It’s official — my book The Promised One: The Chalam Færytales Book I is coming out in January! Oh man, I’m so excited! It’s an allegorical faerytale set in a world of magic and wicked queens and horses with wings and… It’s just so thrilling to share it with the world!

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The Promised One :: Chapter IV

The room glittered and shimmered in the candlelight like the lights of a thousand upon a thousand stars. She laughed as she ran, her shoes click-clacking on the stone floors. But she soon threw her hand over her mouth. She couldn’t be caught. Not this time. She was determined to win the game, even though she had yet to. The sound of her father’s counting faded the farther she ran.

She soared across the golden floors—it was as if she was flying! She stifled another giggle before crouching into the tiny alcove. The alcove into which only she could fit—her favorite hiding spot.

She waited.

And waited.

Her patience growing thin, she was determined to wait it out. She wouldn’t giggle and give herself away this time—

~

Elizabeth woke with a start, her heart pounding wildly in her chest, only to be greeted by the wan light of the sunrise peeking through the old curtain on her tiny bedroom window. It had only been a dream.

A familiar dream. One she was fairly certain she had dreamt before.

But a dream, nonetheless.

Something oddly familiar washed over her at the thought of the glittering rooms. The laughter. The happiness she had felt. Had it been real? A memory? Even as the details slowly ebbed from her mind, she couldn’t put a finger on why they had stirred her so deeply. Yes, it must have only been a beautiful dream. So she stretched her arms high into the air and yawned with a sound she was sure was completely unbecoming.

With a sigh, she caught sight of the necklace that dangled from her neck—the stone and its crystalline center, sparkling in flecks of every color she could name and several too impossible for words, as glittering as the halls of which she had just dreamt. Beautiful, really. A trinket she had worn as long as she could remember—a mysterious link to her unknown past. For while she remembered every moment of her life here in Navah—every horse race with Ferryl, every picnic in their Secret Place in the cliffs, every stolen moment, every tender kiss—everything before it was a fog. A blur. A smear of oil across rippled glass. Close, so close, and yet untouchable. She was no one, really. Elizabeth probably wasn’t even her true name—just the name Bedell had given her when he found her. And for what felt like the thousandth time, she wondered if she’d ever know who she truly was. Spiraling down the chasm of her thoughts, she took hold of the stone and ran it along its golden chain as she stared out the window.

She thought about her father’s words, his implication that magic was somehow a sufficient explanation for what had happened to Ferryl. The mystery was no closer to being solved, never mind that it had been nearly a week since he had forgotten her. Or did not remember her. Or was cursed. Whatever.

Magic.

Running the stone along the glittering gold chain, she breathed a sardonic laugh, knowing that by the end of all of this, either she or her father were sure to be proven a fool.

But at the moment, she didn’t really care which. All she could think about was the fact that the man she loved was likely due to arrive at the stables soon, as was his habit. And well, why would she miss an opportunity to see him? To even hold out the paltry hope that perhaps this had all been just a bad dream. Or that this ridiculous turn of events had somehow corrected itself.

She could not dress fast enough.

~

Thank you for reading the Sneak Peek Chapters of The Promised One: The Chalam Færytales. Want to continue the story? Click the button below! ~Morgan

 

The Promised One :: Chapter III

Everything alright, dear?” her father asked as Elizabeth plopped herself down into one of the two expertly-carved chairs that faced the hearth in her little cottage. Gifts from Ferryl—not that he would remember that. No fire burned in the fireplace, the coals from the night before waiting for her to relight them and begin the nightly routine all over.

Except she had absolutely no desire to prepare dinner tonight. Not since—

“Elizabeth, love?”

Elizabeth slid her gaze to her father, emerging into the small living room; he took a seat in the matching chair beside her, his silver hair glowing in the evening light that streamed through the windows of their quiet cottage. His eyes, so kind and colored with concern, searched her thoroughly. “Has something happened, love?”

She let her gaze flick back to the empty fireplace. “Something is wrong with Ferryl.”

