Eledon, the world of the Elves, is doomed unless someone can find out what is causing it to break apart. For over a thousand years, a rogue island threatens to pull the rest of the world through an entry point to a wormhole, destroying it and the mortal world known as Earth. The task falls to Alex, a young woman born on the island, to find a solution. Her magical power is tested in the first book of the series, “Spell Breaker,” where she must remove the storms that surround the island to allow for migration to the rest of Eledon, the only place where the problem can be fixed. There, her youthful enthusiasm results in additional complications as she fears for her life and retreats to the mortal world through an entry point for a new start. In the second book, “The Blue Witch,” Alex meets King Arthur and joins the search for the Holy Grail, looking in Eledon, where no one else has looked before, only to find her return to the mortal world blocked. The third book, “Gossamer,” leads Alex one step closer to solving the problem with the island, but she doesn’t know it, until she resolves it in the fourth book, “Noble Magic.” Once the crisis is averted, all she needs to do is resolve the problems between the Elves and there could be peace in Eledon…maybe.
Title: SPELL BREAKER (Book 4)
Author: Joni Parker
Publisher: Village Green Press LLC
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Author: Joni Parker
Publisher: Village Green Press LLC
Genre: Epic Fantasy
The fate of Seaward Isle and all its inhabitants weighed heavily on Alex’s mind as she trudged up the stairs at her cousin’s fortress in Southport. Her thoughts wavered between doubt and fear—doubt she could achieve what was being asked of her and fearful of the consequences should she succeed. Her black boots scraped against the stone steps leading to the turret, and she straightened her brown uniform as she reached the top landing. There, she was greeted by bright sunlight, forcing her to shield her blue eyes from the glare. The wind caught her long, black hair and blew it into her face.
Across the rooftop, her blond-haired cousin, Prince Darin of the Water Elves and Lord Odin, the leader of the Elves on Seaward Isle, stared out to sea as a line of storms moved in closer to shore. She stopped short of them and saluted by placing her right hand over her chest and curtsying, the proper greeting to the two most powerful Elves on the island.
“Good morning, Lord Odin…Prince Darin.” She nodded to her cousin who returned a nod of his own.
“Good morning, Alex.” Lord Odin smiled—his long blond hair shone in the sun and his blue eyes twinkled. “I hope you don’t mind doing this experiment.”
“Sure, no problem, but I don’t think it’ll work.”
“Of course it will. Think positive.” He put his arm around her shoulders. “Sit over here by the turret. You’ll have the best view.”
“Thanks.” Alex squinted in the sunshine and sat in a wooden chair at the base of the turret, staring down at the beach far below her.
“By the way, Prince Darin and I took the liberty of bringing the storms closer to shore.” He pointed to the line of dark clouds less than a mile away, where thunder rumbled.
Alex grimaced. “Why didn’t you stop them?”
He shook his head. “I can’t and neither can Prince Darin. We can only move them around.”
“What makes you think I can?”
“I know you can. I have the utmost confidence in you.”
Although grateful for the vote of confidence, Alex paled, and beads of sweat formed on her upper lip. For a thousand years, Elves, Dwarves, and mortals from different lands and times remained stranded here because of the storms. Now, they were so close she could see them as never before. Sweeping winds churned black clouds into a boiling rage—pierced by long fingers of lightning as sheets of rain fell into the turbulent sea. It was a terrifyingly beautiful sight.
“You may begin, Alex.” Lord Odin stepped aside.
Alex paused, flinching as lightning flashed. After a few seconds, she looked up at Lord Odin. “What am I supposed to do? Tell it to stop?”
Lord Odin raised his eyebrows. “Yes, well…let me help you. Close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Relax. Inhale and exhale.” He breathed in and out. “Now, imagine yourself flying through the storms…see the dark clouds…feel the rain as it falls…watch the waves roll by.”
As he spoke, Alex closed her eyes, holding her arms out to the side—her body tingled, as if raindrops pelted her skin. Playfully, she swished her hands to increase the size of the waves, and they grew at her command. But she opened her eyes and caught a glimpse of a ship’s white sail, tossed high as it crashed against the barrier rocks.
“Oh no! Stop!” Alex leapt to her feet and bolted past her cousin, running and jumping down the stairs.
“Alex, there’s nothing you can do!” Lord Odin shouted as she ran away.
At the front gate, Alex rushed past two guards, nearly knocking one over. She careened to the left and sprinted to the beach, a block away. Wind tossed her hair, and she swiped at it with her hand. Her heart pounded as tears ran down her face. Once on the beach, she slid to a stop, yanked off her boots, and ran towards the water.
A heavy-set man, knee deep in water, pointed out to sea. “Someone’s in trouble out there.”
“I see him.” Alex’s heart sank—it was another failed attempt to escape Seaward Isle, and it was her fault.
“I’ll get the ghost patrol, Miss Elf.” The man left the water, shivering as he did.
The ghost patrol was the nickname for the Coastal Police unit designated to help shipwreck victims on the beach. At least one wreck occurred each week, sometimes more, but more dead bodies than live ones washed up on the sand.
As she swam, Alex saw a child waving frantically from the ship, screaming for help. She choked on a mouthful of water and coughed as the cries grew more desperate. She couldn’t bear to listen anymore, so she put her head down and swam harder.
When she reached the ship, she pushed the broken mast aside and climbed aboard, finding the bodies of a man and a woman with two children. She pressed her lips together and knew they were dead without touching them—their glow of golden energy was gone. The left side of the ship was badly damaged, but she moved to the bow where she found the only survivor—a young boy; she guessed he was seven. His black hair dripped with water, and his thin body had several cuts and bruises. He burst into tears when he saw her.
Alex embraced him, rubbing his back to comfort him. “I am so sorry.” Her eyes filled with tears, knowing he was now an orphan, just like she was. “Are you hurt?” She pushed him away to examine him.
“Mi papa say time to go to America. He say we see nana there and become rich, but we no make it.”
Her jaw dropped. She’d heard of America—her foster father came from there. “But you can’t get to America from here. What’s your name?”
“Carlitos…we come from Havana.” He sobbed and held up his arm with a rope tied tightly around it.
Alex wiped her face dry. “Carlitos, my name is Alex. Can I help you?”
Alex slid her assassin’s knife from her wrist cuff and flicked it open. Carlitos gasped and opened his eyes wide. His reaction made her stop to reassure him. “I won’t hurt you.” She cut the rope from the ship and tried to remove it from his arm without cutting it, but he cried out.
“No, it hurts.” He backed away, but Alex grabbed him and brought him closer to her.
“Stay still and don’t look.” As soon as he looked away, she slid her blade under the rope and cut it. She set her blade down and removed the rope with a quick swipe. Carlitos winced but didn’t cry out and looked down at his arm as blood oozed.
Alex clamped her hand over the gaping wound. “I told you not to look.” He turned his head away again and tears fell as he began to shake.
Alex closed her eyes. “Heal.” She said in Elfspeak, a form of mental telepathy to command her blue light to heal without anyone hearing her. She opened her eyes and saw a faint blue light glowing under her hand, healing the wound without leaving a scar.
Carlitos peeked when she lifted her hand. “You fix me.” He smiled a little.
