I always share the rough draft of my first chapter when I participate in Nanowrimo. This time I am working on Restoring Dermot, which is the third book in my Kingdoms of Kearnley series. This one starts out with a letter before the first chapter and I have included it also. Tell me what you think.
To Brianna Barnali, Queen of Aisling:
I was saddened to hear the news that you had lost another babe. Not for the first time, I wish we lived closer together so I can be there for you in times of need, and Reagan for his brother. If it were not so close to time for Session, we would certainly make the trip. I know how terribly hard it is on both you and Garrett. You are right though, God has blessed you once when you birthed Deidre, and I am sure He will bless you again.
Although it does not compare to what you are going through, I have some sad news of my own. Rian has run away. I begged Reagan to go after him, but he will not. He thinks Rian is old enough to take care of himself. He says if we were to bring him back now, he would just run again at the next opportunity. He is only fifteen.
His parents’ deaths have been hard on him, making him bitter and unruly. I admit his anger and bitterness has made life difficult for everyone who comes in contact with him, but is it any wonder? It is true that he is only a brother-in-law to me and to you. Despite all of this, I love him like one of my own, and I am worried about what will happen to him out in the world alone. Please help me pray that God will keep him safe and bring him home where he belongs.
On a happier note—I cannot wait to see all of you here in Gilvary in a few weeks. Reagan just purchased a pony for August. What he expects a two-year-old to do with a pony, I do not know. The good news is the pony will be available for your own daughter to ride while she is here. Maybe we can take her and Nic on an outing. We can leave August with the men. I swear I do not remember Nic being as rowdy at this age.
Ever your friend,
I slowly turned to face the Dermish warrior behind me. There was no need to draw a weapon. Yet.
“What excuse could a Rivanian soldier have for climbing up the side of the king’s sacred mountain?”
I was dressed in plain clothing, my visible weapons no more than an average traveler. The slashes shaved in the sides of my beard and hair were probably what had identified me as a soldier of Rivania. I had left Rivania and was no longer bound to that country, bare gaps of exposed skin were ever present—partly from habit and partly because they had helped me to maintain some level of respect onboard the ship that had brought me to Dermot.
“I asked you a question, Soldier. What are you doing here?”
“I was headed home before you stopped me.”
“Home? No one lives on Mount Cullan. This is the king’s mountain, and it is illegal to pass over it without his permission. I suspect you were sent here as a spy. Am I right?”
“I am no spy and I am no longer a soldier either. My service to Rivania has ended. I was on my way home to Gilvary.”
“You must take me as a fool. Once you are sworn in as a soldier of Rivania, that service never ends.”
He was right. Every adult male without a viable trade who was able to fight was pressed into service where he usually fought until his last dying breath. One may be released if he lived through any great injury, but very few made it to retirement. None of those things had bought me my freedom.
I gave no response as I studied the man in front of me. He wore a basic uniform with leather covered armor embellished with the Dermot eagle. There was a scabbard on his side and a primitive staff in his hand. I could render him weaponless in a matter of minutes with nothing but my bare hands, but I would not do this. I had truly come here in peace.
“Head back down the way you came, Soldier, and do not think to try anything. I will be right behind you.”
There was no protest. I knew how this would end. I would go before the king, my intentions would be revealed, and then I would be sent on my way. Yes, it was an annoying delay, but I would make it home eventually. No one was expecting my return anyway.
Regardless of what my immediate future held, I could not help but to soak up the serenity of the landscape around me. In mid-March, I had expected the mountains to be nearly impassable, covered with drifts of snow. As it was, there was less than a foot present here and thinner still at the base. The original plan was to take the ship all the way to Aisling and enter Gilvary from there. But I could not endure being cooped up on that crowded ship any longer. When we had docked in Dermot, I noticed the milder than expected temperatures and decided to take my chances crossing the Kearnley mountain range instead.
There was such a vast difference between this mountainside and the country I had left behind, a place crowded with buildings and people where peace could never be found. I had once loved living in Rivania. I was in my teens when I first arrived and there was excitement to be found in every corner. By the time I was pressed into service, I was ready. After all, I was fending for myself, living the life of an adult already, was I not? Now here I was at the age of twenty-five, and it felt like I was at the end of my life instead of closer to the beginning.
At the bottom of the mountain, I had expected to be taken directly into the brownstone castle to face the king. Instead I was relieved of my weapons, along with the bag I carried, and placed in one of the outside cells. I was not worried. Maybe he was too busy to deal with me at the moment, but surely I would not be imprisoned for long.
Four weeks, three days and approximately two hours—that is how long I languished in that frigid prison. The cell was actually just a cave-like hole dug into the side of the mountain with a rusted iron gate across the front. The walls, ceiling, and floor had been cemented to keep prisoners from digging their way out. This only added to the prisoner’s discomfort since there was no bed or even a blanket provided. The only protection I had been offered from the cold was my own cloak. I had spent every night and part of my days curled into a tight ball trying to cover my head as well as my feet.