“What do you mean?”

“He…” How could she say this? It made no sense. Absolutely no sense at all. “I don’t think he knows who I am.”

“Love, I’m fairly certain that could never be true,” chuckled Bedell, taking her hand across the chairs. His hand, speckled with age, the veins showing clearly through his papery skin, was surprisingly warm on top of hers, his grip somehow both impossibly strong and heartbreakingly tender. “He has had eyes and a heart for none but you for as long as I can remember.”

She only managed to huff a sardonic laugh.

“Tell me what’s happened,” he went on.

“That’s just it,” she said. “I don’t know what’s happened. Yesterday…yesterday day he…” She hadn’t told him. She hadn’t yet told her father what had happened. The question Ferryl had asked. The question a crown prince should never have asked a servant. But the promise he had made nonetheless. And she as well. “Yesterday he was fine. But this morning he…well, it was as if he had no idea who I was.”

“What do you mean?” Bedell asked, his voice kind but not terribly concerned. She wasn’t sure whether to laugh with relief or cry with frustration.

“I thought maybe he was just playing with me. Some sort of game, I suppose.” Never mind that Ferryl wasn’t one to play those kinds of games. Not so thoroughly anyway. “But then he just…left. And when he returned—which wasn’t until just an hour ago, by the way—he had a page bring Erel back to the stables. He never does that, father. He always brings him back. Always.” Always an excuse to see her again. To kiss her once more. In nearly fifteen years of friendship, he could never seem to keep away from her. Which was convenient then, considering she did not want to be away from him, either.

“It’s as if…it’s as if he’s never met me before, father.” She hated it—the tear that threatened to fall. The lump in her throat. She should not be so upset. For surely—surely there was some sort of logical explanation for it all. But the tear fell despite her. And she rushed to wipe it away.

Bedell only squeezed her hand.

“Have you…” she asked, pausing to swallow back the tears. “Have you ever heard of such behavior?”

“Hmmm,” he said, stroking his long, silvery white beard. He too stared into the cold hearth.

“Could he be ill?” she offered. “Is there some sort of illness that would cause such a thing?”

“I suppose it’s possible,” her father responded. “Logical, perhaps. But I’ve not heard of such an illness.”

She knew then. She knew what he was about to say. The explanation he would offer. The impossible, improbable, useless explanation. Her father, the Chief Advisor to the king of Navah, was little more than a believer of færytales. She gritted her teeth and waited as he finally said, “I have heard rumors though.”

“Rumors?” she asked, despite herself. “Rumors of what?”

“The Midvarish. They are rumored to have such abilities, though it is merely conjecture, of course.”

“What abilities?” she ground out. Waiting. Waiting for the answer she did not want to hear.

“Magic, my dear. Not true magic, of course. But the dark magic of Midvar. Dark magic that can take a person’s most cherished memories. Wipe them away with no trace or hope of return.”

No hope? No hope of return? Fear pounded in her veins, even as her mind—her logical, capable mind knew better than to believe such folly. Magic? There was no. such. thing. as magic. But still… “Why would someone want to take away Ferryl’s most cherished memories?”

“Why would someone want to take anyone’s memories, love?” Bedell asked in that annoying habit he had of answering a question with a question. Or a riddle.

“Father,” she muttered, glaring.

A quiet chuckle. “Memories, love, are powerful things, are they not? Perhaps in taking Ferryl’s memories, one might hold the power over Ferryl’s future.”

His future? “But father, Ferryl seemed perfectly lucid. It’s as if…it’s as if he has only forgotten me. What benefit could there be in taking such a memory?”

“Are you or are you not his future, love?”

And there it was again. Just as her father had always said. “The prophecy,” she said. And it wasn’t a question.

Bedell nodded, a twinkle in his wizened eyes.

The prophecy. How many times had he mentioned it? She could recite it by memory, he had reminded her of it so many times over the years.

A queen in the shadows

Who will bring forth the light

A king’s song sung through the night

On the wings of eagles they would fly

That the way for the promised one would be made.