His wan smile brought some joy to her heart. “Don’t tell anyone. It’s our secret.” She put her finger to her lips.
“Fix them.” He waved at the bodies. “Fix them!”
“No, it’s too late. Their energy is gone.”
Carlitos put his hands together and fell to his knees. “Please…you must.”
“No, I told you I can’t help them. Their energy is gone.” She picked up her blade and folded it up, sliding it away into her wrist cuff, once again out of sight.
The little boy wailed, cradling his mother’s face in his hands. Alex didn’t know what else to do and looked away, glancing towards shore.
“They’re coming for you.”
On the beach, a dozen men hauled out their rescue equipment—a rowboat, long ropes, towels, and blankets, as the crippled ship drifted closer to shore. Two men rowed out to the wreck, now about three hundred yards out and tied a long rope to it. They climbed aboard, shaking their heads at the bodies. After checking on Alex and the little boy, they signaled to the men on the beach, and the broken ship was slowly pulled to shore.
Once beached on the sand, a man stepped up with his arms outstretched. “Give him to me, Miss Elf. He’ll be all right. This happens all the time.” He bit his lip when he saw the bodies. “I almost ended up like them. This island is nothing, but a trap. At first, you’re so desperate to leave you’d try anything. But there’s nothing you can do. It’s not so bad here once you get used to the place. We’ve got food, water, and shelter. What else do we need? We’re all going to die one day. I guess I’ll be here.”
“What are you going to do with him?” Alex nodded at the boy.
“Don’t worry about this fine lad. We’ll find him a good home. What’s your name, son?”
“Name’s Sam. You’re in good hands.” He patted his shoulder. “Now, Miss Elf, don’t go swimming out there the next time. We’ll take care of it.”
“All right. Thanks.” Alex helped Carlitos out of the ship, but Sam continued to stare at her until she blushed. “Is something wrong?”
“Well, you look like an Elf; you even got that blue hair in your ears like their kids, but your hair’s black and your ears aren’t pointed. How come?”
“My father was mortal.” Self-consciously, she tugged her hair over her ears to hide the blue hair.
Sam chuckled and raised his eyebrows. “Lucky man. Come on, lad. Stop shaking. Are you hurt?”
“She fix me, but she scary.” Carlitos eyed her warily.
Sam chuckled. “Used some Elf magic on you, did she?”
Carlitos nodded and showed him his arm. “Arm cut here, but now nothing.”
Alex groaned. She climbed off the ship, watching the other men place the bodies on the wagon.
Once the crew left, Alex plopped down on the beach near her boots and sat quietly, her hands on top of her head and tears on her cheeks. A few minutes later, her cousin, Prince Darin strolled up and sat down next to her.
“It’s all right, Alex.” He placed his hand on her shoulder.
“No, it isn’t. Four people are dead, and there’s another orphan on Seaward Isle, thanks to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
She sighed. “I did what Lord Odin said to do, and I made the waves grow bigger, but a ship crashed on the barrier rocks before I could stop it. The only survivor was a little boy.” She covered her face and shook her head.
“Hold on a minute, you made the waves grow bigger?”
Alex nodded and sniffled. “Yes.”
“Then you can do it.” He raised his eyebrows.
“Control the storms. Alex, you can do it. You must stop them the next time.” He clenched his fist.
She looked at him and then out to sea. “I guess.”
He exhaled sharply. “What do you mean, you guess?”
“I don’t understand how I do it.”
“I don’t care if you don’t understand it.” He scooted closer to her. “You must do it again, so we can all escape from this…prison. Do it for them, if for no one else. At least do it for that little boy.” He paused. “You’re the only one who can, Alex.” He ran his hand over his blond hair. “You must try again…please.”
Alex forced a tight smile. “All right…for you…and him.”
He patted her on the back. “That’s better. Get back to the house and clean up. Lord Odin will be in the parlor waiting for you.” He stood up, brushing sand off his uniform and helped her to her feet. They returned to the fortress in silence.
As soon as Alex got to her room, she checked her blade and cleaned it. Then she bathed and put on a clean uniform. Even though she’d been dismissed as a soldier, she still dressed like one—she didn’t have any other clothes to wear and no money to buy any. For years, she’d been a soldier in the Northeast Forest Army, an elite tracker known as the Black Elf.
Before she left her room, she leaned in closer to a mirror and stared at her right ear and then her left. A tuft of fine blue hair grew out of each ear canal. Although less than a half-inch long, the hair stood out like a beacon. She had no idea why all young Water Elves carried the marking and recalled with a grimace that two men had called her, Miss Elf. Until now, she’d been raised as a mortal and never considered herself to be one of them. Maybe she was.
Alex went to the parlor to meet Lord Odin. She saluted and curtsied to him, blushing. “I’m sorry I ran out, Lord Odin. You were right—there was nothing I could do.”
He cupped her face in his hands. “Prince Darin told me that you thought you caused that shipwreck. You didn’t.” He kissed her on the forehead. “Did you really make those waves grow larger?”
He raised her chin. “Good, you can do this. Make them smaller this time. Follow me.” He turned to the door.
Alex followed behind, the knot in her stomach tightened, as she feared another failure.
A few moments later, Lord Odin turned to her. “I want you to understand that this is very important to me. I only have a few months left.”
“A few months?” Alex gasped. “What’s wrong? Are you sick?”
“No—no, it’s not my health. It’s my seat on the Council of Elders.” He sighed. “I never thought I’d be here this long and it has a heavy cost—it’s been almost a thousand years. After that, my seat will be declared vacant, and they’ll look for a replacement.”
“Why didn’t you say so before?” Now this ordeal made sense to her.
Lord Odin simply smiled and continued up the stairs.
At the top of the fortress, they met Prince Darin, who slapped Alex on the shoulder like an old comrade-in-arms. They went to the turret, where Alex sat down and rubbed her hands together with renewed determination.
After taking several deep breaths, Alex pulled her hair from her face and blinked several times, wiping her sweaty hands on her britches. Leaning forward, she focused her attention on the storms, but her thoughts wandered to the little boy, Carlitos.
“I can’t concentrate, Lord Odin.”
“Here, start over. First, sit all the way back in the chair. Close your eyes and inhale slowly to a count of four. Yes, that’s it. Now, exhale-two-three-four. Inhale-two-three-four and exhale-two-three-four. Now, feel the wind and rain. Inhale…and exhale. Now make the waves smaller.”
Alex closed her eyes as Lord Odin spoke. This time, her imaginary flight through the storms came easier. She lowered her hands and calmed the waves.
“Stop the storms,” she chanted and tapped her foot two times. “Stop the storms.” Tap-tap. “Stop the storms.” Tap-tap.
To her surprise, a small break in the storms appeared, but when she paused, the storms returned. She didn’t know where the words had come from or why she tapped her foot, but when she started her chant again, the clouds thinned and a patch of blue sky appeared through a clear break in the storm line.
“Sun, come out.” Alex tapped her foot. Sunlight burst through the clouds. She squinted at the bright light and screamed excitedly. “I did it!”
Lord Odin clenched his fist. “Yes, you are the Spell Breaker.”
