There are only 3 DAYS until the release of Inito. I'm super excited!! As one last push to get you nearly as excited as I am, here is the first chapter of the book. After all, I can throw my writing at you all day, but if you don't think it's good, then what's the point, right? Also, since I know it's a little much to ask of new readers to jump into a second book without having read the first, my publisher has agreed to lower Lunula's price to $1.99 the day of release!
The witch of light is born with three fundamental abilities: The gift of healing, the gift of tongues, and the gift of connection. She can heal any wound she can physically touch, understand any written or spoken language, and connect to emotions in such a way that she persuades those around her. These are the foundation of her abilities, contained by the boundaries of fate. But if an evolution were to take place, if the nature of this magic changed altogether, the boundaries would cease to exist. It would be Inito.
Gethin's voice seemed to hook onto my drifting soul, connecting it like a tether back to the world of the living. In one moment—a timeless moment that could have been minutes or years—I was between death and life. In the next, his voice called out to me, commanding my soul to return to him. I held onto that tether with all my energy.
I did not hear his voice again, but I knew in some way that I was leaving the darkness. It changed, shifting from an oppressive space in time to a more physical state of unconsciousness. I began to feel again. I felt emotion, which had not been in my time apart from life, then hope, and finally some impatience in my desire to see Gethin again. I gradually became aware of a rocking motion as I woke. I knew that I was warm, and felt arms holding me safely.
I felt my lungs expand with air before they let out a contented sigh.
The rocking stopped, and that voice said my name again. “Wynn?” Gethin asked.
I opened my heavy eyelids. Bright sunlight blurred my vision for a moment, but I could tell I was still in the forest near the elven border.
Gethin hugged me closer to him, and I felt the soft tickle of fur blankets under my chin. “Fates,” he breathed in relief, kissing the top of my head. “You're awake.”
The forest began to come into focus, and I saw then that I was high off the ground. A horse shifted under me, and I became aware of the hardness of a saddle beneath me. Gethin had me cradled against him with my legs draped over his right one and my torso supported by his arms. A cocoon of dark fur blankets wound from my neck down over my feet.
I wiggled my arms experimentally. Other than being trapped by the blankets, I knew I could move easily. I felt strong.
“How do you feel?” Gethin asked.
I licked dry lips and tried my voice. “Good,” I said clearly. I smiled and craned my neck to look at his face at last. It felt like years had separated us.
His dark brown eyes, nearly as black as his tousled hair, gazed down at me with relief. With my eyes, I traced the strong outline of his face down to his angled jaw, covered with a black shadow of beard growth. Two slightly bowed lips smiled slowly. “Welcome back.”
I struggled to free my arms, and with amusement Gethin helped me push the blankets down. I flung my arms tightly around his neck, raising my body so I could bury my face in the crook of his neck. “You saved me.”
His embrace locked me tight to him. “Only just. Thank you for coming back.”
I inhaled the smell of pine from his skin and reveled in the fact that I could touch him. I wasn't sure I could let go.
But then Gethin loosened his hold, and I could sense he wanted to talk, so I pulled away from him and settled back into the blankets. The air was refreshingly cold, at least compared to the void of feeling I had just come from.
The warlock spoke as he arranged the blankets back over me. “I am sure you have some questions, but first I want you to know that Alexandria is gone.”
“I know,” I replied softly.
He tucked a strand of my blond hair behind my ear. “I could not be sure you had heard before you...” He faltered.
“Left,” I helped. “Although I do not think I died.”
He grimaced. “Someday, after I have gotten over the shock of you being here again, I am going to be angry at you for that.”
“That's fair,” I conceded.
“For now, I am just glad you are whole. I would have waited in the cabin for you to wake, but we needed keep moving. I suspected Alexandria had more soldiers not far away. They would have seen that flash of light.”
I remembered the small cottage Queen Alexandria had lived in, waiting for me to come to her with the lunula, to bring her ultimate power and control. The building had been tucked between two giant trees in a forest, and several guards surrounded it. “Did you kill the other soldiers?”