But it was nonsense. That she—a nobody. A servant. An orphan—was somehow the subject of some sort of Providential prophecy. Never mind that she didn’t believe in prophecies. Never mind the prophecy made no sense whatsoever.

“Your destinies are entwined, love,” her father went on. “Should it really surprise you that there might be someone out there who would thwart such a thing?”

Yes. Yes, it should surprise her because she was no one. Not just in some self-loathing I’m not worthy sort of sense. But in reality. She was no one. A nobody. An orphan, abandoned, nameless child, taken in by a kind old man who fancied himself a prophet—much too old to be a father and much too kind to leave a little girl to her fate. And what a fate it would have been—abandoned for her death in the midst of the Wild Wood when she was little more than five years old. Had it not been for the old man beside her, she would surely be nothing more than dust and a forgotten memory.

But that didn’t mean that she was a somebody. And it certainly did not mean that she was a somebody about which prophecies had been written. And certainly not prophecies about the promised one, whoever that was.

She was certainly no promise.

She was nothing but a stable girl in love with the crown prince. The crown prince who apparently no longer had any idea who she was.

A nobody, indeed.

But this nobody was bound and determined to find an explanation for what had happened to Ferryl. And it would be an explanation founded in logic and reason, not magic and færy stories, thank you very much.

“Why don’t you use that calculating mind of yours and go and find an answer?” he asked, tearing her from her stricken thoughts.

“You’re actually advising me to find a logical explanation?”

A pursed smile as he brought her hand to his lips and kissed it softly. “I’ve no doubt that if there is anyone who can find the truth, it is you.”

“And so is this the advice of the prophet or my father?”

“You will find, love, that I am inextricably both.”

~

“Elizabeth, dear! What brings you here?” asked Mary, a pleasant smile on her rotund face. The morning had dawned bright and cheery, replete with hope and the promise of answers. So Elizabeth had bounded out of bed, swallowed a couple of quick bites of last night’s bread and practically ran the short distance from her cottage near the stables to the old healer’s infirmary at the back of the castle.

“I was wondering if you had a moment to talk.” The ocean breezes had already begun whipping loose tendrils of her hair out of her plait, but Elizabeth only absently tucked them behind her ears as she stood before the old woman—a dear friend.

“Well of course, of course! Come in, child!”

Mary opened her door and ushered Elizabeth inside, a shock of savory spices hitting her nostrils as she entered the healer’s infirmary. Elizabeth had always found the room to have an odd smell, what with the vast array of herbs and potions it held. At the attack of the pungent aroma, she had wondered how Mary could stand it all the time.

“Everything alright?” Mary asked, as she pulled up a couple of chairs around a tiny table.

Elizabeth sat down across from the healer, wringing her hands in her lap. She hadn’t thought about it before she arrived, but it became suddenly imperative that the subject of her concerns remain anonymous, considering that an onslaught of rumors in the prattling busybody court at Benalle Palace was a distinct possibility otherwise.

“Yes, Mary, everything is alright. But I wondered if you might have some insight for me regarding a friend of mine.”

Mary’s eyes twinkled, and Elizabeth knew she was probably assuming who that friend might be. Ferryl’s infamous affair with the stable girl was by no means a state secret. Still, “You don’t know her,” she added lamely.

“I see,” said Mary.

“Well, you see, it’s just strange because my friend, h—she lost her memory recently and I cannot seem to figure out why.”

“Lost her memory, you say?”

“Yes. It’s the strangest thing. One day she was fine, then the next day, out of nowhere, she couldn’t remember who I was.”

Mary cocked her head. “Couldn’t remember who you were?”

“Yes, and the strangest part is that’s all h—she forgot. Just me! Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Mary didn’t answer for a minute, drumming her fingers on the scarred table between them as she stared into the fire. “That is strange.”

“Do you suppose he’s ill?” Elizabeth asked.

“He?”

“I mean, she, of course.” Elizabeth could feel heat rushing to her cheeks. Well, if nothing else were gained from this meeting, it was at least painfully evident that she would make a terrible spy.