Prince Darin squeezed her in his arms. “You did it, Alex—I knew you could do it.” Tears fell from his eyes, and he ran over to embrace Lord Odin. They danced and whirled about in pure exhilaration.
Alex grinned at the two distinguished Elves expressing joy like children. But a strong sense of foreboding came over her. It seemed too easy. Now that the spell was broken, the people of Seaward Isle were free to leave, but to where? Where should she go? This island had always been her home. What did she do?
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Title: THE BLUE WITCH (Book 3)
Author: Joni Parker
Publisher: Village Green Press LLC
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Author: Joni Parker
Publisher: Village Green Press LLC
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Alex glared at the bread merchant as she handed him two copper coins. He grinned, a glint in his eye—he’d won this bargain and forced her to pay twice as much as the woman next to her for a loaf of bread. She was a villager, not an islander like Alex. Pushed from the side, Alex stumbled away from the stand, only to hear laughter at her expense. Her face flushed in anger, but she didn’t know the local language well enough to curse at the people around her. She turned and marched away, stuffing the bread into her basket and pulling the hood of her cloak over her head. I’m never going to buy bread from him again!
Horns blared from the town gate and Alex was pushed from behind across the cobblestone street. She stood crushed between two men who backed her into a brick wall as a column of soldiers rode through the gate. At the lead, a young soldier, barely old enough to shave, carried a banner with the image of a red hawk encased in flames. Behind him, four more soldiers with similar banners were followed by a single soldier in black metal armor, a long sword in a black scabbard by his side. He was an older man with long white hair tucked under a black helmet. Trailing after him were another twenty fully-armed soldiers. The men stared ahead, grim and determined, as if they were going to war.
As the formation moved forward, the horse under the old man reared up on its hind legs and bumped into the bread merchant’s cart. The merchant scrambled after his bread and the crowd surge around him, spooking the old man’s horse once more. Alex lost sight of the bread merchant, but heard the confusion as women screamed, men shouted, and horses whinnied. The old man’s soldiers moved in, shielding their leader from the angry mob and regained control.
Alex watched, still pinned against the wall across the street, but certain the bread merchant had been severely injured. She could push her way through the crowd to help him and perhaps even save his life, but she hesitated. Should she help a man who’d cheated her so he could cheat others? Or, should she help him anyway, out of the goodness of her heart? The merchant was carried away and screamed out in pain. He was still alive. A wave of guilt washed over her as she leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. She couldn’t save everyone.
The fiasco could have been avoided altogether if she’d made the bread. But her bread-making skills were awful, to say the least. She was planning a special meal for her half-brother Beren and his wife Lila, her best friend, to celebrate their new baby. Alex cringed—her nephew was going to grow up here. The land was beautiful, filled with rolling hills and tall forests, but she hadn’t found the people to be generous, kind, or at all welcoming.
After a few seconds, she opened her eyes. The bread merchant was gone as was his cart. In front of her, the older man in the center of the formation rode by, facing forward, unconcerned about the commotion around him. Who was he? Probably a knight, a soldier of King Arthur, she surmised.
He may be off to war, but she hadn’t heard about it, although she had yet to learn all she needed to know about living in the mortal world at Glastonbury village on the Isle of Avalon. A few months ago, she and several hundred others had migrated from Seaward Isle, located in Eledon, the world of the Elves. Strangely, they became known as the islanders even though Avalon itself was once an island, but it was no longer surrounded by water, only trees and green fields.
The soldiers were followed by a procession of monks from the local abbey, who marched behind a man carrying a large wooden cross. At the end was Brother Trekant, a friendly acquaintance of Alex’s who spoke her language. She pushed her way to him and tapped his arm. He nodded at her, but didn’t stop.
“Good day, Brother Trekant. Who was that man?” Alex stepped alongside him to keep pace.
“The Duke of Leadbury—he’s on a mission of great importance.” He spoke in a low tone, barely above a whisper.
“Is he going to war?”
“No, no, child. Nothing like that. The King is sending him on a special quest. He must search for the Holy Grail, a relic of our religion. Several hundred years ago, Joseph of Arimathea arrived on our shores, bringing it with him. The Holy Grail is the cup that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, drank from at the Last Supper. It was used by Joseph to catch the blood and sweat of Jesus as he was crucified on the cross. With it, he also brought a spear, used by a Roman guard to pierce Jesus’s side while on the cross. According to legend, they were protected in a large castle for years, until it was destroyed and the items lost. King Arthur has promised great rewards to any of his knights who can find them. Now, pardon me, but I must return to the abbey.” He nodded to her and trotted to catch up with the group.
His mention of a Roman spear brought up an old memory—she’d seen one in her distant past, but she wasn’t sure when or where. After he left, she thanked him and waved, but he was already gone. She pulled her cloak tight around her shoulders and glanced at the busy market—normal business operations had resumed. She got the vegetables she needed for her special meal and went home, thinking of the dying bread merchant, a Roman spear, and the quest for a cup.
Two blocks from the market stood the house where she lived with her half-brother Beren and his wife. The house was part of his salary as the junior sword master at the local academy. Made of stone and wood, it was roomy enough for them, but it was old and needed repairs. As Alex headed to the door, she heard footsteps behind her and turned around in alarm. But it was only Sam, one of the islanders. They exchanged silent greetings and went in.
Inside the parlor, thirty islander men were squeezed into the small space. Five months ago, the islanders began the migration from Eledon, and it ended when Alex showed up a month afterward. Most of these men had lived in the mortal world at one time in their lives, but had been stranded on Seaward Isle due to persistent and heavy storms. Once the storms ended, the people fled to Eledon, the home of the Elves who created a special entry portal to the mortal world. Although Alex was part mortal, she’d never lived here. She’d been born on Seaward Isle, the daughter of a mortal father and a Titan/Water Elf mother. And both were killed when she was four.
In front of the fireplace, Lord Ellsworth, the former King of Northeast Forest on Seaward Isle, stood with Alex’s half-brother Beren, the son of her father with his first wife, a mortal who later died. The islander men respected Lord Ellsworth as their leader, even though his Kingdom had been destroyed by earthquakes. Beren was today’s host.
“Sorry I’m late.” Alex blushed slightly as she made her way to the kitchen to set down the groceries she’d bought. It wasn’t much, just the bread, some turnips and carrots, but enough for the coney stew she planned to make with a rabbit she’d trapped in the forest.
Lord Ellsworth cleared his throat. “Let’s continue. Jeffrey, isn’t there something you can do about the merchants in the market? We can’t afford to feed our families at these prices.” He directed this comment to his younger brother, standing to the side.
Alex stepped out from the kitchen. “I agree. The bread merchant charged me double for this loaf of bread. It’s ridiculous.” She waved the bread in the air, still upset over the transaction, yet wondering if the bread merchant had survived.
“Thank you, Alex.” Lord Ellsworth rolled his eyes.
Jeffrey stepped forward. He looked handsome in the captain’s uniform of the local guard, which had a metal breastplate emblazoned with the King’s emblem, a red dragon with wings. “My soldiers can’t stay in the market all day. When we’re there, everything’s fine, but as soon as we leave, the merchants raise their prices.” He shrugged. “Even the King can’t control everything.”