But I had not remained idle the entire time. There was not enough room in the cell to make pacing profitable, so I exercised. I had been trained for the possibility of capture. I had to keep my muscles from shriveling up to nothing. I had been taught to keep my body prepared to fight should the chance avail itself.
The only person I had seen since entering this prison was the youth that slid food through the opening of the cell door. I had tried to speak with him on several occasions, but he just stared blankly at me, if he looked at me at all. I took him for a deaf-mute and gave up after the first few tries.
Every meal was the same—watered down stew with stale bread. I had a feeling the leftovers from each meal was thrown into a pot with enough liquid to be considered stew. I suppose it was better than nothing. I was anticipating my noon portion of the slop when a warrior showed up with only the keys to my cell in hand.
“The king is ready to see you now.”
I looked down at my clothes. Everything about me was covered in a month’s worth of filth. How was I going to convincingly state my case before the king looking like this?
As if reading my mind, the warrior pointed toward the barracks located behind the cells. “You can’t go before His Majesty looking like that. You will have to clean yourself up first. Head out. I’ll be right behind you.”
I headed toward the front of the barracks.
“No, go around to the back.”
I changed direction without question. What other choice was there? When I got to the back of the building, I was surprised to find a natural hot spring with steam coming from it. It was apparent that there had at one time been a wall surrounding the spring. There was only a crumbling foundation that would in no way hide a bather.
He gestured toward the water. “Get in.”
I stripped off my clothing right there in the open for all to see. Modesty was nonexistent for soldiers. I dropped the clothing into a pile hoping I would never have to don them again. There was a change of clothing in my bag. If they were not presented to me, I could stand before the king as I was for all I cared.
I eased down into the warm water, letting out a sigh of relief. Maybe I would finally feel warm for the first time since arriving here.
“You don’t have all day. This bath is for the benefit of the king, not yourself. Make haste.” A bar of lye soap came hurling toward my face, and I caught it just in time.
It was good to see that the cold my joints had suffered had not affected my reflexes. I dipped down until my head was submerged. My hair and beard had become shaggy during the time I had spent without the equipment needed to care for my grooming. I lathered myself from head to toe, thankful for the unforgiving soap. I scraped what I could from nails that were too long. I expected the warrior to give another complaint that I was taking too long. He did not say another word as he leaned against the back of the barracks.
I reluctantly climbed out of the water. Somehow I still did not feel clean but it would do until I was on my way toward Gilvary once again. No doubt I would soon be released. I raked my hands through my hair, releasing the access wetness.
The warrior patted the stack of clothing on the bench next to him. “Get dressed.”
The clothes were mine. I wondered where the rest of my belongings were. I used my tunic to dry myself off before getting dressed. The cold was already starting to seep in to my bones once again. With damp hair and clothes, I would be lucky to come out of this without suffering illness. My cloak had been left in the cell. It could stay there as far as I was concerned. A new one could be purchased after I was released.
I headed around to the entrance of the castle as instructed with the Warrior following close behind me. I recognized the ancient looking man waiting for us just inside the door. I could not remember his name, but he had been the general over the warriors here in Dermot when I was a child. He seemed close to retirement even then. Judging by the ensign on his uniform, he still held that position. I was hard put to see how he could still be effective.
There was authority in his voice that did not match his appearance. “In a moment you are to go before His Highness, King Farris. You are not to speak unless he asks you a direct question. Even then, you are only to answer his question, and your reply better be in a respectful manner. Do you understand?”
“I have done nothing to warrant the treatment I have received here. He will hear about it before I leave.”
The unexpected hit from the staff of the warrior standing behind me had me lying prostate on the floor. The warriors of Dermot were the only ones I had ever known to use the staff as a weapon. I had questioned their effectiveness until now.
“You will not speak until spoken to. If you cannot comply, you may not make it out of Dermot. Do you understand?”
I gritted my teeth. “Yes.”
There was no use arguing with this man. The king would be the one to reason with.
“Get him up and tie his hands.”
I got up on my own before the warrior had a chance to touch me. There was no resistance as he tied my hands behind my back.
I followed the general into the throne room. King Farris looked as ancient as his general. There was a brazier burning on the stone floor in front of him. His thin face was the only part of him visible beneath the pile of furs covering his body. His once dark hair was mostly white now. He studied me with his watery blue eyes.
A man stood just to the right of the king. He could have been an advisor, but he did not look like a Gilvarian. With his dark hair and eyes, he could be from just about anywhere, but his clothing was that worn by the men of the neighboring country of Cordelia. His long tunic was embroidered around the edges. He wore a look of boredom as he stood there with his arms crossed over his chest.
I looked toward the throne to the left of King Farris expecting to see his wife, but it seemed that a much younger beauty had replaced Queen Babree. The king’s first wife had also been from Cordelia, and it seemed King Farris had found his second wife there as well. Long black hair cascaded in waves that reached past her waist. She wore a long, heavily embroidered blue tunic that split just below the waist to reveal a loose pair of silky looking charcoal gray pants. There was contempt showing in her smoky brown eyes as she looked back at me.
