I have been very remiss about keeping up with posting on this blog. I apologize. Midst the push to fit writing, homeschooling, and keeping the house up into my schedule despite a few rounds of family illness, I dropped this. To make up for it and to show my appreciation of your patience, I am happy to share my Christmas present to you, a whole new chapter from my current WIP, Living Sacrifice.
Note:For those of you who are not familiar with the world of Zezilia Ilar and Hadrian Aleron, the talents that the characters refer to are telekinetic (energy sight and mass moving) and telepathic (sending and receiving noted by italicized dialogue within quotation marks) abilities of a genetic origin.
Elitists are striving through selective marriages (frequently to unwilling young women) to create super talented children. They also hold to the belief that non-talented people are inferior and should be subservient to those with talent. Hadrian as a seventh born son in the political position of Sept Son is working with the High King to stop the Elitists and the other rebels' military coup attempt. Meanwhile Zezilia as his student/assistant has remained behind at the Sept Son's compound to study.
Please pardon the typos. All this is subject to change during the editing process.
(c) 2014 Rachel Rossano
All Rights Reserved.
Hibernus (winter) thundered in around us within a month of Hadrian’sdeparture. My days became an endless cycle of prayer, study, writing, and thentraining with my ferrum. The constant routine kept me sane. If my mind and bodywere occupied, I could ignore the gnawing sensation that I remained only half aperson.
I found myself repeating the same prayer. Open my eyes, Almighty, to your will.However, my heart constantly ached for a single answer. It became a dailystruggle to honestly say, Your will,Almighty.
Ferrum practice helped. Every day, the wilder the wind thebetter, I tested my skills. After establishing a field of energy, thinning itto into a bubble barely thick enough to block all the distractions, I wentthrough stretches, drills, and exercises while maintaining my defensive shield.In general, most of the other inhabitants of the compound left me alone. I haddetermined it was better that way.
I embraced the isolation. Prayer, practice, study, and deepthought filled the hours easily enough. I spent time with Errol and his family twicea week when I joined them for a meal. I attended the prayer and Revelationteaching meetings when the other followers of the Almighty gathered twice aweek, but I kept to myself during them. I attempted to convince myself I wascontent. My efforts were rarely successful.
Then one afternoon in mid practice my sense of controldissipated with the wind I had welcomed.
“Do you have a death wish?”
I lowered my weapon from an attack position and turnedtoward the speaker. Madame Arnata regarded me sharply from beneath her finelyarched brows. Her usual impassively calm features portrayed surprise andconcern. A few feet behind her stood two young women about my age. They halfcovered their faces with their hooded cloaks against the ice sharpened wind.
“No, madam, I am simply drilling as I do every day.”
“Yes. None of buildings have spaces large enough for ferrum practice.”
“So you expose yourself to the brutal elements of a northernwinter to keep up your skills?”
“A defender must be ready when needed.” Hadrian didn’t wantme. The thought didn’t hurt as much as it used to. Regardless, I still neededto be prepared. I had an oath to uphold.
She studied me for a moment. “You are the female defenderthe Sept Son brought from the south.”
I glanced down at myself. My usual distinctive blue defenderuniform hid beneath layers of winter clothing. No amount of energy shieldingcould protect against cold. “Yes. I am Defender Ilar.”
She nodded. “I am Madame Penelopa Arnata, Head Healer.”
Her eyes narrowed, but her manner remained neutral. “MasterSilas directed me to deliver these girls to you.”
“Why?” The word slipped out before it registered that askingso bluntly would be rude. “Pardon, but he didn’t mention anything about it tome. What does he expect me to do?”
“Teach them.” Her eyes narrowed again. “He is overcommittedand barely managing the young ones. The older students need attention too.”
I studied the girls more closely. Both of them averted theirgazes. The taller one eyed my blade nervously. The shorter woman lifted herchin when I focused on her. Clearly both were as unsure of this new developmentas I.
Madame Arnata continued. “Also, my patient wards areunderstaffed and the volunteers I have are under trained for the work needed.You have the look of a woman who needs more to do. What say you to learningsomething new?”
Visions of the stack of books, notes, and exercises thatawaited me back in Hadrian’s quarters filled my head. I wasn’t inclined to addto my studies.
“My days are full of studies.”
“I am not referring to intellectual exercises. I speak ofreal hand-dirtying, practical work. Feeding, bathing, communicating with thosewithout voice, restraining those who break free, lifting, carrying, andcleaning. I will send you to bed too weary to do anything beyond sleep. Doesthat sound appealing?”
Three sets of interested eyes regarded me.