“He can control our pay.” Sam voiced his opinion from the rear of the room. He was a former police officer on Seaward Isle, not under the rule of Lord Ellsworth and now, was employed as a common soldier in King Arthur’s guard.
Jeffrey shook his head. “I know the pay isn’t much, but it’s the same as the other soldiers, Sam. We have to live with it.”
Lord Ellsworth added, “Did you tell him about the beatings? Yesterday, one of our lads was nearly beaten to death. That makes five in the last two weeks.” He held up his hand to emphasize the number five.
“Yes, and he encouraged me to step up patrols.”
“Jeffrey, there must be something you can do. You’re the only one with any influence on King Arthur.”
“I’m not a colonel anymore, Ellsworth. I’m only a captain and a junior one at that. I can only do so much.”
Sam folded his arms across his chest. “Those fucking Elves knew this would happen. They sent us here on purpose.”
“It wasn’t the Elves’ fault, Sam,” Alex said. “They didn’t know anything about mortals.” She found herself in the unusual position of defending the Elves. Actually, she was defending Lord Odin, her Elf friend, who had arranged their entry into the mortal world.
Sam sighed heavily and looked away, shaking his head. “Damn fucking Elf,” he said under his breath.
Alex’s temper flared. “I heard that!” She stepped out from the kitchen.
Sam stepped forward; his fists clenched. “So what?”
“Stop!” Lord Ellsworth held his hands out. “We’ll have none of this in here. We need some positive ideas, not arguments.”
“Lord Ellsworth, I do have a suggestion,” Alex said. “We can find the Holy Grail. That’s why all these soldiers have been coming to town. I’ve seen at least five formations this past week.”
“No one’s been able to find it for years, Alex. What makes you think we can?”
“Brother Trekant said that this man by the name of Joseph brought the Holy Grail to Glastonbury to keep it safe. It should be somewhere close by.”
“They’ve already scoured the area, Alex. We’d have better luck finding the Blue Witch.” Jeffrey smirked.
“Who’s that?” Alex wrinkled her nose. She’d never heard of this person before.
“What does the King want with this witch?” Lord Ellsworth asked.
“He doesn’t—he wants her dead. She’s been helping the Blue People.”
In spite of the chilly response, Alex continued, “I understand that whoever finds the Holy Grail will receive a great reward from the King. If we find it, we can ask for our own land and put Lord Ellsworth back in charge.”
There was a smattering of applause, but at the back of the room, Sam groaned and rolled his eyes.
“Thank you, Alex.” Lord Ellsworth nodded to her. “But we need to think of more practical ideas. Gentlemen, think about it. We’ll meet at my house next week.”
Alex bit her lip and her cheeks turned crimson. As the men left, she placed a pot on the stove to prepare supper.
Jeffrey came into the kitchen, smiling. “Alex, what makes you think we can find this thing when no one else can?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It was just an idea.”
“I suppose you know where it is.” He chuckled as he leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest.
She shrugged again. “Maybe.” She focused on washing the vegetables in the sink.
He straightened. “What?”
“I said maybe.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Then how do you know?”
“I remember seeing an old spear once, and it seemed out of place. Based on what I’ve seen here, I’m pretty sure it was Roman. I just don’t remember where it was.”
“I thought this Grail was some type of cup, like a wine glass.”
“It is, but Brother Trekant said that there was also a Roman spear with it. It was used to kill Jesus when he was on the cross.”
“What do you know about Jesus?”
“Not much. I learned about him at the Sword Academy when I was growing up. He died for our sins, you know.”
“Not mine.” Jeffrey put his arms around her from behind and snuggled his face into her neck. He pulled her hair back to nibble on her ear as she peeled a turnip. “How about joining me for a picnic tomorrow?” he whispered.
Alex laughed. “So you can get secrets out of me?”
“Of course. Meet me at the stables at noon. I’ll bring lunch.”
“Deal. I’ll be there.”
Jeffrey laughed as he left. He could cajole a secret out of any woman, and Alex was no exception. Recovery of the Holy Grail wouldn’t just benefit his brother Ellsworth, but Jeffrey as well. And Alex’s memory was better than anyone else he knew. Now, all he had to do was find out where it was.
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Title: GOSSAMER (Book 2)
Author: Joni Parker
Publisher: Village Green Press LLC
Pages: Epic Fantasy
Author: Joni Parker
Publisher: Village Green Press LLC
Pages: Epic Fantasy
Alex tiptoed through her foster parents’ home as they slept and quietly shut the door. She inhaled deeply, stretching her arms above her head; the early morning air of spring was brisk and invigorating. She trotted to the horse pens at the Nyla Army Garrison on Seaward Isle, where a group of twenty men silently jogged in place, waiting for her. The last to arrive, she was appointed the rear guard and assigned to carry the backpack filled with canteens of water for the morning run.
The formation headed through the sleepy village of Nyla to the ridge. A daily ritual, the five-mile uphill run strained every part of Alex’s body, no matter how many times she’d done it before. With the backpack on, the trek was even harder.
Nine months ago, Alex had started a new training program to improve her fighting skills; she’d lost her edge living with the Elves, where she’d been treated more like royalty than a soldier. In her line of work, toughness mattered. Training with the mortal soldiers at the Garrison had been a good idea. They were elite soldiers who pushed her hard, without regard for her gender or status. The men had survived shipwrecks that left them on the island and they had migrated to the Nyla Army Garrison, where Alex’s foster father, Colonel Penser, was in charge. He, too, was a survivor and a former Army Ranger. But Alex had been born on Seaward Isle and raised by mortals, even though she was part Elf.
On top of the ridge, the men paced with their hands on their hips, catching their breaths, waiting for Alex. She’d fallen behind, dodging rocks and boulders, straining in soft patches of soil, clawing her way up with the backpack. The run had been hard and fast and followed a new route.
“Ooo-rah!” Alex fist-bumped the other men, part of the muster routine. She set the pack down and handed out canteens, as she listened to their sarcastic remarks.
“Lead in your boots?” one of the men asked with a grin.
“More like lead in her ass.” The other men chuckled.
The comments rolled off her back. She drank some water and handed off the canteen. At the edge of the ridge, she paused to take in the view. It was like no other. To the south, the mountains around the city of Agana and the sea beyond were visible in the clear morning air. The water seemed so calm now that the storms were gone; there hadn’t been a shipwreck in over two years. As she caught her breath, she witnessed one of the most beautiful sunrises she’d ever seen. Then, a piece of gossamer drifted across her face. She grimaced, swiping at it with her hand. A spider was at the end of it somewhere. She hated spiders.
Her attention was drawn to a dark object, moving north on the water. She leaned forward, hands on her knees. To her eyes, the object magnified and she could make out its shape and read the lettering on the side of the ship. It was the Elf ship Crustacean.
She gasped and said to the men, “The Elves are back!”
Within minutes, Alex was alone on the ridge. The men scrambled back to the Garrison because there was work to do. The arrival of the Elf ship meant supplies. Seven months ago, the Elf ships had failed to show up and five months ago, Colonel Penser had announced that the warehouses were empty. He sent the Garrison soldiers out to forage for food. It stemmed the problem, but wasn’t enough.