“Well, my dear,” said Mary, “I’m aware of many illnesses that can cause memory loss. Fevers, especially. Has she had any signs of illness?”

Elizabeth did her best to ignore Mary’s emphasis of the pronoun for fear that she might give herself away. Heavens, she was most certainly a terrible spy. “None that I’ve noticed.”

“Hmm, hmm, hmm,” the healer said, drumming her fingers on her chin. “That is strange, indeed.”

Elizabeth’s stomach was a pit of nerves, not only because she knew Mary was no fool, but also because of the fact that the old healer seemed genuinely perplexed. What if something was truly wrong with Ferryl?

“Of course,” said Mary, “even if she showed signs of illness, I’ve never heard of any such malady that could take away only parts of memories. Or entire people. Usually, if someone suffers memory loss due to fevers or injuries, it’s as if entire seasons of their lives are erased. Like time just stopped for a while. Not individual people. That is a strange illness, if indeed that’s what it is. I’ve certainly never heard of such a thing.”

“Nothing?” Elizabeth asked, knowing a strange mixture of disappointment and relief. So Ferryl probably wasn’t sick. But if not, then what in the world was going on?

“No, child, I don’t know of any such illness that works that way. I would venture to guess that she’s not sick at all.”

Not sick. Not sick, but then— “Have you any idea what could be wrong?”

“It could be a great number of things, of course. But if I had to guess based only on what you’ve told me, I’d say it was likely the product of a spell.”

“A spell?” Elizabeth asked, resignation giving her shoulders reason to slump. “You mean like magic.”

“Yes, magic. A spell. A curse. Something meant to take a specific part of her life away from her.”

“But magic, Mary. Surely you don’t believe in such nonsense.”

“What is nonsensical about magic, my dear?”

“Well for one, it’s not real. Not to mention it’s a silly, antiquated notion.” One that had, thanks to the much more logical and realistic minds of the powers that be, been thoroughly and completely eradicated from the more educated sectors of modern society. But not, apparently, from plump and aging healers. Or questionably old, adoptive fathers.

“My dear, just because you don’t believe in something, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Elizabeth huffed a defeated laugh. “Now you sound like my father.”

“I know that it is the plight of a teenage girl that she should never believe a word out of her father’s mouth, but rest assured my dear. Magic is very real and I daresay someday, you’ll believe that for yourself.”

Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes or cross her arms—a very teenage-like thing to do. Instead she only toyed with the charm that hung from her neck—one half of a stone, cut so expertly that the glittering insides shimmered in even the most wan light. A trinket she had worn for as long as she could remember, though she had no idea where it had come from. Her family, perhaps? Her past? But what was her past? She had never known. Nor had Bedell. It was a mystery she supposed would never be solved.

Of course—of course the world was full of things that couldn’t be explained. But just as the wind cannot be seen but it is there nonetheless, just as thunder answers lightning without remorse, some mysteries are better left to poetry and song. To the imagination. Some mysteries are better left unsolved. She just hoped whatever had happened to Ferryl wasn’t such a mystery. Because to explain it away with something as naïve as magic…

The world—her world—had always been divided into two categories: those who believed in magic, and the realists who comprised the remaining majority. She, proudly, had always been a part of the latter. Her father, obstinately, had always been a part of the former. And apparently, so too had Mary, which was surprising, considering there was nothing particularly odd or naïve about the kind old healer. Unlike her sweet, well-meaning father.

The problem was that if Ferryl wasn’t ill, and had not been the victim of some sort of magic spell, then what was wrong with him?

“Of course dear, without seeing her, I couldn’t be sure. Can you bring her here?”

“Oh, umm, well…” Sweat slicked her palms as Elizabeth tried to think of an excuse on the spot for why her mystery-friend-who-was-really-the-crown-prince couldn’t come for an examination.

“Of course,” said Mary, “it would be strange to ask your friend to come see me when she doesn’t even know there’s something wrong!”

