About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I left the Prince’s embrace to board one of the many ships that waited to take us across the Great Sea. For a time, my mission in Arrethtrae was complete. I had yearned to reunite with the One who gave me purpose in life. I had worked to serve Him with honor and faithfulness while He was away. And He gave me the words I craved: “Well done, Cedric. Well done.” Like a man arriving home after a long journey, I found rest in His words and in His embrace.
The Prince first came to Arrethtrae to save the kingdom and change the hearts of the people. There is no other like Him…no other who is worthy of the loyal service of all. The Son of the King came as a peasant and served us before we could serve Him. His nature is pure and His heart compassionate. His words are wise and His vision sure. I will follow Him to death, if need be. But I know in my heart of hearts that He will lead us only to life. The road has not and will not be easy, but I will follow, for He is great and His plans are grand.
The ships we boarded were gallant, three-masted vessels with a full rigging of sails that beckoned the wind from a dozen seas to carry them into their waters. They were sturdy yet built for speed. The main deck of each ship was over thirty paces from stem to stern with a quarterdeck and a halfdeck above. A lower deck provided space for supplies and for most of the passengers. All of the ships’ crews were comprised of Silent Warriors who were very experienced seamen. Conversation with the crew was limited, for they assumed their duties onboard with the utmost diligence.
On the main deck of my ship, I searched the faces of my many companions. I looked for William, my lifelong friend, but I discovered that he had boarded another ship, as had Rob and Barrett. Commanded to be silent, for the entire kingdom was asleep and the exodus of the Knights of the Prince and His people was not complete, I smiled and nodded my greetings to my fellow workers who sat upon the deck. We were going home! It sounded strange yet felt perfect, for this home was a place we had never been, but the King awaited us there. What will this great kingdom be like? I wondered.
Our ship launched out into the sea, and I found a place of solitude near the bow, beneath the foresail. The wind in my face and the sound of the waves breaking on the bow took me back to a time when I was a fisherman, before I ever knew of the Prince. As Arrethtrae faded into the horizon, I found myself lost in thoughts of wonderment at the path my life had taken. Long after the coasts of Arrethtrae had disappeared, my solitude was interrupted by a solid voice behind me.
“Sir, I’m sorry to disturb you,” the young man said somewhat hesitantly, “but I feel I must introduce myself.”
I looked up into the bright face of a handsome young man and rose to my feet. “You are not disturbing me at all,” I said with a smile as I offered my hand. “I am Cedric of Chessington.”
“I know who you are, sir,” he said enthusiastically as he took my hand. “For many years I have desired to meet you again.”
“Then we have met before?”
“Yes…when I was but a youth. I am Cullen of the United Cities of Cameria.”
I felt such joy to know that the words of the Prince had brought people from the distant lands of Cameria to these ships this day. I recognized his accent from that region. It was unique in that it seemed to mesh the accents of all lands into one.
I released Cullen’s hand. “Unto this day, the people of Chessington are indebted to the great land of Cameria and her people,” I said. “These final days in Chessington were only bearable in large part because of your people and your help against her enemies.”
My words to him were not flattery. Cameria was one of the last regions in the kingdom to hear the story of the Prince, and I had made one of the first journeys there. They embraced the truth of the Prince with eager hearts and quickly became a beacon of light for the entire kingdom. When much of the kingdom turned against Chessington, the five United Cities of Cameria stood firm in their support of the King’s city and His people. Supplies of food and swords were sent without request for trade. But in the final days, even Cameria began to waver as the return of the Prince seemed to linger.
Cullen smiled at the compliment I offered and momentarily looked down in respectful humility. When he lifted his eyes to mine again, I saw the spark of life in him that only a believer had.
“Sir Cedric,” he said. “I heard your words of the Prince that day many years ago, and my heart nearly burst within my chest!”
His eyes gleamed, and his countenance radiated with enthusiasm. I could imagine the excitement with which he had shared the story of the Prince with others.
Cullen stood tall and confident. His build was average, but his cheekbones and chin were sharp. His hair was a common brown, but his dark eyes were not common at all.
He continued. “I wanted to believe your words with all of my heart, but it seemed too good to be true. I gave every ounce of my being to live by the Code and learn the ways of the Prince. I guess I needed to prove that it would change my circumstances. It worked, but I was not prepared for the biggest change of all–in myself ! I found purpose for my life and a cause much greater than any selfish venture I thought I desired.” He smiled broadly. “Thank you, Sir Cedric…thank you!”