The prospect of a good night’s sleep did appeal. Hadrian’sabsence had triggered panicked dreams of chasing him across barren countryside.I always woke by leaping from bed, sleep a distant memory as I struggled tocalm my racing heart and ease the tension in my chest. Exhaustion meant noenergy to worry or wonder about the man so often invading my thoughts. Perhapsit would even dispel the dreams.
Apparently seeing my answer in my expression, Madame Arnata noddedfirmly. “Come to the healer’s building after the noon meal tomorrow. I willwear you out.” She turned back to the path toward the wards.
My new students and I stood staring at each other for a fewheartbeats. Give me wisdom, I prayed.
Finally realizing they weren’t going to disappear or speakfirst, I dropped my energy field. The short one jumped as though I stuck herwith a pin.
“You saw that?” I asked her.
She muttered something in reply.
“Pardon, I didn’t hear you.” I dropped my gaze in hopes itwould make my questioning less intimidating. I wiped and sheathed my ferrumwhile I waited for the answer.
“Yes.” Her voice was soft and hesitant.
I ventured a glance and our gazes met. “Good.” Holding herattention, I smiled warmly. “It is a start.”
She looked down again. “Lorrium—”
“—her husband—” The taller woman added.
“—he said it was a good thing.” It was the clear from theway she spoke his name that she felt a great deal of affection for the man shemarried.
“My husband beat me if I mentioned anything he considered amanifestation of Talent,” the tall one volunteered.
Uncomfortable with broaching that subject yet, I nodded myunderstanding before striding over to pick up my gear satchel.
“You two know my name, but I am afraid I don’t know yours.”
“Lotus,” the tall one volunteered.
“Ariana.” The shorter one stepped toward me hesitantly asthough half afraid in her bravery. “What should we call you?”
“Zez works best for most people.” I walked toward the path,already trying to figure out if it was appropriate for me to take them to myusual studying place in Hadrian’s quarters. I knew of no better location.Perhaps I could find a spare copy or two of the Revelation and the Talents Codein the stacks of books that filled his study.
The women followed without being asked. I touched my amevoand created my usual energy shield against the wind. It spread it wide enoughso all of us were sheltered. Ariana jumped when I brought it up. Lotus didn’tacknowledge its presence until the wind suddenly stopped pushing on her. Thenshe lifted her head and looked about for the evidence of my energy field.
I expected her to question it at any moment, but it was Arianawho spoke first.
“Is it true that you are related to Ostin Ilar, the manclaiming the high king’s throne?”
“Ari!” Lotus hissed her horror at Ariana’s insensitivity.
“Yes.” I glanced over at Ariana. “I am his daughter, but Ido not share his views or support his claim to the throne.”
“But how could you not?”
I stopped so abruptly that the girls almost walked into me.Turning to examine Ariana’s face more closely, I waited for her to explainherself.
Lotus beat me to the question. “How could you say that? Youdon’t support the usrper.”
“But she is his daughter,” Ari protested.
“Any you did everything your father told you to do?” Lotusdemanded.
Ari blushed quite prettily. “But—”
“Don’t listen to her,” Lotus advised. “She ran off with ahandsome man her father told her to avoid and ended up in the mess she is inbecause of it. What number child is this?” Lotus jabbed a finger towardAriana’s cloaked middle.
Tears filled Ari’s eyes. “Just because you can’t—“
Lotus turned white with anger before Ari completed hersentence. “Never! I told you to never say—”
I dropped my shield. Frigid air pounded into us, silencingthe two women. I reestablished the shield a moment later so they could hear me.
“In my presence, you will speak civilly to each other. Ifyou don’t, I shall speak to Errol about seeking other arrangements. I surmisefrom the fact you two are here that you want to learn to use your talentability. Am I right?”
The affirmative duet was a start.
“That said, I do want to learn more about you. Since that issuch a difficult topic at the moment, we don’t have to speak as we walk.”
I dropped my energy shield and the wind howled as it rushedin to bombard us again. I walked pointedly off toward my haven, mentallythanking the Almighty for the years I had spent in the Silas household. Withoutthem, I would have been completely unprepared for the joined forces behind me.Even with experience with fractious females, I dreaded the training andteaching to come.
The wind changed direction when we turned down the path toHadrian’s former quarters. It chased us through the garden and blew us acrossthe threshold when I opened the door. Every loose piece of parchment in theroom beyond scattered like leaves. I wrestled the door closed again behind us. Iturned, shaking ice water from my cloak to find my two companions regarding mein shock.
“This is the Sept Son’s dwelling.” Lotus gestured to thetables stacked with volumes, thick carpets on the floors, and Hadrian’s sparecloak and boots stowed in the alcove next to the door. “Doesn’t he mind youliving here?”
My stomach tightened in a sudden wave of panic. This was amistake. “I am his student.”
Ariana’s eyes widened. Lotus’ gaze narrowed.