Elizabeth practically stumbled in relief. “Yes, yes, I wouldn’t want her to become worried over something that is probably nothing. I’m sure it will correct itself.”

“Yes, things have a way of working themselves out,” said Mary.

“Thank you for your time, Mary. I’m sorry to have wasted it.”

“Come now, child, you haven’t wasted a thing! Have some tea with me! I haven’t gotten to see you much lately.”

And so Elizabeth obliged the kind healer, drinking tea and chatting for a good while, listening patiently as the old woman prattled story after story of her glory days and the creative herbs she had used to heal the royal family—a salve to heal the king’s mysterious injury, a concoction she had made that once helped the queen overcome crippling melancholia. But even the long-winded reminiscing couldn’t distract her from what was beginning to dawn on her: that whatever was wrong with Ferryl wasn’t going to correct itself anytime soon. Nor was it going to be easy to solve.

 

 

The Promised One :: Chapter II

Well, if it isn’t my long lost little brother!” Prince Ferryl exclaimed, throwing his arm around his brother as soon as he reached him in the palace corridor. After having spent a day in the city meeting with some of the nobility to discuss the presence of Midvarish rebels, he had returned to Benalle Palace as soon as he had seen the horses and wagons coming up the road—Commander Titus’s men, returned from their long stint on the other side of the kingdom. He had quickly finished up the last of the pointless meetings his father had scheduled and rushed back to greet his wild-tempered little brother who was anything but little.

Derwin returned the embrace with equal enthusiasm. “Brother,” he said, clapping Ferryl’s shoulder whilst inadvertently crushing him under the solid girth of his arms. “It’s good to see you.”

“How was Qadim Province?”

“As much of a wasteland as it has ever been,” said Derwin, his tanned skin even darker from the days he must have spent in the sun the past few months, his auburn hair a mess of disheveled curls atop his head.

“You smell like shit,” laughed Ferryl.

“Well,” said Derwin. “At least I have an excuse.”

Ferryl punched his brother’s arm with a chuckle. “Any updates?”

“The commander is still under the impression that he has everything under control. But from where I stand, the rebels are only growing. The border was teeming with them. Much more than we had anticipated.” Derwin walked past his brother, trudging down the black and white marble corridor, shrugging off his dusty riding cloak and handing it off to a servant girl who waited patiently, her hungry eyes practically devouring the returning prince. Derwin ignored the ogling servant, a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by his older brother. Flirtation with any female in the vicinity had been a favorite pastime of the brothers since the moment they realized they were surrounded by a gaggle of willing candidates.

Derwin marched off, and Ferryl could see the tension practically trailing him. “Well that was new,” said Ferryl, following in step behind his brother.

“What?”

“Please don’t tell me three months on the road with the army and you’ve lost your taste for women.”

Derwin didn’t attempt to hide the ire in his glare. “Spare me, Ferryl. She’s been eyeing both of us like that for years.”

“Which seems an awfully long time not to do anything about it.”

“I thought you, of all people, had tired of court games.”

“Indeed, but I didn’t think you had. Unyielding service to king and country has changed you, brother.” He had meant it as a joke, but the humor was painfully lost on his little brother.

Derwin ignored him, rounding a corner, pushing into his private receiving room, Ferryl following after. “Derwin, are you alright?”

“I’m tired. I’ve been on the road with a group of a hundred stinking brutes for the better part of three months. I’ve seen nothing in the way of progress toward ending this ridiculous rebel threat, and I’ve had to bite my tongue about it because of a commander who is only interested in ignoring the problem for the sake of so-called peace. Indeed, Ferryl, I’m tired.”

Derwin collapsed into a plush chair before a warm and otherwise useless fire that his servants had no doubt lit in anticipation of his return. He scrubbed his face with his calloused hands and sighed heavily. He might have been Ferryl’s younger brother, but in that moment he looked a thousand years old. Weary. Worn. What had happened in Qadim?

“Dinner is in fifteen minutes,” Ferryl said, hoping to lighten the mood.