“Aias did before I even got to you.”
I peered around his shoulder to look behind the horse, and saw a small train following us. Aias, an elf and friend to Gethin, sat astride a black horse. He led two other mounts that pulled a wooden cart stacked with provisions.
“Are we going to meet with your men, then?” I asked Gethin.
“If they are still there,” he replied. “They were low on provisions.”
I waved to Aias, and he inclined his head in return. The elf had long, white hair, a slender build, and green eyes the color of spring.
Turning back to Gethin, I queried, “And what then?”
“Then things get complicated. First, we must find them.”
Gethin was in control of a detachment of about one hundred men, brought from his kingdom of Dristol to my kingdom, Irador. The two lands had been separated for many years by fear and hatred. Irador had command of Dristol, and only recently had I learned of the oppression Gethin's people suffered because of it. Now that Queen Alexandria, former ruler of Irador (and complete lunatic), was gone there would surely be changes.
Gethin started the horse forward. “There is another thing we must talk about before anything else. Something extraordinary happened when you gave your aura to me.”
I had somehow forgotten about my own magical abilities, even though it was at the root of all that had happened to us just hours before. I was born as a witch of light and Gethin a warlock of darkness. We were meant to be each other's counterpart and mortal enemy. Only one of each is born every one hundred years, and historically the warlock always sought out the witch in order to steal her power. It had never ended well.
But somehow, with us, fate changed. Brought together by chance and the dangerous plot of my former queen, we had found solace in one another in place of fear or power lust. In each other we saw only companionship. Unfortunately, Alexandria succeeded in obtaining great power from an artifact called the lunula. In order to defeat her, I had known Gethin would need the addition of my magic. I was already wounded and dying, so instead of forcing him to kill me and take the power, as had been done in the past, I gave it to him.
I knew something extraordinary had happened just before my death. I felt our auras combine, and saw a bright flash of light that ended Alexandria's life. The question now remained: Was I powerless? I closed my eyes and searched for the light that ordinarily thrummed within me. Rather than seeing that light, I could almost sense it, and in some of my darkest moments that warmth had brought me irreplaceable comfort.
My eyes flew open. “It's still there,” I said in awe.
“Look again,” Gethin suggested.
I did, and this time I could sense the power that pushed to be released. Before my magic had manifested itself as a white glow. Now, a gray essence seemed to coil and writhe from one source, striking like lightning with long-reaching tendrils. Rather than one spot of warmth, I sensed a power that coursed through my whole body with every beat of my heart.
I opened my eyes again, this time frowning in thought. “What is it?”
Gethin paused, before admitting,“I am not sure.”
I leaned my head against his shoulder, feeling the pull of his muscles as he supported my weight. “What happened after they joined together?”
I felt his voice low in his chest as he answered. “From what I could tell, the merging of light and dark was a violent reaction. There were two waves of light after they came together, one white and the other black. My theory is that they were aftershocks of power that were a result of the force we created. The first one, according to Aias, burned Alexandria to death in an instant. The second dissipated without any lasting effect.”
“Why did the light burn her and the dark not?”
I felt him shrug. “Aias believes it had something to do with the lunula, that perhaps that magic was drawn to the light object and consumed the queen. Because there was nothing to draw the dark, it did not attach to anything.”
“Hmm,” I mused.
“I have the same feelings,” Gethin said.
“So when the auras welded...the dark did not absorb the light?”
“Right.” Gethin steered the horse around a large, fallen tree limb, and we began to amble up the side of a hill. “I think the act of giving made it different. It was almost as if it was meant to be that way all along. Balanced.”
“Much more tidy,” I thought out loud. “It is as if everyone else in history got it wrong.”
“I think that is as good an explanation as we can get with so little information,” Gethin said, giving me a squeeze. “That is, without a divine revelation from the Fates. Maybe we should pray,” he teased.
“They don't deserve it,” I said bitterly. The Fates, seven deities who controlled the paths of life in our world, had made us in the first place as weapons in their war for balance between the three Fates of chaos and the three Fates of order. The Median Fate acted as the arbiter.