I placed my hand on his shoulder. “Cullen, your words have made all of my journeys worth every step. You do not need to thank me, for as you discovered, I cannot contain the hope that was given to me.”
In the midst of the Great Sea, our homecoming was already beginning.
“Have you any family onboard, Cullen?”
“Yes…some,” he said with a mix of emotions.
I felt a bit foolish for asking the question, since the story of the Prince often split family members’ loyalties. Our voyage across the sea this day clarified the permanence that such a separation of hearts within a home caused.
Cullen spoke again. “My parents and my next younger sister would not accept the truth of the Prince and His promise.”
A smile crossed his lips. “But glory to the King, my little sister, Keely, is here with me.” It was clearly a comfort to him.
“Excuse me, gentlemen, does this young lady belong to either of you?” The question came from a young woman, who was as pretty as her voice. She was guiding a girl toward us who looked as though she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
Cullen’s smile disappeared as he looked down at the lass. “What have you been up to, Keely?”
I could tell in an instant that the girl was as spunky as a tree squirrel. She couldn’t contain the broad grin that spread across her freckled face. It was a look of curiosity more than mischief that lit up her eyes.
“I just wanted to see,” she said as she pointed up to the crow’s-nest at the top of the mainmast.
“I’m sure she would have made it if I hadn’t stopped her halfway up,” replied her chaperon, a grin on her face as well.
Keely turned to the young lady. “I’m sorry, miss. I’ll not try it again.”
I found it difficult not to gaze at the woman who had brought Cullen’s little sister to him. I wondered what kind of lady would climb the rope ladder to the crow’s-nest to apprehend a curious girl when any number of Silent Warrior crewmen could have taken care of the matter. She seemed to have authority of some sort onboard the ship. Her attire was not of the style one might see most Arrethtraen ladies wear. Her blouse and trousers were loose fitting, but were tight at the waist, ankles, and wrists. A three-quarter cape fell from her shoulders to her thighs. It was not the apparel of any I’d ever seen, but it suited her well. Her hair was long, dark brown, and tied in a single braid that fell midway down her back. Yet it was the beautiful sword hanging at her waist that truly set her apart from most other women.
She placed a friendly hand on Keely’s head. “See to it, little miss,” she said firmly but kindly, “or the captain will have a word with you. And you won’t find him nearly as forgiving.”
“I’m sorry,” said Cullen, slightly embarrassed. “I’ll keep a closer eye on her.” He looked sternly at Keely, but she didn’t seem bothered by it a bit.
I bent down to Keely. “Hello, Keely. I am Cedric.”
She confidently held out her hand. “I’m pleased to meet you, Sir Cedric. Cul says you’re the best swordsman in the kingdom!”
I shook her hand. “I can hold my own, Keely, but there are many men…and women”–I added as an afterthought and stole a quick glance at the young lady standing behind the girl–“that are as skilled with the sword as I.”
“You mean like Talea?” she asked.
“And who is Talea?”
Keely pointed to the woman behind her.
“Pleased to meet you, gentlemen.” Talea bowed her head slightly. I was thankful she didn’t offer her hand since I wouldn’t have known whether to kiss it or shake it.
“I am Cedric of Chessington,” I said with a bow, “and this is Cullen of the United Cities of Cameria.”
Talea’s businesslike countenance did not dim her brown eyes, which sparkled with life. I imagined that a younger Talea wrestled with the same spunky spirit Keely seemed to possess. Although the morning sun had not yet broken the horizon, I could see a noble look upon her face that was woven into every feature from her brow to her chin. She looked into my eyes without hesitation, and I was somewhat mesmerized, for I seemed to gain energy from her gaze. It was not a look of affection but one of question and resolve. Then, for one brief instant, a nearly imperceptible look of embarrassment crossed her face.
“Which region of Arrethtrae are you from?” I asked.
Talea seemed to struggle to find an answer to my question and then reached for her sword. Her face became tense, and her eyes seemed to gaze clean through me and into the receding darkness beyond. The lighthearted mood of our conversation quickly transformed into a moment of uncertain stress. I could tell by Talea’s expression that something was wrong, and I naturally moved my hand closer to my sword. In an instant, the building anxiety exploded.
Talea drew her sword and yelled, “Get dow–!”
The last of her warning was cut off by the most hideous screech I have ever heard. It was of such a nature that our first reaction was to drop to the deck for cover. Talea brought a powerful upward slice to bear on a winged creature that screamed past our heads from behind. She followed the slice by dropping to the deck herself, but her blade had found its mark. The screech of the attacking beast became the momentary wail of a mortally wounded monster. It hit the side rail of the ship with a solid thud and careened over the edge to the frothy waters below. The entire encounter happened so quickly that I scarcely got a glimpse at the creature. Its body and wings looked dark and leathery, but that was all I could see in the receding darkness of the early morning dawn.