“I study here while he is traveling.”
“And when he returns?” Lotus asked.
“I will probably continue to study here.”
“It isn’t as though she sleeps here,” Ariana pointed out toLotus.
“The Sept Son is not an elitist.” I stated it with afinality that I hoped would cut off any further questions. “I am not his wife.”
Ariana nodded in understanding.
Lotus’ suspicion buffeted my energy senses. I chose toignore it. In hopes of keeping the women off the sensitive topic, I begantelling them about my history while I searched the shelves for extra copies ofthe Revelation and the Talent’s Code. I found two spare code books, but all thecopies of the Revelation were strangely missing.
“You expect us to memorize that?” Lotus’ tone echoed theincredulity that washed over my amoveo-enhanced senses. “I won’t.”
“Then I won’t be training you.”
Her mouth tightened into a pursed frown as she studied myfeatures, most likely to determine my tenacity.
I did not relent.
“Master Silas will hear of this.” Lotus’ tone betrayed heruncertainty.
“I would expect nothing else. I believe you will find heagrees. He requires the same of all of his students. Any non-elitist tutorwould do the same.”
Lotus sniffed and grabbed the book. Leafing through thepages as I offered the second copy to Ariana, she harrumphed and grunted as sheread.
“Where do you want us to start?” Ariana asked.
“With the rules for trainees in the second chapter.” Iwatched as Lotus’ upper lip curled back in disgust at what she was reading.
“We have to live by these?” she asked.
“If I followed these I would be as helpless as if I hadn’tlearned anything at all. Talents aren’t supposed to enter another’s mindwithout permission. And what is stopping some monster like my husband fromentering my mind again whenever he wants after he gets me back. And this oneabout never using mass moving ability in anger. Who is going to know if I amangry or not?” Lotus closed the book with a snap. “These are ludicrous.”
“All they will have to do is look at your face to know ifyou are angry or not,” Ariana observed.
Lotus glared at her before shoving the book back at me. I barely caught it before it toppled to theground. “In that case you can keep your code. I am not interested.” She stompedout through the door. Parchment and leaves skittered across the stone floor andthe wind yanked at my hair as she left the door wide open behind her. I used mymass moving skills to close it firmly.
Ariana and I released identical sighs of relief into thesuddenly silent room.
“Is she always like that?” I asked.
“Unfortunately yes.” Ariana looked sadly after Lotus. “Herhusband messed her up badly, inside.”
Ariana shook her head. “Her heart.”
“Were you in the same…” I stumbled over a term to use thatwouldn’t strike a nerve.
“Compound?” She nodded. “My husband was a founding memberand hers could never rise in the ranks. He blamed her for it.”
“A founding member? But I thought your husband was a…”
“He is Lorrium Parzifal.”
The name struck me hard. I stood next to the daughter by lawof Thrasius Parzifal, the leader of the elitist movement.
Rain beat on our heads, seeped through the seams in ourtents, and soaked into our food supplies. I answered my correspondence with anoiled tarp pulled over my head. Even then, I remained damp.
“The supply wagon is delayed,” Korneli announced as he camethrough the flaps of our shared tent. “Broken axel in the mud and no nearbywheelwrights to fix it.”
I groaned. “Sabotage?”
“Weather.” He shook his head like a dog and then scrubbed athis scalp. “This blasted weather is enough to drown a fish.”
“It can’t last forever.” I blinked and tried to focus on theletter in my hand.
“I wouldn’t bet on a break just yet, Hadrian.” Korneli saton the edge of his cot and reached for his journal. “Letter from home?”
“No.” I rubbed at my blurry eyes. “More news of the cleanupefforts in the east. The Elitists have scattered. Our men found two morecompounds already abandoned.”
“You know what that means, don’t you?”
I closed my eyes. “The Elitists are still out there. Theyare still plotting. Next time they won’t be as easy to spot. I am moreconcerned about the future for all of us, though.”
“One Elitist by himself cannot accomplish much,” Korneliobserved.
“But one Elitist raising a family of strong talentsindoctrinated with a toxic world view can do a lot of damage.”
Korneli mulled on my observation for a while. I returned toreading my letter.
“When is Zezilia joining us?”
The mention of her name snapped me out of formulating areply to the letter. The constant ache in my gut jumped to the forefront of myawareness. I groaned. “You had to mention her.”
“You are better with around her. Whyever did you leave herback at the compound? Our defender ranks are dwindling fast. We could use atalent like hers.”
“The dwindling numbers are is improving. Since we orderedthe defenders to dress like regular ranked soldiers, they are harder toidentify and target.”
“We are still losing, Hadrian. Ilar and Sabine know our weaknesses.Eventually we will run out of trained defenders, what then?”
“We will deal with that when we get to it.”