At first, no one knew why the Elf ships didn’t arrive as scheduled, until Rangor, a local barge captain, noticed the entry points were missing...again. Without them, no ships could enter or leave the Wayward Seas around the island.
Alex drained the remaining canteens of water and placed the empties in the backpack. As soon as the Elf ship unloaded its cargo, she’d be heading for Eledon, where her Elf grandmother lived. Thanks to the problem with the entry points, she was six months late for her appointment with her. She slipped the backpack over her shoulders and joined the free-for-all down the ridge.
When she reached the Garrison, she interrupted an argument between her foster father, Colonel Penser, and her friend, Takura, the Japanese scientist. The two men faced off on the docks near one of the warehouses. The Colonel, the taller of the two, was livid.
“I told you it was only temporary! We need this warehouse!” The Colonel stomped his foot and shook his fist. “Now, get a-moving.”
Takura held up his hands. “Please, Colonel. We are on the verge of important break-through. Very important. Please!” He bowed deeply at the waist, his hands pressed together in a sign of respect, but the Colonel remained firm.
Alex stepped between them and smiled sweetly at her foster father. “Good morning, Colonel. Can I help?” She always called the Colonel by his rank and loved to mimic his Texas drawl.
“Alex, explain to Takura here that we need this warehouse for all the supplies the Elves are delivering.” He pointed to the sacks piling up on the dock. “And we need it now.”
As Alex thought of a solution, she glanced at Takura, who was close to tears. “What if we delivered them directly to each household instead of storing them and then issuing them? Everyone needs everything at this point. It would save time and space.”
Colonel Penser gritted his teeth. “That would be a damned good idea if I wasn’t so pissed off.”
“Please, Colonel. Takura’s just trying to help me solve the problem with the island. I’m supposed to fix it, but I don’t know how. We have plenty of wagons, don’t we?”
“You know we do. Oh, all right. I get the message.”
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. In spite of his gruffness, he could be a real teddy bear. As the Colonel strode away barking new orders, she turned to Takura and gave him a thumbs-up.
“We’ve updated the computer simulation, Alex. Come see.” Takura waved her inside where a bank of jury-rigged computers sat on tables in the warehouse. He typed in a few commands and the animated video simulation began.
“Approximately twelve thousand years ago, an advanced civilization called the Mentors created Eledon for the Elves and Dwarves when they were forced to leave Earth. Large enough to accommodate the entire population, Eledon has four continents, surrounded by oceans. Protected inside a “bubble,” the atmospheric conditions are similar to Earth, complete with a sun, moon, and stars overhead. The Mentors also used these bubbles to protect the Elf ships as they sailed to Eledon, through the Ancient Passage, a wormhole. All was well until a thousand years ago, when a major structural defect occurred—Seaward Isle separated from Eledon. The Mentors encased the island in another bubble and connected it to Eledon with a series of entry points, or wormholes.
“The construction and composition of the bubble and the entry points are unknown. Our research vessel sailed as close to the edge as possible, only to be turned away by strong winds and sea currents and a bank of dense fog obstructed our view. The entry points, or wormholes, are just as difficult to study since we can only observe them from below. A drone will help, but we can’t find parts. Questions remain: How can the Mentors create wormholes? What kind of technology is required? We know that wormholes are shortcuts through space with an impact on time. Consequently, Seaward Isle and Eledon may be light years from Earth. In addition, recent studies indicate the wormholes aren’t permanently affixed to the island and frequently detach, striking the Earth’s surface at random. As a result, ships, airplanes, and other vessels have been brought to the island, leaving the people stranded. We believe, however, if all of the entry points detach simultaneously, the Earth’s gravity could pull the island through the Ancient Passage, followed by the rest of Eledon, destroying Earth. The results would be catastrophic.”
After the first showing, Alex watched it again. She had to smile at the thought of the research ship. It was actually Rangor’s barge; she’d had to bribe the old man to take the scientists out. Unfortunately, the simulation didn’t tell her how to fix the problem. Her role as Keeper of the Keys for the Elves was to return Seaward Isle to the rest of Eledon. She sighed and left to fill the canteens for tomorrow’s run, even though she was leaving in the morning.
* * *
The next morning, Alex boarded the Elf ship Crustacean. Once at sea, the ship sailed towards the entry points, only to find them gone once more. She stood on the bridge, staring skyward. All she saw was the dark sky, millions of stars, and a moon that was almost full. She tapped her foot nervously. Come on, where are you?
The entry points had always been a problem without a solution. Alex was deep in thought when Lockus, the ship’s captain, came up and cleared his throat.
“My lady, what should we do? His Highness, Prince Darin, said the Keeper is supposed to fix the entry points and you’re the Keeper.”
“I know, Lockus. I wish I knew. But the Mentors fixed them, didn’t they? I mean, that’s how you got here.”
“Aye, they did and we got through all right, but where’d they go? We can’t get back without them.”
“Keep looking. At least you delivered supplies. Thank you for that.” Alex nodded.
“Yo!” One of the crewmen perched on top of the mast shouted and pointed to a white ring in the distant sky. Lockus ordered the crew to the site and within an hour, the ship was near.
Alex felt her ears pop, a sign that there was a change in air pressure and the entry point was properly connected. Thank the stars! Relieved, she exhaled and leaned her head back. Catastrophe averted.
Lockus stood amidships and raised his arms in the air. His blond hair was ruffled by the wind as he said the spell to take the ship through the entry point:
“Winds of Eledon, take us to your lands.”
With full sails, the large wooden ship rose out of the Wayward Seas around Seaward Isle, passed through the entry point into Eledon, and landed gently in the Elf Seas. Alex’s knees buckled during the process, but she felt no other distress. How the process worked remained a mystery to her, but she had been through it at least a hundred times. Each time seemed like a miracle. Her shoulders relaxed and she breathed more easily.
Ahead of her, the dark line on the horizon marked the continent of Easton, but it would take six more hours to reach the port city of Meridian, where Alex’s grandmother lived. It was the capital city on the Easton continent and the home of the Water Elves. Now that Alex was through the entry point and into Eledon’s bubble atmosphere, she could use Elfspeak to talk to her grandmother telepathically. She closed her eyes to visualize her grandmother’s beautiful face and focused her thoughts.
“Grandmother, may I speak?”
“Alex, is that you? My, you’re up early. Is the sun even up?” Grandmother Lestin covered her mouth to stifle her yawn.
“Sorry to wake you. We just came through the entry point. I wanted to let you know that we should be there this afternoon. I’ve missed you and I’m looking forward to our visit to Themia.”
“I’ve missed you, too. I’ll be at home waiting for you.”
Alex smiled as the vision of her grandmother faded away. Her plan was to meet her in Meridian and then visit her cousins at their farm in Themia. After that, she could take care of the mission she’d prepared for. The Marsh Elf Sawgrass was a known criminal. At their last meeting, she thought she’d killed him, only to find out he was alive, although severely burned over most of his body from the fireworks explosions she’d set off. His survival left a gap in her otherwise perfect record—the only mission she’d failed to complete successfully. That would never happen again. She intended to lure Sawgrass into a trap, like a spider to a fly.
