I am in the process of preparing the rest of the Theodoric novels for publishing. I am no where near completing the process, but one part of the process is deciding how to promote the other books within each novel.
I have a confession. This past winter I went on a bit of a chick lit binge. I read nothing explicit or tasteless, just cotton candy fluff that is easy to read and makes me laugh (some of The Princess Diaries books and the like). One thing I noticed though was that they give a preview of the next book in the end of each novel. It is a great idea. If you get the reader hooked, they will run out and snatch up the next book in the series. I know that this isn't a new concept, but it has not occurred to me to utilize this great gimmick until now (probably because I never have so many waiting in line to be published as I do at this moment). So, part of my work on "writing" stuff today was to put together teasers for my Theodoric novels. I would be honored if you would give me any feedback you might have. :)
The Crown of Anavrea
By Rachel Rossano
In a time when castles were the strongest…in a place where combat was face to face…there was a man on the run. Labren was not his true name and he admitted it freely.
In a time when slavery was legal...in a place where kings were all-powerful…there was a slave in the right place at the right time. Eve, a slave from birth, was asked to trust this stranger who refused to give his true name.
Eve saved a stranger’s life. In return, he offered her the opportunity of freedom. She did not know what would happen to her if she chose to accept his proposal, but she did know the consequences of rejecting it.
Excerpt from The Crown of Anavrea
Eve continued to cover her ears and crouch low in the raspberry patch. She was concentrating so hard on avoiding making any sound that she did not notice the change at first. Then she realized that she no longer heard the horn or the cries of the hunters. Slowly lowering her hands, she continued to strain her ears. Not even the sound of their crashing through the brush could be heard. She was about ready to climb out of her shelter when she heard a groan.
She froze and listened. She heard a distinctly male grunt about three feet to her left. Cautiously she turned her head to look. Unknowingly she must have made some sound because he had also turned and was looking directly at her through the tangle of bushes between them.
He had deep blue eyes and a wild mess of dark brown hair that was falling in his eyes. His face was strained. He looked like he was in pain. Her eyes began searching for the source right before he fell forward and rolled onto his back. Releasing a muffled cry of pain, he lay still. Eve hurried to untangle the prickers from her dress and gathered her pail.
Free at last, she crept out of the patch and approached him on hands and knees. Fighting the urge to run, she paused. She was going to be beaten for this for sure. Her master was very careful to stay out of the King’s business. The men who had been chasing him had not looked like the King’s men, but she was not sure. The least she could do was see if he needed help.
“Go away and leave me be,” he spoke when a twig snapped under her knee.
“What is going to happen to you if I leave?” She asked the top of his head because he had continued to stare into the sky above the trees.
“The same thing that will happen if my pursuers return.” His breathing was still labored from his recent exertion. “I die.”
Eve immediately said, “I know of a place you can hide that is close by.” She watched his lean form for a reaction.
He did not move. Finally, sensing that she was not leaving, he spoke. “Come over here so I can see you.” She crept to his side. Looking at him, she easily spotted the source of his pain. There was a shallow gash in his left forearm and his right pant leg was torn and caked with a combination of dried and fresh blood. The wound in his arm looked very recent but his leg had been there for a few hours at least. She was calculating how she could slow the bleeding when he spoke. “You are only a child,” she brought her eyes to his face and bit her tongue. This was not the time to argue her age. She returned to assessing his injuries with her eyes. “If you are wondering if I am able to walk, you can stop.” He was being difficult.
“I will help.” She met his eyes with a cool determination that left no room for doubt.
After a moment, he broke from her gaze and returned to looking at the sky.
“What if I want to die?” His voice was hard. She was still thinking about the best reply when she found he had turned to look at her. When their eyes met, he said, “I see I do not have a choice.” He stopped her as she reached for his wounded arm.
“You have to promise me something first.” She paused and looked at his face. “If we are spotted or do not make it to this hiding place, I want you to kill me.” She looked away from the pleading and pain in his eyes.
“I promise.” Her voice was barely audible, but he seemed satisfied. She was glad he had not asked her to say it again. Repeating a promise, she was not sure she could keep, made her nervous. They would just have to make it.