“Mother and father can wait to hail their returning warrior. I’m in no mood for mother’s prying.”

A sentiment Ferryl could understand entirely.

“So what has happened here since I’ve been gone?” Derwin asked.

Ferryl made his way across the spacious room—large, certainly accommodating, but nowhere near as vast as his own. The second son, that’s what Derwin was. The second-born son to the greatest king Navah had ever known. And yet his chambers were modest in comparison to the rest of the royal family—a fact that had puzzled Ferryl most of his life. He crossed the room and took a seat near his brother, pushing a hand through his hair. “It’s the same as always. Mother is busy plotting advantageous matches with the most groveling of noblewomen she can find. Father shakes his head and says nothing of it. And I get to sit and wait for the puppet strings to be pulled like a good prince.”

“How is father?”

Ferryl looked his little brother in the eye, knowing the weight of the question, the worry that had been plaguing them both for months. “He’s still having headaches. I think they’re getting worse.”

Derwin turned his head, resting it against the back of his chair as he rubbed his temples. “Do you think he is ill, Ferryl?”

Ill? Ferryl would have been lying if he hadn’t wondered the same thing many times. But his father was still young, capable. A formidable king, only approaching his mid-forties. There could be no reason for him to be ill. “I think he’s unhappy with his marriage. That’s what I think. He’s fine, Derwin. Mother is just—”

“Impossible.”

Ferryl chuckled, albeit a bit sardonically. “Yes,” he said.

“And what of Elizabeth? Any news?”

Ferryl had to think a minute about whom he was referring to. “The stable girl?” he finally asked, wondering why in the world Derwin was asking about the new stable girl, of all people. The unfairly beautiful stable girl who had not apparently one iota of knowledge of horses. Or court protocol.

Derwin only scoffed. “Yes, the stable girl, you ass.”

“I suppose she’s busy working in the stable,” Ferryl answered, thinking he was just about done tolerating his brother’s foul mood for the evening.

Derwin laughed. “Well then it seems we are both biding our time then, doesn’t it?”

“Biding our time for what?” Ferryl asked.

Derwin rolled his eyes and this time, the gesture was lost on Ferryl. “I’m tired, Ferryl.”

And Ferryl knew he was being brushed off. “I’ll make your excuses at dinner,” he offered, standing to his feet.

“Thank you.”

Ferryl returned to the door, but he didn’t get a chance to open it before a smiling blonde servant pushed it open. “Hello, Leala,” Ferryl said warmly. “Come to greet our returning warrior?”

Leala’s laugh chimed with mirth and beauty, her wavy blonde hair cascading over her shoulders and down her back. Ferryl was well aware of how his mother preferred her maids to keep their hair in perfect, polished braids or sleek buns. And he also knew that Leala had just enough of a mind of her own to ignore such asinine demands from the queen of Navah. “Hello, Ferryl,” she said, but when she turned to say her hello to Derwin, Ferryl could have sworn he spotted a hint of rose coloring her cheeks.

Derwin immediately stood to his feet and ambled over to the door, his hands in his pockets. “Hello, Leala,” he said casually, but Ferryl did not miss the smile in his eyes. It was…consuming. For Leala was not just one of those ogling servant girls. She was one of Derwin’s closest and most trusted friends. Derwin hesitated for a moment, but soon gave Ferryl a sidelong glare before pulling their childhood friend into his arms and hugging her rather unashamedly. Leala seemed to melt right into his embrace.

“How was your trip? Successful?” she asked, her eyes sparkling.

“If by successful, you mean that we made it out of the province alive, then yes, it was successful.”

Leala laughed again, and this time, Ferryl didn’t miss the lingering look she gave his brother.

“I got your letters. It sounds like things are more complicated than you anticipated,” she said.

“To say the least,” Derwin responded, his arm still slung casually around her. “Ferryl was just leaving,” he added, nodding his head in Ferryl’s direction without taking his eyes off of her.

Well then.