It was well past noon when the ship sailed into Meridian’s harbor. Alex picked up her valise and thanked Lockus and his crew for the ride. As she strolled down the gangplank, a dozen Water Elf ships blew their horns as they left port. Caught by surprise, she lost her balance and nearly fell into the water. She blushed upon hearing the crewmen laugh at her near disaster, but brushed herself off and marched on.
After passing by the large white Council building, she turned at the corner but stopped short when she saw two Water Elf soldiers standing guard in front of her grandmother’s house. Alarmed, she rushed forward and stared into the eyes of the first guard, who wore dragon armor and was fully armed.
“What happened? What are you doing here?” Alex’s heart rate skyrocketed as she set her valise down.
“We’ve been ordered to guard the house, Lady Alexin.”
“I can see that. Why? What’s wrong?”
“Don’t know, my lady.”
“I’m going in. Stand aside.” Alex picked up her valise.
“No one is allowed inside, my lady. Prince Darin’s orders.” The guard blocked her way.
“I live here!” Alex gritted her teeth and pushed by the two guards. She opened the door, only to find the house eerily quiet. She broke into a cold sweat.
“Grandmother?” She stepped in, waving her hand over the panel on the wall to light the crystals overhead, filling the parlor with light. “Grandmother, I’m home.” Alex cupped her hands around her mouth. “Where are you?” When she received no answer, she felt a lump rise in her throat and her heart pounded in her ears.
In the dining room, she picked up her grandmother’s cherished teapot from the table and looked inside. It was clean—no tea had been made in this pot today. In the kitchen, the hot water kettle stood empty and no dishes had been used. Alex frowned and bit her lip. Her grandmother said she’d be here. So where is she? Maybe she went to the market.
Alex closed her eyes to Elfspeak and said, “Grandmother, may I speak?” But there was no response. She tried again, without success.
Confused, she went into her grandmother’s bedroom, only to find the bed perfectly made. As she stood staring at the empty bed, the front door opened. She grabbed the hilt of her sword.
“Who’s there?” She stood, ready to pounce.
“Alex, where are you?”
She sighed and relaxed—it was her cousin, Prince Darin. “In my grandmother’s bedroom.”
The Prince came in, breathing hard and sweating. “The guards said you were here. It’s good to see you again.” He embraced her. “Thank the stars; you made it back from the mortal world.”
Alex saluted and curtsied to him. “I never got there. The entry point to the mortal world was blocked and I couldn’t get through. I couldn’t let you know because there was a problem with the entry points from Seaward Isle. Lockus made it just in time. We were out of everything.”
“I know. He told me. More ships are being loaded as we speak. Lockus will lead them back.”
“What about those ships that just left the harbor?”
He paused; sweat beaded on his upper lip. “I guess you don’t know. Your grandmother is missing. I’ve sent those ships out to look for her.”
Alex’s jaw dropped. “What? I talked to her this morning. Missing how?”
“All I know is that I heard her call for me earlier and she sounded like something was wrong, but I haven’t been able to get in touch with her again. I came to look for her, but she wasn’t here.”
Alex swallowed hard, trying to control her emotions. She covered her mouth to keep from crying.
“How long ago did you talk to her?” The Prince placed his hands on her shoulders.
“Around sunrise.” Her tears came anyway. Alex choked and wiped them from her face.
“Over six hours ago.” He sighed. “There’s more bad news, I’m afraid. Lord Odin told me that Lady Opaline never showed up for the Council meeting this morning. She was spending the weekend with your grandmother.”
“Lady Opaline, the Gossamer Elf?” Alex grimaced. She didn’t like that woman. “I don’t know anything about Gossamer Elves, do you?”
“Not much. There aren’t very many of them and they’re very secretive. During the war, they caught me in a trap of stinging gossamer and it took a dozen soldiers to get me out. We couldn’t catch them either; they knew how to hide.”
“Can they tell spiders what to do?”
“Like I can tell fish what to do.” Prince Darin smirked.
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
He rolled his eyes. “I can’t, Alex. I was being sarcastic. Come to think of it, with those keys of yours, you’re the one who can control everything.”
“They’re not mine. What about Lady Opaline’s servants? Do they know?”
“They thought she was on her way home.”
“What do we do now? Maybe they slept upstairs?” She turned to the stairs, but the Prince held her back.
“No one’s been here, Alex. I’ve already checked.” He gripped both of her arms. “Listen, I’ve alerted all of my forces and sent out land patrols. As soon as we have their location, I’ll send them in.” He glanced away for a moment and touched two fingers to his forehead.
Alex knew that was how he reacted when someone contacted him in Elfspeak. Before she could ask, he said, “Lord Odin wants us at the Council building—he said there’s some news. Come with me.”
ORDER YOUR COPY:
Title: NOBLE MAGIC (Book 1)
Author: Joni Parker
Publisher: Village Green Press LLC
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Author: Joni Parker
Publisher: Village Green Press LLC
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Seething, Alex pounded her fist against the saddle as she rode north on the coast road. Her last exchange with Lord Ashur, the senior member of the Council of Elders, had left her wondering, both about her safety and his sanity. He was the last of the Fire Elves and over ten thousand years old—something had to give by that age. Their conversation still rang in her ears.
“Keeper, the caretaker reports that there have been intruders on the property. You will return to Lady Opaline’s cottage immediately and take care of them. The Council is responsible for it until it’s sold.” Lord Ashur had stared down at her, making her feel small. He didn’t need to press the issue—he stood over nine feet tall. She’d never met anyone taller.
“My lord, if there are intruders, shouldn’t the Council send a squad of guards, instead of me?” Alex had asked politely and even bowed her head to show respect.
“I will decide who to send, Keeper! And you are the one I’m sending.”
“At least let me take a squad of Council guards with me.”
“Be on your way.” He frowned and waved her to the door.
Alex left, but once outside of the chamber, she clenched her fists and shouted, “Unbelievable!” The guards in the hall turned to look at her, and she left without looking back, marching to the Council stables, stewing about her orders.
Now here she was, riding alone to resolve a problem with the potential for deadly consequences without any support. Besides, Lady Opaline’s house was empty. There was nothing left to steal. A few weeks ago, Alex had inventoried it and shipped the contents to a warehouse in Meridian near the Council building. These intruders must be the most misguided thieves in all of Eledon.
To make matters worse, the Council’s stable master refused to let her have a faster horse. Haze was lovely and reliable but not a fighting horse. If she did encounter intruders, Alex wanted a horse to help her in battle with quick maneuvers and a fast getaway. Any horse but Haze.
On the way north, gathering clouds over the sea attracted her attention. They floated over the area where the entry points to Seaward Isle (where she was born and raised) were located. Apparently, the Mentors were making another effort to fix the island. Over a thousand years ago, it had detached from Eledon and was only being held in place with entry points. A feeling of dread washed over her. As Keeper of the Keys, it was her job to fix it, but she’d been so busy, she hadn’t had time to figure out how. After being appointed the executor of Lady Opaline’s estate, she’d been involved in more legal matters than she cared to think about. She hated it. Once her life slowed down a little, she’d devote some attention to the problem. Thus far, she hadn’t heard of any more difficulties with the entry points nor anything from her half-brother Beren, who lived on the island, so she could only hope that all was well.