She bound his leg and arm with strips of her petticoat. After numerous false starts, they finally got him to his feet. With her half carrying him, they started off. She noticed immediately that he was very strong in spite of his exhaustion and loss of blood. She was thankful, because he was also heavy. She was sure she would not be able to support him without his help.
He did not say anything about dying once they started moving. Eve figured that it was because he was out of breath, but later she changed her mind. At a time when she sensed that his strength was beginning to fail, she glanced up at his face. There was a decided look there. She saw he had determined that he would make it to the goal.
The usual three-minute walk took them forever. It was dusk when they finally reached the broken-down door of the old shed. The last few steps were brutal. A few feet from the door, his good leg gave out. Eve could not carry all his weight.
Stumbling under the sudden added weight, she tripped and came down painfully to her knees in the mud. Realizing that he was going to crush her, the man rolled to the side and landed on his back in a small patch of grass.
After his stifled cry of anguish, they were silent. She crawled over to where he lay. “I will go in and make a place for you to lie down before we try to move you again.” He weakly he nodded his agreement. He had no breath to speak.
She moved as fast as her sore muscles would let her and stumbled in the door. Only a hermit’s shack, the one-room structure did not offer much comfort. A fireplace took up most of the right wall. A small cupboard-like lean-to had been added for storage to the left of the hearth. It was hidden behind a rickety door. When she opened it, she discovered a collection of leaves and bugs. The clutter on the dirt floor in the main room and rotting window coverings did not help her first impression. The only thing resembling a bed was along the length of the left-hand wall. It was a wooden shelf with an old straw mattress on it. She pulled off the rotting mess and using her skirt she brushed off the bugs. Now came the harder part.
When she stepped out the door, she almost cried at the sight of him. While she had been inside, he had managed to prop himself against the outside wall. In this position, he had dozed off. Every line of his face screamed pain. Gently as she could, Eve woke him. Together they got him to his feet and in the door. He practically fell onto the hard pallet. Eve winced as his face contorted in pain. She knelt near his shoulder to see what she could do to make him more comfortable. The gash in his arm was going to need stitching. She was going to have to find a way to get some thread. She glanced at the only window. Night had almost fallen and she had much to do before she left him.
“What is your name?” His voice was so weak she almost did not hear him. Looking up from his arm, she met his eyes, dark and glassy with pain and fatigue.
With a shallow, bitter laugh, he said, “How ironic.” Then, as if he could not fight it anymore, his eyes closed and his head rolled to one side.
For a frantic moment Eve was afraid she had lost him, but his weak pulse reassured her. She watched his chest rise and fall and tried to decide what to do next.
The King of Anavrea
By Rachel Rossano
Ireic Theodoric, King of Anavrea, needed a wife. Marriage was one of the duties that came with the position. At his request, Ireic’s council arranged a marriage for him to a neighboring country’s princess, but the princess’ father left a few details out of the marriage contract.
For five years, Lady Lirth Parnan lived the classic princess locked in a tower existence. There were a few twists: a human jailer, a special gift for premonitions from the Kurios, and a deficiency of senses that she was dreading revealing to any rescuer that might come to her aid.
An excerpt The King of Anavrea
The stone walls of the tower were cool to her hands in spite of the unseasonable warmth of the past week. Thankfully, Lirth leaned her head against the rough stone. The chill of the stone cooled her fevered forehead. The distant sounds of metal against metal echoed in the corridor and stairwell outside the thick oak door of her room. They steadily grew closer and she grasped at the calm she felt only moments before.
Somehow I knew this was coming, yet ... She caught herself mid thought. She should be thankful that she had known. Frustration flared suddenly and she asked, why must this be so difficult? The unseen Kurios did not respond. She knew He was there and she knew He was the source of her intuition. It is not that I am not thankful. She pointed out. I know well enough that is the sole reason I have not been more abused. Instead, of striking me and trying to break me, they fear and isolate me.
Shortly after her arrival, the Kurios caused her to foretell the birth of the Baron’s youngest son. Baron Tor immediately plagued her for more prophesies. The result was her foretelling the Baron’s oldest son’s death. The event came and Lirth was immediately locked away in this cold tower room. She didn’t know why the man had not executed her, but she was thankful. There was at least hope that she might someday be free.