Derwin and Leala had always been close. Much closer than Ferryl had been with her. She had grown up in the palace right alongside the princes, and no one had batted an eye when their friendship extended into adulthood, even though she was merely a servant and they the sons of the king. Never in all the years he had known her had he recalled feeling like a third wheel. But now—

“Yes. I have to get to dinner,” said Ferryl, glad of an excuse to leave. “I’m glad you’re home, brother. It’s been painfully dull without you.”

“I’m sure you were able to find something to do,” said Derwin, a twinkle of mirth in his eye.

“Right,” said Ferryl, thinking his brother seemed a bit addled from his trip. “Enjoy your night off.”

“Goodnight, brother,” said Derwin, and Ferryl didn’t even bother to wave as he walked out of his brother’s chambers, thinking Derwin had been in a strange mood, indeed.

~

“Your brother isn’t joining us?” asked Queen Meria, her perfectly arched brow striking a healthy amount of fear into her eldest son. Her garish russet gown filled her chair, billowing in yards and yards of fabric like a cascade of shimmering autumn leaves. Her jewels shone around her neck like a crackling fire. She had a habit of over-dressing, no matter the occasion. Tonight she looked more appropriate for a banquet with every nobleman from the province, not a quiet family dinner.

Ferryl sat down at his father’s dining table and cleared his throat. “He is tired, mother. He sends his apologies.”

“Yes, I’m sure he is exhausted,” said King Aiken, already digging into the first course. Asparagus soup—his favorite.

“But not too exhausted to see you,” said the queen, eyeing Ferryl with her cold gaze. Her golden hair had begun to gray in recent years, just as his father’s had, but she still had it fashioned into the most complex and elegant styles, which of course only added to the long list of reasons why Queen Meria of Navah was perhaps the most terrifying person on the planet. Ferryl didn’t miss the growl in her voice either. It seemed that no matter what Derwin did, it was never right for their mother. No wonder he had stopped trying years ago.

The queen didn’t release her cold glare from her son for quite an excruciating moment, and Ferryl found himself particularly interested in the consistency of his soup as a result. His mother had a way of striking fear in even the most innocent of subjects. Ferryl wondered why she had such a powerful effect on him, considering he had done nothing wrong.

He sipped on a spoonful of his soup, wincing at the earthy, acrid flavor. Asparagus soup was anything but delicious.

A servant ambled by offering wine, and Ferryl didn’t hesitate to have his goblet filled. To the brim. Despite the summer heat, the room seemed uncomfortably cold, and he welcomed the warmth the wine offered.

“Has Derwin anything to report from the east?” asked the king.

“I’m sure he can fill you in on the finer details,” answered Ferryl, thankful for the conversation. “But he did tell me that the rebel situation is worse than we had assumed.”

The king looked up from his soup. “What do you mean?”

“I do apologize, father. I did not pester him for more information. He was particularly tired. I assumed we could discuss it with the council tomorrow.”

“Well, there’s no reason to get our feathers ruffled,” said the queen. “Derwin is not exactly level-headed when it comes to things about which he is passionate. I am sure that Commander Titus has the situation under control.”

The king only gave his wife a sidelong glance before he returned to his soup, and Ferryl knew why. If there was one rule they followed religiously in the palace, it was to never argue with the queen.

Alas, the anticipated return of his warrior brother and here Ferryl was, participating in yet another uncomfortable dinner with his parents with no little brother in sight. Indeed, Ferryl was tired as well. It had been an off day, to be sure—like a misty, icy fog had settled on his mind, never mind that it was never cold in Navah, even in the dead of winter. And besides that, it was summer, the sun beating down hot, the humidity making his hair particularly unruly. There should be no reason for such a winter-like weight to be coursing through his very veins. But he had concluded the mental heaviness had something to do with the absence of his entertaining and smart-mouthed sibling and the quiet worry that pulled at the back of his mind any time he let himself think too long about his father’s strange, untreatable headaches. Whatever the case, he was more than ready for a sense of normalcy to return to the routine he called life.