By the time she reached the large gate to the sprawling country estate, her anger had cooled. She reined in her horse and took a few deep breaths. The elaborate wrought iron fencing attached to stone pillars spelled out Silk Nest amidst a web of black metal. The name raised the thought of spiders and a chill ran up her spine. Alex hated them, especially after Lady Opaline had unleashed her pet spider to kill her. She shivered at the thought, even though she’d killed it herself in a ferocious battle during a lunar eclipse. It’d been so dark that she could barely make out the location of the spider, but her blue light didn’t miss. The light had shot out from the palm of her hand and killed the spider with one shot. Although she’d been warned not to use her blue light without permission, she felt it was a matter of life-and-death and expressed no regrets during the inquiry.
The house before her wasn’t a typical country cottage, but a huge mansion stuck in the middle of nowhere. Remote didn’t even begin to describe its location. As Alex sat on her horse, she heard the caretaker’s voice from inside the stables.
“Get back! I’m warning you.”
Alarmed, Alex leapt off her horse, tying Haze to a bush. She raced to the side of a cart, standing next to the barn—her breathing shallow and her heart rate rapid. She eased up to the corner of the barn and peeked around the corner, where the estate caretaker was holding off five male Elves with a large pitchfork. They were younger and fitter, wearing red scarves, marking them as Red Elves, rebels to the Council, her employer. Clenching her fist, she regretted leaving her bow and arrow sleeve on her horse and turned around to retrieve them.
At that moment, the caretaker’s pitchfork struck against a blade with a loud clang and a child screamed. Alex froze.
A few seconds passed before she glanced around the corner again. The caretaker’s son, Riv, had grabbed another pitchfork and stood beside his father. Two more children were held in the arms of the caretaker’s wife, the little girl who’d screamed and a baby who began to wail. Alex narrowed her eyes and her mouth went dry. There was no time for her bow; the entire family was in danger, and there was no time to waste. She edged closer, still out of sight of the rebels. Her breathing became rapid and shallow as she prepared to attack. She drew her sword…
“I’m warning you!” The caretaker shoved the pitchfork at the closest rebel who jumped out of the way. “Stay away from my family!”
“Where are Lady Opaline’s papers?”
Taken aback, Alex hesitated. What papers? She knitted her brow as she reviewed the inventory in her head. There weren’t any papers. If they were important, she would have remembered them.
The caretaker jabbed at them with his pitchfork, forcing them back. “I told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about. The Council’s Keeper of the Keys removed everything from the house weeks ago. Now get out of here!” The caretaker blocked the charge of one of the rebels, as his son poked at another. The intruders closed in.
Alex took a deep breath. Yelling at the top of her lungs, she sprinted around the corner, attacking and slashing wildly. Her sword cut one of Red Elves across his stomach, spilling his guts on the ground, and she severely injured another across the shoulder. While the caretaker and his son fended off the other two, Alex attacked again and dug her sword in deep. The other intruders ran off. She turned back to check on the caretaker and saw him goring the body of a dead Elf with his pitchfork, splattering blood everywhere.
The caretaker’s brutality had taken her by surprise—she placed her hand on his shoulder. “Caretaker, stop…he’s dead.” Bitter bile rose in her throat; she swallowed hard, holding her vomit down. She wiped her blade on her cloak and checked the edge of her sword. “Are you hurt?”
“No…oh, it’s you. You’re back.” He gasped—his eyes opened wide. “Lady Lestin’s granddaughter…the Keeper of the Keys! Kneel, we must kneel!” His family knelt, even his little blond-haired daughter with her tear-stained face. Alex’s heart melted.
“No, no. Please stand up and tell me what happened.” She motioned for them to rise, but they remained kneeling, clasping their hands as if they were begging for their lives. Although kneeling was a proper gesture when greeting a member of the Council of Elders such as herself, it made her feel uncomfortable. She was only a staff member.
“I reported these troublemakers to Lord Ashur like you told me to,” the caretaker said. “But they broke into the house. I told them not to go in, but they pushed me down and kicked the door open. When they came out, they threatened to kill us if I didn’t tell them where Lady Opaline hid her papers. I don’t know anything about any papers. I work outside most of the time and so does my son, Rivulus. My wife would cook and clean the house for her ladyship when she was here, but we don’t go in the house otherwise. We don’t know where she hid any papers.”
“I believe you. I didn’t see any papers when I was here last, but I’ll look again.” Alex placed her hands on her hips. “Were there only five of them?” Her eyes darted to the left, following the rebels’ last trail. “You won’t be safe here. Can you take your family someplace?”
“Yes, we can go to my mother’s house in the hills.”
“Pack your things quickly.” Alex wiped her sweaty hands on her britches. “I’ll take a look inside. We won’t have much time before they’ll be back.”
The caretaker nodded. “Keeper, the house is empty—you did it yourself. We’ll clean up out here and pack our things in the cart. Rivulus, take care of the Keeper’s horse.” He nodded to his son and gathered his wife and small children, herding them to their quarters, attached to the barn.
Alex strolled to the house, wondering if she’d ever be rid of Lady Opaline. The woman had died almost a year ago. She recalled the gruesome sight as Lady Opaline died in her own funeral pyre. Everyone had thought she was already dead, but when she stood up on the pyre and called for a revolution—no one could believe it. The bad dream was fading. Finally.
With a wave of her hand, Alex opened the front door, using her newly perfected skills of Elf magic. The Tree Elf, Lord Odin, had married her grandmother recently, and as her grandfather, he spent the last few months teaching her Elf magic. It still seemed foreign to her. After stepping through the elaborately carved wooden doors, she gawked at the grand staircase around the sides of the entry hall. An elaborate crystal chandelier hung above her head, and the floor was covered with blocks of black and white marble in an elaborate geometric pattern.
However, she recoiled at the sight of cobwebs hanging everywhere. Streamers of gossamer encased the chandelier and the staircase rails—a sure sign the house was infested with spiders. The last time she was here, she’d cleaned them off, but they were back with a vengeance. No wonder the caretaker and his family don’t wander through the house. Lady Opaline, a Gossamer Elf, kept both poisonous and non-poisonous spiders as pets, using the poisonous ones to kill. Alex didn’t want to take any chances.
The quickest way to check the house for spiders was to use one of the Keys of Eledon, which she held as the Keeper of the Keys. Alex opened her leather pouch and took them out, pulling the Grasshopper key off the key ring. It was about three inches long, made of galactic tromium—a metal stronger than any other and looked like a grasshopper had swallowed a skeleton key.
“Grasshopper key, kill any spiders you find, especially poisonous ones.” Alex used Elfspeak, a form of telepathic communication, to speak to the key without anyone knowing it. She had less to explain that way, in case anyone heard her.
The key flew out of her hand and landed on the wall. Alex followed its journey as it leapt from wall-to-wall until it disappeared through an open door. This particular key could control insect populations, dangerous or not. She knew spiders had a right to live in the world; she just didn’t want to die by one. Her last experience had almost been fatal.