I glanced at King Farris and then back to the woman beside him. She was younger than my twenty-five years. What was a young woman like this doing married to a man as old as the king? Was the title of queen enticing enough to warrant such a gap in age?
The general took a step closer to me and spoke in a low tone. “I suggest you train your gaze away from Princess Adrika. It would do you well to study the floor beneath you.”
In my shock at hearing those words, I jerked my head around toward the warrior before I looked down at the floor as he had advised. I was tempted to take another peek at the princess, but even a quick glance would not go unnoticed.
Was the princess still the brat she was when I knew her? She had bitten my brother once. A snicker almost escaped at the memory. It was doubtful that reaction would be well received as I stood shackled before the king awaiting a verdict concerning my immediate future.
“Your Highness, I bring before you, Gunther Manlius, accused of climbing the sacred Mount Cullan. He is believed to be a spy sent from Rivania.”
I stole another glance at the general. I had not been asked my name since being imprisoned. That information had to have been gathered when they went through my bag. Surely they would have found the parchment releasing me from my duties as a Rivanian soldier. Was that enough to prove that I was not a spy? It was doubtful. There was no need to worry. Once I had a chance to speak to the king, he would know of my innocence.
“And what did he claim as his reason for being on that mountain?”
It was annoying that he had not asked me that question. I was impatient to have this over with so I could move on. I glanced up to find the king studying my face even as he spoke to his general.
“Sir, he claimed that he was on his way home to Gilvary. I present that if he were truly a citizen of Gilvary, he would have known enough of our laws not to be on that mountain.”
“Gilvary, you say?” He leaned forward as if to get a better look. My gaze automatically went up to meet his. I felt a tap on the back of my calf from the general’s staff causing me to once again stare at the stone floor beneath my feet.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Look at me, prisoner.”
Was he about to sentence me without giving me the benefit of defending myself? I boldly looked the king in the eye and held his gaze.
“You have the eyes of your brother, King Reagan, but even with your beard, you look too much like your mother to be mistaken. So I suggest you tell me what I already know to be true. What is your name?”
A gasp from the princess had me stealing another glance in her direction before looking back at the king. “I have been living in Rivania as Gunther Manlius these last ten years, but my real name is Rian Barnali, as I am sure you know, Your Highness.”
The man standing behind King Farris made a sound in his throat that had me glancing his way once again. His brows were drawn together above the glare he now wore. He probably wondered why he was just hearing this information. If I had seen anyone besides the boy who brought me food, this would have been over with a month ago.
The king rubbed his hand across his thin gray beard. He seemed in deep study of my face. I had no clue what he could be thinking. “I believe you, Prince Rian. Now if you would, enlighten me as to why you were crossing Mount Cullan. You must have known it was forbidden. Not to mention the fact that it would have been easier to go through Nolan Pass. For that matter, I was told you came here by sea. If you were already aboard ship, why not wait and get off in Aisling? You have a brother ruling that kingdom as well. Rumor has it that no one in your family has even had one word from you during these last ten years of your exile. I am sure King Garrett would have welcomed you with open arms and helped you on your way back home to Gilvary, if that was your desire.”
This part would be hard for anyone to understand but myself. I decided to be as honest as I could and let the chips fall where they may. “I was fifteen years old when I left the country of Kearnley. I left Gilvary by coming across Mount Cullan and catching the first ship away from here. Someone would have been watching for me to go through the pass and the thought of crossing over the forbidden mountain without being caught seemed like a thrill to my childish mind at the time.
“I left the ship once I returned to your shores because, frankly, I did not think I could stand another minute on that boat. It was nostalgic and stupid of me, but having honestly forgotten about the law I decided to reenter Gilvary the same way I had left. I promise you that I had no mal intent in crossing your mountain, and I would be glad to take the mountain pass to Gilvary now.”
“Be that as it may, you are my prisoner. I am not inclined to allow you to leave at this time. Guard, untie the prince and have one of the servants show him to a room.” Was this a joke? My hands released with a jerk as the general cut the rope behind me.
“I do not understand. Why are you keeping me here?”
“You may be a prince, but I am the king. You will do well to keep that in mind when you address me.”
It was hard to not showing my panic. “Your Highness, I mean no disrespect, but I have done your kingdom no harm. What do you think will happen when my brothers find out that you are holding me here?”
“Your brothers have no jurisdiction over this kingdom.”
He nodded to the general behind me. “Take him away. I grant him permission to move about the grounds, but make sure a guard is with him at all times.”
There was no use in arguing further. My brothers may not have jurisdiction here as he said, but it would not bode well for the king of Dermot to have the other two kingdoms of Kearnley against him.
The guard took hold of my arm and pulled me toward a door at the left of the chamber. Princess Adrika came into view, and I held my attention there this time. I may not be on level with the king, but she and I were on equal standing regardless of the fact that I was being held prisoner. At first her mouth hung open as if she was as shocked as I was at her father’s command. I smiled when she lifted her chin in order to look down at me. I winked just to see if the shocked look would return. I turned away from her glare with the smile still on my face as if I had not a care in the world.