Talea was immediately to her feet, shouting a warning to all passengers to get below deck. One of the larger crewmen came toward us with his sword drawn and a concerned look on his face.
“Are you hurt, Lady Talea?” he asked.
“No, Yutan, I am unharmed,” she said. The large warrior seemed satisfied and hurried off. The captain ordered a trumpet blast to warn the other ships, and it spread through the armada rapidly. Cullen grabbed Keely and took her below, while I helped Talea and the crew get the remaining passengers to safety, closing the hatch behind us. I could hear an occasional screech in the distance but nothing quite as close as our first encounter.
The captain and another Silent Warrior remained on deck to ensure that we stayed on course. Everyone else was ordered to remain below for a time. I found a place to sit near the hatch, and Talea sat a few feet away, facing me.
“What in the kingdom was that?” I asked.
She paused. “It was a scynth.”
I thought for a moment. “I have never heard of nor seen such a thing. Where do they come from?”
Talea looked at the floor. “They come from the caverns on the Isle of Sedah. Their presence can mean only one thing: all of the evil power of Lucius has been unleashed upon Arrethtrae.”
The last few years in Arrethtrae had been tremendously difficult for the Knights of the Prince, but Talea seemed to indicate that it was only the beginning.
“The years ahead will be the darkest the kingdom has ever seen.” Talea looked up at me. “We can be grateful to the King and the Prince that we are not there.”
Bewildered, I looked at Talea. I did not like a mystery, and she most certainly was one. “Who are you, my lady?”
“I am Talea. Who are you, sir?” she replied tersely.
“I am sorry for the frankness of my question, my lady,” I said. “But your skill, your understanding, and your attire are uncommon.”
“Is that an insult or an observation, sir?”
“Above all, my lady, it is not an insult. It is an observation and a compliment to one who has stirred my curiosity, dare I say, beyond the bounds of appropriate questioning. Please forgive me.”
Talea raised an eyebrow and overwhelmed me once again with her delightful eyes. I felt my cheeks flush, and I wanted to leave…but also wanted to stay. Were it not for the mystery of her presence, I would have departed to spare myself the strangeness I felt within.
“What do you want to know, Sir Cedric?” Talea asked.
I peered into her face. “It would be selfish and unfair of me not to offer answers to your questions first…if you have any.”
“I have none,” she replied matter-of-factly.
I was oddly offended, since either I was not worthy of her asking or she knew much more about me than I imagined. I chose to believe the latter.
“Very well, Lady Talea. Which region of Arrethtrae are you from?”
“I am not,” she said, rather seeming to enjoy the fullness of my perplexed look.
“You are not?”
She smiled. “I am not from any region in Arrethtrae.”
“Then you are from many regions?”
She thought for a moment. “I am not.”
I found myself quickly becoming frustrated with this pretty and uncommon lady. I was not used to being played. With any other lady, I might think she was flirting, but there was enough mystery and genuine hesitation in Talea’s willingness to give answers that I knew this was not the case.
“Then you cannot be from Arrethtrae,” I said, trying to reason this through. “But all men and women are from Arrethtrae.” A strange thought entered my mind. “Are you a”–I almost could not say it–“Silent Warrior?” If she were a Silent Warrior, she was unique indeed.
She gazed into my bewildered eyes. “I am not.”
“Lady Talea, you say you are not from Arrethtrae. You say you are not a Silent Warrior. You know things of which I have not heard. You are obviously very skilled with the use of a sword. I am afraid you are more of a mystery to me now than before!” I said.
“All clear!” came a shout from the main deck.
Talea began to rise. I quickly stood and offered my hand to help her, but she pretended not to see it.
“Will you tell me who you are, Lady Talea?” I asked.
She positioned her sword and straightened her cape.
“Perhaps,” she said with a slight smile and moved past me to the hatch that led to the main deck.
I had never felt quite so disregarded in all my life. I often found it uncomfortable to be in the presence of a lady when polite conversation was required, but this was different. Talea was more warrior than lady, and yet she moved between both roles so gracefully that I found myself in a social quandary. I intended to avoid much future interaction, simply to prevent the feelings of awkwardness that come with an inadequate repertoire of social graces.
I almost believed it possible to do so, but a corner of my mind would not rest with the mystery of Talea so brazenly unsolved.