Using her sword to swipe at the gossamer, Alex wandered through the empty parlor and went into the kitchen; the rebels had torn down the cupboards, searching for the phantom papers. The next room, the study, had been severely damaged—the carpet was pulled up, the drapes torn down, and an empty safe, ripped from the wall, was left open in the corner of the room. Alex bypassed the damage and found a few old letters on the floor. She perused them and stuffed them into her jacket pocket. The rest of the rooms on the first floor were bare.
Upstairs, the rooms on the second, third, four, and fifth floors were also empty, just as she’d left them when everything had been removed. On the top floor, she stopped in the largest bedroom, standing with her hands on her hips. She hadn’t seen anything that would lead her to believe there were papers around, but they had to be here. So where were they?
She paused, taking a long, slow breath. Based on building designs she’d seen in other mansions, this bedroom was the most likely place to have a vault in the wall. It was the largest and the most secure, since it was located on the top floor. A vault could have been situated behind the headboard, but the bed was gone. She didn’t recall where the bed had been placed, but she searched every inch of the wall.
From across the room, a slight deviation in the wallpaper caught her attention—the lines didn’t match up. It was hardly noticeable so she stepped closer to examine it. A thin crack ran perpendicular to the vertical pattern of the wallpaper and was filled with a cobweb. She slid out her assassin’s blade from her wrist cuff and flicked it open. Running her knife along the seam, she popped out a wooden panel, uncovering a gray metal vault with a locking dial and silver lever, covered with a white layer of gossamer.
After cleaning away the cobwebs, she said, “Gorian.” The Dwarf spell released the lock and clicked it open. She liked using the Dwarf spell more than the Elf one, which was longer and more complicated. One word was enough to do the job. And it could both lock and unlock a door. She turned the lever and pulled the door open. Inside were several scrolls of parchment stacked on top of each other and a black velvet bag. The papers! Excitedly, she threw them on the floor. She had no time to waste and rolled them together, tying them with a leather strap from her hair.
Then she removed the black velvet bag—it was heavier than she expected, and she almost dropped it. Cautiously, she pulled out a golden chest, encrusted with jewels—emeralds, diamonds, pearls, and rubies. She knew each of the stones represented one of the four major Elf clans, but she didn’t expect what she found inside.
When she flipped the top back, she removed a black velvet cloth and uncovered a large, clear diamond. She gasped and held her breath. Her jaw dropped. The beautiful stone sparkled in the sunlight and reflected a rainbow of colors on the walls around her.
Before she had a chance to examine the rest of the box, the caretaker’s son, Riv, shouted from below. “Keeper—Keeper, where are you?” His voice echoed.
Alex set the diamond back in the box and snapped the lid shut before she ran out to the banister. “I’m up here.”
His face stared up from the ground floor. “They’re coming. Hurry!”
Alex ran back and slid the chest into the black bag. After closing the vault, she replaced the panel in the wall and ran out of the room with the scrolls tucked under her arm and the black bag in her hand. Just as she got to the stairs, the Grasshopper key landed on her shoulder. She screamed and nearly dropped everything.
“Oh, it’s you. Did you find anything?” she asked.
The Grasshopper key buzzed.
“Large spiders?” She ran down the stairs. “Are they dead?”
The key buzzed again.
“We have to get moving. Company’s coming.” Alex nearly flew down the stairs to the front door, which she slammed shut with a wave of her hand. Horses’ hooves rumbled from the forest—her heart pounded in her ears. Riv held her horse as she leapt on and grabbed the reins.
“Go!” She turned her horse around, checking for rebels and caught a glimpse of the caretaker sitting in a cart waiting for her. His wife and two little children were in the back with their belongings.
The caretaker released the handbrake and rolled the cart forward so his son could jump in. “Keeper, lock the front gate and follow me!” He pointed to the main gate on the right.
Alex wrinkled her brow and hesitated, staring at the gate, turning her horse in a circle.
“Quickly, Keeper! They’ll be here before you know it.” The caretaker slapped the reins against the horse’s rump, and the cart lurched forward.
Alex waved her hand at the gate, using magic to pull it shut. She waited until it clanged. Then she shouted, “Gorian!” The Dwarf spell locked it with a loud click. She turned her horse around, spurred hard, and clicked her tongue while still holding tightly to the papers and black bag under her left arm. Her horse took off after the cart. She only slowed down when she passed through a small gate on the far side of the barn.
The caretaker turned in his seat and pointed to the smaller gate. “Lock that one, too!” He slapped the reins and clicked his tongue twice, and the cart rolled ahead.
Alex closed it with a wave of her hand and locked it with the Dwarf spell. She urged her horse on to catch up to the caretaker’s cart, but the path was too narrow to ride up beside it. Behind her, horses whinnied, and voices shouted when the rebels encountered the locked gates, blocking their passage.
As they disappeared into the trees, Alex slowed her horse to a trot. She relaxed her breathing. When she calmed down, she wanted to ask the caretaker why he didn’t lock the gates, but she couldn’t get close enough to speak to him. Along the way, she turned around in the saddle and removed her travel bag, stuffing the scrolls and black bag inside. Then she strapped it back on the saddle and rode on, fixing her hair with an extra leather strap and wiping the remaining gossamer from her sword and clothes.
The cart rambled along a narrow path rising up the side of a mountain. When it met up with another one, the caretaker stopped at a wide spot in the road and waved Alex alongside.
“Keeper, if you stay on this path, it’ll take you to Meridian. It parallels the coast road and meets up with it at the bend. You’ll be at least an hour ahead of them. Be careful. I see you found those papers they wanted. I don’t know where you found them and I don’t want to know.”
“Thanks, Caretaker.” She pulled a pouch of coins from her pocket. “This should tide you over for a while. The Council plans to sell the house, sometime soon…I hope.” She nodded back to the gate. “Why didn’t you use your Elf magic to lock the gates?”
“I’m not allowed to use magic, Keeper. I’m only a worker. Only nobles like you are allowed to use it. I knew them hooligans couldn’t open those gates without magic. They have to go the long way around.” He chuckled.
Alex gritted her teeth and blushed at the same time, not because she had successfully locked the rebels within, but because she never knew the use of magic was restricted. She was embarrassed and upset at the same time.
“Why can only nobles use it?” she asked.
“That’s the way it’s always been. Guess no one told you. You’re very young to be the Keeper.” He smiled at her. “We’d best be on our way. Safe journey.” He waved and slapped the reins, clicking his tongue twice to get the horse moving. As the cart rolled away, his son, Riv, held out his hand—Alex slapped it and grinned at him. The caretaker’s little blond-haired daughter waved and blew her a kiss as the cart left.
Alex caught the kiss in her hand and touched it to her heart. She smiled and waved at the family, watching them leave. As she rode forward, she kept a lookout for anyone following her, but apparently, the caretaker was right. The rebels had been forced to take the long way around. She kicked Haze in the flanks and urged her on—she had the advantage for now.
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Writing fantasy novels is what Joni Parker loves to do. She’s written two series so far; the first is a trilogy called, “The Seaward Isle Saga” and the second one has four books and is called, “The Chronicles of Eledon.” An award-winning novelist, she’s also branched off into short stories and blogs about the latest movies she’s seen or books she’s read. Her writing career began after her second retirement. For over 22 years, Joni served as an officer in the U.S. Navy and then spent another seven years with the Department of Homeland Security. She currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.