The clanging from below suddenly ceased as a death cry rose, echoing in the stone tower below her room. Realizing that the sound indicated someone would be seeking her out soon, Lirth reluctantly moved away from the wall and toward the center of her small room. The heavy cloak she placed about her shoulders earlier that afternoon tugged as it caught on the corner of the single chair in the room. Impatiently she pulled it free and continued toward the cot that took up the far corner.
From the other side of the door came the creak and groan of the wooden stairs that led to her room. The victor was coming to claim his prize. Lirth's hands shook and she initially missed when she reached for the small satchel that held her few worldly belongings. Finding it, she quickly pulled it beneath her cloak and fastened it around her waist. Wishing she could see whether or not it was out of sight, Lirth moved back toward the chair that was in the center of the room.
Lirth had just placed both her hands on the back of the chair when the sharp clatter of a wooden bolt being thrown to the floor reached her. Wrapping her fingers around the worn lip in the smooth wood, she listened as the door swung open with a grating squeak. The dull thud of it striking the wall and rebounding echoed in the bare room. I hope it hit him. Hastily she drew back the thought. The Kurios made it clear that she would not be harmed by the one who was coming for her. What about those that sent him? she asked. Nothing.
“Please tell Lady Lirth I have come for her.” A warm male voice came from above her head and about four feet in front of her.
“I am the one you seek.” Raising her head so she was addressing his face, Lirth drew herself up and tilted her head elegantly to one side. His surprise came to her like the smell of blood and sweat, with the force of his presence. “Am I allowed to know the name of the one who seeks me?” The Kurios had not told her this bit of information although she had asked Him repeatedly.
The slight change in the man's breathing warned Lirth of the man's astonishment even before he spoke. “They did not tell you?” Surprise lingered in his question, but there was also a hint of uncertainty too.
“I am told nothing unless they wish to know something from me in return.” She smiled ruefully. “Even that is given reluctantly.” She sensed his movement only moments before he touched her.
“What is your full name?” Warm fingers caught her chin and gently forced her face to turn. Involuntarily flinching at the touch, Lirth closed her eyes and obeyed the man's verbal and physical commands.
“My name is Lirth Yra Parnan. I am the only daughter of Tridan, King of Sardmara.” Silence descended between them as the strange man studied her. His grip on her face was gentle, but firm when she tentatively pushed against it. After she tried to move away a second time, she gave up and began reaching out with her senses to examine him as she patiently waited.
He smelled of battle: blood, sweat, and dirt. Beneath these, though, she detected a waft of the soap he had bathed with recently. His hands were long and lean. Although he held her face firmly, she was not going to be tender or bruised later. Concentrating on their brief exchange, she guessed him to be about six feet tall, maybe slightly over. He must be fit, because he had not been breathing very heavily when he entered her door. Unfortunately she was not able to guess at age or features. She needed her own fingers and his permission for that examination.
When he finally spoke, his voice was calmer and quieter. The tone was controlled so she could not read it. “I am Ireic Iathan Theodoric, King of Anavrea.” He paused briefly. “Open your eyes, Lirth, and look at me.”
“I cannot obey you.”
Steeling herself for a blow, Lirth was stunned when he asked. “Why not?”
Opening her eyes to the darkness she had known most of her life, Lirth replied. “I am blind.”
By Rachel Rossano
Newly made Lord Liam Tremain traveled north to claim his reward for his service to King Ireic Theodoric and his queen. He arrived to find that things were more complicated than originally presented. There is the small matter of the previous noble’s heiress, Lady Jayne Alain.
Jayne was wary of men for a good reason, her father. None of them were trustworthy and men with power were the worst. The new lord of the vargar was no different than any of the others. He hadn’t done anything yet, but she knew that it was only a matter of time.
An except from The Reward
“My Lord Tremain,” a voice called from behind him.
Liam grimaced at the sound of his new title. Drawing back on the reins, he slowed his horse. “My lord,” Braxton said again as he drew his mount alongside Liam’s, matching the warhorse’s pace.
“How many times do I have to tell you,” Liam began.