A distant memory of anger pervaded my thoughts, but I couldn't seem to locate the source. Like a dream forgotten that left behind only emotions, I felt that there was something important I had experienced. But then it slipped away just as quickly as it had come, and I turned my thoughts to our journey.
If Gethin's men were still where we had left them, they would not be far from where Alexandria had made her camp. Both locations were near the elven border, which lined the top of Irador's lands. These forests were hidden within the mountains of the north, and as such, winter seemed to be arriving quickly. Already, the hues of autumn rained down around us as leaves in orange, red, and brown colors fell from the branches above. Dips and crests of hills rolled through the woods, and as they grew larger I knew we would soon be upon the Dristolian army.
When the afternoon sun began a slope toward the horizon, I heard the hum of low voices just over the ridge of a steep hill. Gethin angled our horse to go around the base of the incline, where a narrow valley was disguised between two hills. That was where we had last left the army.
I lifted my head from his shoulder. “I hope they are alright. They had almost no food when we left them.”
“Starvation would have made them quieter,” the captain said drily.
“State your purpose,” a guard called from behind one of the trees.
“Greetings Fannar, Geir,” Gethin gestured to the trees with a nod.
“Sir!” The two soldiers emerged from their hiding places.
Fannar, a stocky man with short brown hair and giant arms, smiled and bowed his head. “Welcome, sir. Should I lead the horse and cart in?”
“Yes, and then take inventory of the supplies. Geir, go and retrieve Erik for me.”
Both soldiers hurried to their tasks, and Gethin led the horse into the camp. Before we had made it around the curve of the hill, Aias drew up alongside us. His tilted green eyes spoke his discomfort. “I will part ways with you now, King Gethin.”
Gethin stopped our horse. “Will you go back to Makynae?”
Aias shrugged one slim shoulder. “I have little choice.”
“You have a place in my army if you wish it,” the Dristolian king offered.
“No.” The elf seemed to be mildly amused by that thought. “I thank you, I will take my chances with my uncle.”
“You betrayed him,” Gethin reminded him.
“He betrayed his word,” Aias replied confidently. “We will reach an understanding I am sure.”
“With his son safe, you likely will.”
Aias gave a short nod. “We will find a way to mend what has happened.”
“Then, good luck to you,” Gethin said.
“And to you. Farewell, Wynn.”
“Goodbye, Aias,” I smiled. “Thank you for all you have done.”
The elf, looking somehow forlorn and even a little lost, turned his horse and made his way north into the woods and back to his people. King Lycus, his uncle, had exchanged me to Alexandria in return for his son, not heeding the possible consequences. Aias had been the only elf willing to follow Gethin and save my life. I owed him so much, and yet there was little I could do or say to show him the depth of my gratitude. Elves were removed from humans in many ways, and we did not share compassionate bonds.
“I hope he will be alright,” I said as we came upon the busy camp.
“I have a feeling that he can hold his own against Lycus.” Gethin reined in the horse and dismounted, holding his hands up to help me down. “For now, my attention should be elsewhere,” he looked at me pointedly.
I grinned as he slowly lowered me to the ground. That sounded good to me.
Erik, brother to Gethin and second in line for the throne, joined us as we were unpacking bags from the horse's saddle. He looked very like Gethin, only thinner, with chaotic black hair and a mischievous glint in his dark eyes. He studied us with pursed lips. “Welcome, brother.”
Gethin handed the Dristolian prince a leather bag. “I will take your full report in a moment, but what is the short version?
“We're bored,” Erik stated.
I laughed under my breath.
“And?” Gethin asked.
“And we have no idea what has been happening. Just this morning we spotted a bright flash of light some leagues away, and now you show up like nothing has happened at all.” Erik shouldered the bag and we made our way into the camp toward the captain's tent. “So you tell me the short version.”
I carried the folded furs under my arms, and it pushed my cloak open, revealing my dirty white dress covered in blood stains from my mortal injury.
Erik stopped and his eyes widened with silent questions.
