The path widened and the knights moved into a more protective position around me. Julien and Kinley galloped side by side at the rear and Gerrias was beside me.
Turning in my saddle, I met Julien’s eyes. His face was set and ready for battle. I turned to look at Kinley. He mirrored Julien’s expression. Before I could turn back to face forward, the Dwonsil warriors rounded a bend and came into sight, closing the gap between us with unbelievable speed.
There were five of them. We were outnumbered and they had arrows at the ready, possibly wrapped with hairs from a Cobeld’s beard. We had dressed for speed, not battle. My knights wore no chain mail or armor.
The warriors nocked their arrows.
“No!” I breathed.
As if of one accord, each archer fumbled and his arrow fell to the ground. None noticed the others’ clumsiness. Instead, each deftly reached to string another arrow.
Did I do that? I wondered, even as the truth of it washed over me.
My great-grandfather’s words coursed through my memory. “Each time you use one of your gifts,” he had said, “it is only by the permission of the Giver.”
I closed my eyes and let Stanza’s reins slacken in my hands as my arms dropped and my palms rose. My face tilted toward the sky.
Please, Giver of Gifts. Protector and Sustainer, I pleaded silently, tell me what to do. Show me how to best use what you’ve entrusted to me!
Sudden heat warmed the pendant hung hidden beneath my tunic. My hand flew to where the carved Emblem of The First rested against my skin as a memory from a childhood dare danced across my mind.
My eyes flew open. Could it work?
It was worth a try.
I tied Stanza’s reins to the pommel of the saddle, hoping the knights hadn’t noticed the grin that had sprung across my lips at the memory of an escapade involving Rowlen and Lewys, and the dare I had accepted—and achieved—at the age of twelve. The question was: could I do it again?
I bent my left leg under me and shifted my body in the saddle. This is so much easier when you don’t have to bother with skirts! Bending my other leg, I gripped the saddle and rotated my backside. I straightened my legs and secured my feet in the stirrups, though backward, facing Julien and Kinley.
Stanza forged ahead, unbothered by the unorthodox position of his rider. It was gratifying to know that my horse trusted my instincts, but when I finally looked at Julien and Kinley—I couldn’t say the same for the knights.
“What are you doing?” Kinley roared. “Turn around!”
I shook my head, hoping we would live long enough for him to forgive me, and concentrated on the ever-decreasing gap between the warriors and us. Just as they let another batch of arrows fly, I closed my eyes and spoke to the shafts of wood.
Without opening my eyes I saw each arrow abruptly nosedive into the ground. The arrows shook with the vibration of the impact. I allowed myself a small smile at the disbelief that crossed the minds of the warriors, but did not have time to dwell on it. They had quickly reached for fresh arrows.
We galloped through a shallow canyon. My thighs ached from gripping Stanza’s sides and my knuckles whitened on the back edge of the saddle as I knocked the new arrows from their bowstrings.
I turned my head. Just beyond us was a fissure in the dusky orange rock of the canyon. Its sides were steep and reached at least as far above us as the vaulted entry of Holiday Palace, but its path was narrower even than the hallway that led to the palace’s Grand Hall. Wide enough for two skilled riders to enter at a time, it would be a tight fit for a skittish horse or horseman. Thankfully, none of our group fit into either of the former categories. But would it lead us out—or to a dead end that would trap us?
I looked down each side of the canyon, but I could note no other exit. The fissure had to be the way out.
The Dwonsil warriors seemed to have an endless supply of arrows.How long would it be before one of them evaded my notice and struck one of my friends?
The gestures and nods being exchanged between my friends seemed to indicate that the knights had formulated a plan. I might not be able to interpret my knights’ nods and gestures, but I could peer into Julien’s thoughts to gauge their intent.
Julien met my eyes, nodded, and tapped a finger at his temple, giving me the permission he knew I sought.
His colors rushed over me the second I sought his mind. I had to push away his tension, his fear for me—even his love—to find that which I sought.
I grasped on to the thread. His thoughts were clear, warm, and true. You are the Ryn. I trust you.
I loosened my hold just a tad and sought Gerrias’s and Kinley’s thoughts in tandem.
They were of one mind and both assumed Julien was, too. And rightly so, as I’d seen the plan in his thought, just awaiting my approval.
Kinley and Julien intended to turn and fight, delaying the warriors as long as possible, while Gerrias took me through the fissure to meet up with our friends at Shiridyn Bridge.
I shook my head. Julien and Kinley were finely skilled knights, but against five Dwonsil warriors, and arrows which may or may not be wrapped in a Cobeld curse, the risk was too great. No. I could not, would not, lose them. Not when this predicament was entirely my fault. But how could we all escape?
I knocked the next arrows from the warriors’ hands before they touched them to their bows and looked over my shoulder at the narrow way out of the canyon and then up its rocky sides. A way out was a door, right? Could I . . . ?
With a wave of my hand I sent another round of arrows to the dirt, and then spoke into the knights’ thoughts.
Follow me through the fissure!
Kinley and Gerrias shook their heads.
A strange strength welled up within me, a feeling of authority I had never experienced before. The sudden swell of Julien’s anger, however, directed at his brother and mine, surprised me, and although he did not voice it aloud, Julien’s authority as our company’s leader clearly backed mine. Whatever his next nod and gesture conveyed, it was clearly not to be argued with.
Kinley and Gerrias exchanged a quick glance, but each nodded their reluctant compliance.
Beside me, Gerrias spoke to Julien. “This is not wise. We need to draw them away from her. She must be protected at all cost!”
“Don’t do this, Rose,” Kinley pleaded. “Let us protect you!”
“You are protecting me. Now I need you to trust me as well. They will not be able to follow us.”
As Kinley ground his teeth, I sent another plea for strength to Rynloeft above that my words would prove correct.
Sudden shade alerted me that we were entering the fissure. I disabled another round of arrows, and even more swiftly than I’d turned to the rear, regained a normal riding posture. Untying the reins from the pommel, I leaned forward to urge Stanza faster. It was a tight squeeze with Gerrias beside me, but soon we exited the rock-walled passageway and entered a slightly wooded glen, followed closely by Julien and Kinley.
My hand pulsed where I held Julien’s kiss. Did he know how much his belief in me, his counsel, the very potency of his presence, strengthened me?
I circled Stanza back around until I faced the fissure.
Gerrias reached for his sword. “What are you going to do?”
“It’s a door,” I said, gesturing to the fissure. “I’m going to close it.”
A life-long lover of fairy tales, Serena Chase is the author of THE RYN (3/26/13) and THE REMEDY (April 2013). Together, these two novels comprise an expanded re-imaging of the classic Grimm fairy tale, Snow White & Rose Red and are the first two books in the Eyes of E’veria series.
A frequent contributor to USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog and Edgy Inspirational Romance, Serena lives in Iowa with her husband, two daughters, and a white golden-doodle named Albus. She has been known to live vicariously through her hair, however, so don’t be too surprised if she looks a tad different from one day to the next. We all have our vices.
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USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/blog/happyeverafter/
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I'll be part of the blog tour sometime during April 22, 2013 thru May 31, 2013