“I know,” Braxton responded, raising a hand to cut him off. “But you have to get used to it soon.”
“Getting used to it is not the problem,” Liam explained.
Braxton merely nodded.
Liam was well aware that his friend was correct, but he was not willing to take on his new role as a titled landowner any sooner that was absolutely necessary. Glancing over at his comrade in arms of ten years, he asked, “So what were you ‘my lording’ me for?”
“The captain says that we should be able to see the village and castle after the next rise,” Braxton informed him.
“Then let us pick up the pace.” Liam squeezed his thighs slightly and his horse sped up into a trot. “I am interested in seeing the magnitude of the job before me.”
King Ireic Theodoric, monarch of Anavrea, was replacing his nobles, one title at a time. Ever since the attempted coup almost a year ago, he had carefully removed the power from the hands of his opposition. So, when Lord Alain of Ashwyn died without a legitimate heir, he had chosen Liam to take the title and lands.
Liam supposed he was a logical choice. As the third son of noble parents, he chose to enter the military. There he could serve his country and king with honor. Then the rebellion occurred and he found himself on the opposite side of the conflict from his parents and many of his childhood friends. The king triumphed and Liam was rewarded with a title and lands.
“There it is,” Braxton announced as they crested the last hill. Liam reined in his horse so he could take in the view.
The valley dropped away from them and spread out in a green and brown patchwork of fields and hedgerows. The road they were following wound only slightly to the east on its route to the village huddled beneath the shadow of a massive castle. The village was smaller than Liam expected. This close to the wild northern border he had anticipated more people to remain close to the stronghold of the lord protecting them. The castle loomed above the small houses from its perch at the top of the next rise. Its low, thick walls were made of a black colored stone that soaked up the late afternoon sunlight that painted everything else livid shades of bronze and gold.
“Ashwyn Vargar,” Braxton murmured.
“Aye.” Liam sighed. The noise of the following company of men and supplies began to come upon them from behind. “Come,” he said as he urged his horse forward, “Let us get this over with.”
The sun touched the western horizon when they reached the village. Young farmers, none of them looking older than thirteen, joined them on the road as they approached. Strangely silent, they watched the company and made no move to inquire who they were or why they had come. On the outskirts of the town, a group of children gathered to greet them. The insignia of his new title on his tunic and on the livery of his horse were obviously the reason for their stares.
When they reached the open space that appeared to be the village’s center, they were met by an odd group of five humans: three men, a woman, and a boy. Liam stopped his horse and dismounted. The five walked toward him, if it could be called walking. The three men used canes and the young man supported an ancient woman.
The oldest man spoke first. “Greetings, noble lord,” he said in a wavering voice. He bowed as best he could and the others did likewise
“Greetings,” Liam returned and dipped his head slightly to them. “I am Liam Tremain, newly made Lord Ashwyn of Ashwyn Vargar.”
“Welcome to your new home.” The wizened man paused to cough before continuing. “I am Micas, the village elder. I regret that we are not able welcome you as fitting your station, for our men are away.”
“Where have they gone?” Liam asked as he glanced around. Women and older girls with babies on their hips were appearing on the doorsteps of the hovels and cottages. The young farmers they had passed on the road were also filling in the crowd. Not one of the males looked between the ages of fourteen and sixty.
“Lord Klian of Onlus, the neighboring estate, came a week ago and pressed them into his service. We do not expect to see them until after the harvest.” The old man stopped to cough spastically.
Not waiting for him to catch his breath, Liam dismounted and crossed to stand before the spokesman. Braxton and a few of the closer men did likewise. Dimly aware of his friend moving into a defensive position behind his right side, Liam turned his full attention to the man before him. “You are not well. Surely there is another who can speak with me?”
“I can speak.” The young man supporting the ancient woman piped up. Still unable to make a sound above a harsh rasp, the old man flailed a hand in his direction to silence him.
“Let the boy speak,” the woman croaked. “If the young lordling does not mind speaking with a boy, let Urith speak for us. He knows enough.”
“Yes,” Liam agreed. It would not be a good beginning if one of his tenants died because of his arrival; the old man appeared to be coughing up his lungs. “Return to your rest by the fire and let this young man answer my questions.”