Silence, heavy and uncomfortable hung between us. I used itto begin writing a reply to the letter in my lap. The wording didn’t flow, but Igot my point across. I slid the parchment into the pouch to be reviewed byRenato before it went to the tutor.
“Did you two fight?”
I glared at my best friend. He knew me well enough to knowthat I didn’t want to discuss it. “No. We agreed to separate until we arecertain of the Almighty’s leading.”
Korneli snorted. “You decided to separate. I saw her a fewweeks ago, Hadrian. She is not at peace. For that matter, neither are you.”
“I can’t marry her, Korn.” There I said it. The awful,horrible, terrible truth.
“Because if I do, I will become just like the Elitists.”
“Marrying a talented woman isn’t against the law. You don’thold to the Elitists creed. I don’t see the connection.”
“You would be one of the few who would not draw that conclusion.A talented male marrying a talented younger woman is now so tightly connectedwith Elitism, I will be branded before anyone seeks out the truth. In thepeoples’ eyes actions speak louder than words. I am the strongest seventh bornin fifteen generations. Her abilities exceed mine and haven’t even topped outyet.” I pointed out. “Surely I must be power hungry.”
Cayphis was already considering legislation forbiddingmarriage between two talented individuals. No matter how I protested it andargued against it, he always replied that he needed to consider how he couldprosecute those scattered Elitists that we were tracking down. I couldn’tmention this to Korneli, though.
“Even if the law does not forbid our union, I cannot marryher. It would completely undermine my authority as an upholder of theRevelation and the code.”
“Nowhere does the code say two talented individuals cannotmarry,” Korneli protested. “Last I checked the Almighty approved of marriage.Besides, no other man will do for her now. I suspect that commiseo link you twoexperimented with sealed her against any other options.”
My middle roiled. “So you are saying I need to do thehonorable thing and marry her.”
“Not marrying her would be cruel. Regardless of that, leavingher behind at the compound was wrong.”
“So dragging her into this would have been better?” I wavedan arm at the miserable conditions around us. “Of course damp beds, moldy food,and not a dry piece of firewood in this whole camp full of smelly, disgustingmen would have been vastly superior to a warm bed, plenty of studies to keepher occupied, and the companionship of other women.”
Korneli frowned at me. “No, that is not exactly what I wassaying.”
I snapped my writing desk closed. Not bothering to latch itsecurely, I shoved the whole thing, letters and all, into the correspondencesatchel and strapped it closed. “I need to walk.”
“In this weather?”
Korneli’s protest didn’t slow me a bit. I placed the satchelin the only consistently dry spot in the tent and dropped the oil skin over it.“Let Renato know I will be back in time for the meeting,” I called over myshoulder as I plunged through the tent flaps and out into the freezing rain.
Water sluiced through my clothing in a matter of moments,plastering cloth to every inch of my body. I had left my cloak behind, but itwas too late to go back. Korneli couldn’t know how tempted I was to take hisadvice. Marrying Zez and ignoring the consequences remained my utmost desiredespite distance, time, and hardship. My foolish heart still longed for her.
My body began to shake of its own volition. I ignored it, liftingmy face to look up into the pouring rain. The icy drops stung at first, buteventually they would numb my skin. If only they could numb my heart asquickly.
Father, help me. Youknow the desires of my heart. I try to do what You want me to do despite mylonging for something else. Give me strength and clarity of mind. Help me.
I breathed deeply of cold, humid air.
Make it clear what youwant me to do. I choose Your will above my own. No matter what.
“What are you trying to do, Sept Son?” Renato’s energy fieldclosed around me and the rain ceased to strike my face. “You will grow ill.Where is your defender?”
Something in Renato’s voice brought my attention to hisface. The planes of his cheeks and temples were taut with control. There wassomething he didn’t want to tell me. “What happened?” My first thought went toZez, but I forced the second out of my mouth. “Is the High King safe?”
“Shaken, but well, Master.”
“An ambush outside of Paloma. Thirty dead, twenty of themknown Elitist sympathizers.” Renato swallowed carefully. “Your brother Emil…”
I braced for the worst. “Dead?”
“Mind altered and unconscious.” Renato finished with hisvoice barely a whisper. Genuine sympathy filled his face.
“I want to see him.”
Renato shook his head. “They are taking him to the compound.The healers will take care of him until this war is finished.”
“I must write to my parents.” I turned toward my tent, butmy limbs didn’t cooperate. Instead of walking, I fell to my knees in the mud. Almighty, protect him.
“Master.” Renato began helping me up immediately, but thedamage was done. My trousers were plastered in mud to match my sopping tunic.At least Giles wasn’t there to scold me.
What do you think? Do you want more?
Which character catches your interest the most? Why?
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!