Gethin propelled him forward with a push to his shoulder, and turned to me, pulling my cloak closed. “There is no short version. I just want to be sure you have all found food and survived.”
“Barely, but yes, we are managing,” Erik replied.
“Fine. Have Bevan meet with Fannar at the cart of supplies I brought and begin portioning everything out. Spread the word that we will leave in the morning, and have the men make preparations for our travel. Then I will give you the full version.”
Erik looked dubious. “At your command, sir.”
“And Erik,” Gethin added.
“Give me that bag.”
Erik tossed it back to Gethin, who juggled it with the two other packs he carried, and we wove through the surprised crowd of soldiers. They all looked immensely relieved to see their king back alive, but they had to be wondering what had happened. The last they saw of us was before we entered the elven borders, before the lunula had been found, and before anyone even knew I was the witch.
Gethin nodded to many of his men, assuring them with his confidence, until we finally reached the canvas tent set aside for the leader of the army. At the moment, Erik had his bedroll and belongings scattered along the dirt ground off to the right of the enclosure. Gethin dropped the bags on the left, and then took the furs from me, spreading them out. “I thought you might want to change before we meet with Erik and the others.”
I glanced down at my blood-stained abdomen. “Why?” I smiled.
The tension in his face eased as his mouth curved into a smile of his own. “It did seem to shut Erik up.”
I shrugged. “I have nothing to change into, anyway. The elves kept all my clothes.”
Gethin prodded a bag with the toe of his boot, the one Erik had held. “If you can stomach it, the queen had no use for hers any more. I took a few from her wardrobe.”
I made a disgusted face. “Oh, well...I mean she had probably not worn them yet, anyway. I heard that she never wears the same dress twice.”
“They looked new,” Gethin said hopefully.
I sighed resignedly. “And I really cannot be picky.” I picked up the bag and gave Gethin one last weak smile. “I will be quick.”
Gethin left me in privacy to sort through my new wardrobe.
He had packed me three dresses, all ornate and embarrassingly opulent. I set aside a green gown, and then carefully folded the others back into the bag. There was also a thick cloak, lined with fur for the winter months. The dress was complicated, and took me some time to figure out, but in the end, I was able to lace it up properly before someone marched in on me.
I latched the black, fur-lined cloak over my shoulders, impressed by the quality, and thankful that at least I would be kept warm from the chilly air. When I pushed aside the flaps of the tent, the warm glow of sunset had darkened the shadows of the camp, and the evening meal was underway. Most of the soldiers had gathered around the warm coals of three fires, all of them holding trenchers or bowls with meager portions of food. I suddenly felt guilty for the time I had spent waiting in Makynae, well fed and safe indoors.
Gethin, some distance away and in conference with his right-hand man, Bevan, saw me emerge from the tent and made his way to me after a last word with his soldier. He had changed as well, trading his dirty tunic and white shirt for a simple, brown, cotton top he must have borrowed from one of the men. He, too, had left everything but his sword and cloak in Makynae. As he reached me, Gethin swirled his cloak over his shoulders and latched it at the front. “You look beautiful,” he said to me.
“Thank you,” I smiled self-consciously.
Gethin took my hand. “Are you hungry?”
“Defeating tyrannical monarchs will do that to you,” he said in mock solemnity.
As we neared the throng of soldiers, I asked, “Do you have a plan to speak to the lords of Irador about your people?”
“Yes, I had an idea in mind. We will discuss it after dinner and solidify the details before leaving tomorrow.” We stopped at the edge of the group. “The hard part is done, now. We can figure everything else out as we go along.”
By everything else, I had to assume he meant our mysterious new power and uncertain future. “I trust you,” I replied, infusing my sincerity into my words in place of the ability I had to connect emotionally with others. Our gifts did not work on each other, but that did not impede our ability to feel for and link to one another on a completely different level. Gethin was teaching me to trust and love—something I had never known before.
Gethin leaned forward, presumably with the intention of kissing me in full view of all his soldiers. But then a sound from the distance split the air with urgency. “To arms!” a man shouted.
Then an arrow pierced Gethin's leg.