Even before the man managed a nod, the other ancients were turning back toward their respective residences. A middle-aged woman came forward to take care of the woman Urith was supporting. Liam watched with interest as the boy gently transferred his charge.
A thin youth, gangly with his first growth into manhood, Urith looked barely thirteen. However, he looked up at Liam with the even look of a seasoned man. “You might want to tell your men to start setting up camp,” he said.
Frowning, Liam returned his gaze. “Why?” The Vargar towering behind them promised at least shelter for the night.
“Getting the keys to the Vargar is going to take a few hours at best and all night at least,” the boy informed him.
“You mean that someone has barricaded themselves inside the Vargar?” Braxton asked.
Shaking his head slightly, the boy motioned toward the Vargar. “No one is inside the Vargar at present. It has been closed up since two days after Lord Alain died. The keys were hidden to prevent Lord Klian from taking up residence. I can take you to the keeper of the keys, but we will not be back until long after dinner. Your men will be hungry.”
Liam almost smiled. This boy had a sound head on his shoulders. Turning to Braxton, he said, “Tell the wagon master to set up camp by the front gates of the Vargar. Then gather nine men and meet me here. Urith will be informing me of our situation.”
Braxton met his gaze evenly, but Liam could the see the glimmers of his distrust. He is too protective for his own good. Just because I almost got myself killed that one time, he doesn’t trust me to protect myself. After a moment, Braxton turned away and started calling out orders.
As he turned back to Urith, Liam was certain he glimpsed fear in the boy’s face. He is not telling me everything, Liam realized. Claiming his horse, he walked it over to the well that stood in the village center. Looping the leads around the post at the end of the watering trough, he said, “Tell me about Lord Klian.” He lowered the bucket and emptied it twice before the boy finally spoke.
“He is lord of the land to our east.”
“Doesn’t he have men of his own to tend the fields?”
“Yes, my lord,” Urith admitted. “But he believes he is the rightful lord of Ashwyn and as such came to claim our services as his vassals.”
“So, he will not be pleased that I have been given lordship.” Liam watched his horse drink as he thought. “How long before the end of harvest?”
“Four weeks, my lord.”
Liam frowned. “Without the men he took, will we be able to bring in the crops before they rot in the fields?
“No, my lord.”
“What if we added about fifty unskilled laborers who have never used a sickle in their lives?” He glanced at the boy. Urith was frowning as he mulled over the suggestion.
“Possibly, my lord,” he said finally. “But where will you find so many?”
Ignoring his question, Liam asked, “After the harvest, Lord Klian will certainly allow the men to return home. Don’t you think, Urith?”
“I suppose,” Urith agreed reluctantly.
“Then that is what we will do.” Liam crouched down with his back against the wall of the well. “Come,” he said patting the ground next to him. “Tell me about the keeper of the keys and how he came to have them.”
Within an hour, Braxton returned with nine men, armed and equipped with mounts. Urith had been stubbornly closed mouthed about the keeper of the keys. Instead he expounded further on Lord Klian and the late Lord Alain. Liam found himself wishing that Lord Klian had died along with Alain. He sounded even nastier than most of the criminals Liam interacted with during his stint in the service of the king.
With Urith riding behind Liam on his mount at the front of the column, they headed off to meet the keeper. The boy led them west into the forest that bordered the fields a quarter-mile from the village. The trail was meant for walking, not riding; so, frequently they all were required to dismount and walk for brief periods. An hour after leaving the village, the foliage began to thin. Liam had a strange tingling in the small of his back. Braxton, who was riding behind him, was shifting uneasily in his saddle making the leather creak. As soon as the trail widened so two horses could walk abreast, he drew alongside.
“We are being watched, my lord,” he said. “Do you wish for me to investigate?”
“What do you say?” Liam asked Urith. He felt the boy stiffen slightly in surprise.
“It is most likely Oran, my brother,” he responded.
“Then don’t worry about it,” Liam said. Braxton nodded, but instead of falling back into line, he pulled forward and took the lead. Urith was forced to call out his instructions to Braxton from his place behind Liam, nearly deafening him. Liam just ground his teeth and promised himself he would give Braxton a talking to after they returned to camp. He might think he was protecting his lord, but he was undermining the trust Liam found himself wanting to establish between the people and their new ruler.
