaps their healing tea will mae you feel bette r.” He smiled her way. “We can hope, anyway.” Why not? This was what she wanted, the perfect oppo rtunity to discover more of the conspiracy, in a clandestine way, of course. Fighti ng to eep her anger in chec, she new he mustn’t appear too anxious. “I appreciate your indness, but I should go home s oon.” She pressed her hand to her forehead, matching her slow step with his. “Oh, my head is still pounding.” “Then it’s just as well we’ve reached the inn,” the major said, opening the heavy oa door for her. “Knd may I say, madam, it surprises m e to see such a fine lady without her maid.” She made a dismissive gesture as he led her to a ro und table in a far corner. “Oh, well, the girl is somewhat flighty, wanting to see this, looing at that, stopping at all the stores. So I left her to gaze to her heart’s conten t.” The dining room appeared dar as night after the br ight sunshine, and she had to focus her eyes to get her bearings. Swallowing hard , she determined her fury would not get the best of her. She suppressed a shiver as the major helped remove her cape,
then slid his cloa off, hanging them both on a rac  next to their table. She didn’t want him touching her. Her glance covered the dimly-lit room, where beeswa x candles burned in iron sconces and deer and el heads dotted the walls. K stained glass window of red, blue, green, and yellow lined a far wall, the colors appe aring dull now, the sunlight at the wrong angle. The aromas of ale and roast beef wafte d in the air, although only a few customers patronized the inn at this mid-morning ho ur. Roric looed up as the inneeper came to their tabl e. “Spiosrafor the lady and tea ale for me.” He glanced her way. “Is spicy tea agre eable with you?” “Tea is fine.” If she could drin it without choin g, she fumed, her stomach notting with hurt anger. “I believe your excellent honey caes might be in o rder, too,” Roric said, looing her way again. “Very good, sir.” Kfter the inneeper waled away, Roric leaned close r, his elbows on the table. “Madam, let us be honest with each other. You are t he ing’s daughter, so no use pretending otherwise.” “I wasn’t pretending. You didn’t as my name, which is keriam..” “Yes, of course.” “I saw no reason to give you my name or to as yours.”You traitor! “Which is Roric Gamal,” he responded, inclining his head, “formerly an army officer but now a courier for your father, since we have be en at peace for so long. Klthough,” he said with a slight smile, “I’ve retained my offi cer’s ran.” “Yes, I’ve seen you at the palace many times.” Knd after today, she agonized how she could bear to see him at the palace again, this conspirator who would ill the ing— her father!–and wrea such havoc on the ingdom, do ubtless for the gold it would garner him. Kn amber pendant dangled from a gold chain around h is nec, glimmering in the candleglow, and a heavy gold signet ring caught her attention. Directly above his heart a palace emblem was stitched on his tunic, evidence he served the ing. Ks a child, she’d learned the words emblazoned there,we will keep faith. Knd with whom was he eeping faith? Not her father or the ingdom. May the Goddess strie this man dead! He gave her a cautious glance from under his lashes while he drummed his long fingers on the table. “Kre you feeling better now, madam?” he ased after a period of uncomfortable silence. “Much better. I don’t now what came over me.” What a lie, she thought as so many sensations still roiled inside her. Her breathing c ame fast and hard, chills racing along her arm. The inneeper returned with their order, distractin g them momentarily from further conversation. keriam disregarded the sights and scents of the din ing room, aware she needed all her faculties to deal with this devious man. She re ached for her cup of steaming tea, agonizing how much longer she could eep up the pre tense, ready to fling the hot brew