Thankfully, the yelling was not necessary for long. Just as it was becoming too dark to see, they reached the edge of a large clearing. Above them, the moon shone bright, illuminating a medium-sized farm house and barn. Light spilled from the first floor windows, and smoke came from the chimney. Someone was home, Liam surmised.
Walking his horse to the fence that ran between the house and the barn, he swung Urith down and then dismounted. Signaling his men to do likewise, he tied his steed to the rickety fence, hoping it could hold up, and turned toward the house. The boy, whom Liam had expected to run and give warning of their arrival, was waiting patiently for them to be ready.
“Swords are not to be drawn unless we are attacked,” Liam ordered. “Any man who disobeys will be punished severely.” He pointedly looked at Braxton, who simply nodded coolly. Liam knew the look. He was going to do what he believed to be necessary regardless of instructions. “Come,” Liam said and approached the front door.
He knocked firmly before realizing his mistake. The door was in as bad shape as the fence. The light from inside was seeping through the cracks and he could hear the hush that fell over the room on the other side. Someone spoke and a few moments later a dark-haired young woman opened the door. She looked him over solemnly from head to toe; as her eyes fell on the crest embroidered across his chest, she stiffened.
“You have come,” she said calmly, “Enter.” Her voice contradicted her body language as she opened the door and stepped back to let him pass.
The room beyond was warm and bright. A rough table stood at the center of the small space surrounded by four children and spread with a meager meal for so many. Except for the set of twin girls, there was no likeness between the children. The oldest, a boy of perhaps seventeen, was fair in complexion and hair. His blue eyes were hooded as he stared moodily at the food before him. The twins were dark, Ratharian dark, with the olive skin, black hair, and eyes that came with the nationality. The youngest, a brown-haloed little one of perhaps five, slipped from her seat and ran to bury her face in the skirt of the young woman.
While he was observing the small group, his men were quickly filling up the limited space. By the time Urith entered, it was crowded. The boy helped by going straight to one of the empty places at the table and sitting down. The older boy glared accusingly, but one of the twins smiled at him. He obviously belonged to this mismatched group.
“As much as I wish I could offer you and your men our hospitality, my lord,” the woman began, drawing all attention to her. “I am afraid our small home is not large enough.”
Silently agreeing, Liam motioned to the last eight who had entered to exit. They did so with a clamor, closing the door behind them. Braxton and Jaren remained standing awkwardly against the wall behind him. “I am sorry to invade your home in such a fashion, but I have come seeking the Keeper of the keys of Ashwyn Vargar.”
The young woman lifted her chin as she met his eyes. “I am the Keeper. By what right do you claim the keys?”
It seemed a fair question. “I am Liam Tremain, newly made Lord Ashwyn of Ashwyn Vargar. I received the title and lands from King Theodoric four months ago in Ana City.” Liam wondered for a moment if she was going to require more from him. She watched his face in silence as he spoke and for a few moments after he had finished.
The Servant of Anavrea
By Rachel Rossano
Seth Theodoric, eldest son of Trahern Theodoric, devoted his life to Anavrea’s safety. He looked after her from afar, feeding his uncle, King Ireic Theodoric, any intelligence he needed. He had everything under control until a stranger appeared on his doorstep and complicated his life.
Orphaned, lost, and penniless, Lora Guiana needed employment and shelter. When her aunt abandoned her on the doorstep of a dark, decrepit mansion, she saw an opportunity to prove her worth. If only she could figure out exactly who her employer was.
An excerpt from The Servant of Anavrea
“You are not even worthy of this opportunity.” Aunt Roalalt looked down her nose as she sat impossibly straight on the uncomfortable carriage seat. Rain hammered down on the roof, but Lora’s aunt’s voice carried easily over the roar. “I had almost given up on finding you a position, but when my good friend, Lady Irene, told me about the Baron’s situation, I knew he might be desperate enough to hire you.”
Lora nodded dutifully. Her aunt was probably right. Raised with her four brothers, she had never had much experience with the social settings. Father had always stressed mental capabilities above the social skills a young woman needed to become a lady’s maid or companion.
“Even if he doesn’t find your skills with languages helpful, you can at least serve as a cook and housekeeper.” Her aunt sniffed and dabbed her nose with a fragile looking hanky. “Your dear mother would be horrified if she lived to see how you have been raised.”
Lora frowned and turned her attention to the rain streaking the glass panes of the coach. The vehicle jostled as it sped along the country road. Mother approved of father’s beliefs and encouraged them in their studies. True, she and her brothers would have been raised differently had mother lived, but not as differently as her aunt believed. Over the last few weeks, she had learned that Aunt Roalalt, mother’s only sister, decided upon a different vision of Lora’s mother.
Quiet and graceful, Juna Guiana had always encouraged her children to grow and explore. Lora blinked back the tears that welled up in her eyes. She was long gone. When Lora was ten, she had fallen sick and within days passed forever out of their lives. Lora still remembered Father’s face the morning he came to tell them. He had never smiled the same again.
“Here we are,” her aunt announced as the coach came to a jerky halt. “Now hurry out, child. I have a long way to go before I reach Lady Irene’s tonight.”
The door opened and a sodden footman leaned down to unfold the stairs for Lora’s descent. Obediently, Lora picked up her handbag, pulled the thin cloak close around her shoulders, and tugged the hood up over her hair. The footman offered her a hand. Taking it, she stepped down into the muddy road.
As soon as her feet were firmly on the ground, Lora looked up and peered through the driving rain at the looming building before her. The glow of light could be seen from one of the windows on the second floor, but there were no other signs that anyone was in the building.
“Your trunk, miss,” the footman said as he plopped her box down next to her, washing her ankles and the bottom of her dampening cloak in mud. Then before she could say anything, he was gone. The coachman clicked his tongue to the horses, and then the coach moved away.
Lora watched it for a few moments as it disappeared into the driving rain. Everything in her wanted to run after it calling for it to stop and take her back into its dry interior, but she knew it would be useless. Aunt Roalalt had been abundantly clear that there was no place for a penniless orphan in her life. Forcing herself to turn back to the dark house, Lora straightened her shoulders beneath her already soaked cloak. Leaning down, she grabbed the rough rope handle of her box and began dragging it to the front door.
Once standing beneath the moderate shelter of the heavy stone pillared arch that framed the elaborately carved front doors, she pushed back her hood. She frowned up at the gargoyle that leered at her from the center of the left door and debated whether to knock or pull the heavy cord that most likely was attached to a bell. Remembering the lonely light in the window on the second floor, she decided on the bell.
She pulled the cord, but heard no sound from within the building. The wind picked up and blew the rain at and angle against the house. Lora stepped farther back into the alcove to the left of the door to avoid getting wetter.
“May I help you?” Lora looked up to find a tall, thin man standing within the doorway holding a covered lamp aloft.
“I am Lora Guiania, Lady Irene sent me to be the Baron’s cook and housekeeper.” She watched as confusion passed across the man’s dark features. Apparently, the man had not been informed of her impending arrival.
“Come,” he said tersely. Reaching down with his free hand, he lifted her box by its rope handle. Turning, he carried it into the foyer beyond the open door. Obediently, Lora followed.
The hall was large, two stories high, and dark. She could make out the vague shapes of paintings and tapestries along the walls. A large staircase rose from the center of the room and then split as it rose, reaching out into two arms. They connected to the two balconies that ran the length of the room opposite each other.
“Wait here while I tell the master you have arrived,” the man instructed her. Silently he mounted the stairs. She watched as he climbed the right staircase and disappeared into the shadows. He had taken the only light, leaving her to stand in darkness until he returned.
Her cloak, now heavy with water, began to pull her down. Unfastening the clasp at her throat, she slipped it from her shoulders. Shivering in the cold drafts of the hall, she carefully folded the sodden material and laid it on her box. Slowly her eyes adjusted to the absence of the lamplight and she began to see shapes and shadows. The rain poured against the distant roof and somewhere in the darkness something creaked. As she stood listening to the sounds of an old house on a rainy night, she found her eyelids getting heavy. Rubbing her eyes she tried to keep them open.
I wonder what the old Baron is like. Her Aunt’s descriptions had brought to mind an elderly gentleman or at least a man into his forties. After all he has explored the Northern Regions of Rynlan and the Western reaches of Anavrea. He is the foremost authority on Ratharian culture and an expert in numerous languages. The image of a mild, older man, bookish but spry, presented itself to Lora’s eye. Maybe this isn’t as bad as I was dreading.
“What are you smiling at?” a voice demanded. Lora opened her eyes and blinked in the bright light coming from the lamp inches from her face. Squinting, she tried focus beyond the flickering wick, but her eyes refused to obey.
“I asked you a question, girl.” The voice barked again. “I am not in the habit of repeating myself.” The tone annoyed Lora.
“I am not in the habit of explaining my thoughts, sir,” she replied.
A low chuckle came from beyond the lamp. “Quinn, you didn’t tell me she had a quick tongue,” the man said as he moved the lamp away and set it on a nearby table. “So, my Aunt Irene has seen fit to hire me a housekeeper.” He turned back to her, keeping his face in the shadows. “It is just like her to decide I cannot hire one myself. Well, child, where are your references?” He held out a hand.
Lora found she could not speak. Shaking her head she looked up at the shadowed figure. He was tall and broad, but that was all she could discern while he stood as he did between her and the light so the shadows hid his face and everything, but the outline of his form. The hand that hung between them looked large.
“What! No references?” He peered at her; his eyes glimmers in the dark void of his face. “Well then there must be something else that recommends you. My aunt is usually very thorough in her choosing of hired help. Are you instructed to report to her all my strange actions?”
“No, sir,” Lora managed.
“Spit it out, girl,” he demanded. “I don’t have time to stand here asking you questions. How did you end up on my doorstep on a night like this?”
Swallowing carefully, Lora tried desperately to formulate an answer. It was hard to understand what he wanted, since he obviously was looking for something.
“My aunt, Lady Roalalt is a friend of Lady Irene, who told her you were in need of a housekeeper and cook. Since my father has just died, leaving me no place to go, Lady Irene told her that I had the position. I assumed that Lady Irene had spoken to you…”
He cut her off with a wave. “My aunt believes she can arrange my life while I am at home. So,” he said, walking away deeper into the shadows. “You do not know the Lady Irene?”
“I have never met her, sir.”
“And you have no orders to report to her?”
“No, sir,” she replied.
“Very well,” he said in a tone of finality. Turning on his heel, he faced her once again. He stared at her face a moment, as if to read something there. She still could not see his features, but she could feel the pressure of his gaze. Then, he turned abruptly and walked into the shadows to the left of the stairs. A door was opened and closed out of sight as he departed the room.
“This way, miss,” the thin man said as he melted out of the shadows on her left. He crossed to her box and again lifted it. He cloak slid off of it to the floor. Taking the lamp in his free hand, he turned toward the stairs. Lora had to scramble to retrieve her cloak and catch up with him as he started up the stairs.
“So, I have the job?” She asked, still unsure of what had happened.
“It appears so, miss,” he replied without hesitating.
She followed the somber man up the left-hand staircase. They were stepping into the second hall off of the foyer balcony when she finally got up the nerve to ask another question. “How many servants and occupants are there?”
The man paused to look at her a moment as if to accuse her of asking too many questions. “I need to know how many to cook breakfast for tomorrow morning,” she hurried to explain.
“Master is the only resident. Lachine, the gardener, and I are the only servants, Miss. I am the only one to serve the master. He breakfasts in his rooms at roughly seven. This will be your room.” He set her trunk down before the last door on the left and handed her the lamp. “Good night, miss.” He bowed and disappeared into the shadows.
Lora shivered as she looked after him. What was it with these men and walking about in the dark without light? Frowning, she turned and opened the door to her new room. Stale air assailed her with its usual smells of dust and mold. The smell wasn’t promising, but she was here to be the housekeeper and she had to expect some lack of care. Leaning down she grabbed the handle of her trunk and set to the task of dragging it over the doorsill and onto the rug beyond.
She would worry about what lay ahead tomorrow. At least she had a dry place to sleep tonight.
So, would you run out and buy these?