Welcome back to Lands Uncharted and another installment of our Story Snippets posts. We hope you are enjoying this new addition to our blog as much as we are enjoying bringing them to you.
I am glad to present another excerpt from my upcoming release, Guardian Prince, and to announce exciting news:
Guardian Prince will be released on Amazon in only nine days, on September 24, 2020!
“Over there,” Koen pointed to their left as they rode through the interior of the Dryht encampment, his arm bobbing slightly with the rhythm of his horse's steps, “is the Grand Clearing. It's the main gathering spot for the camp.”
“You keep calling this place a camp,” Sabine commented as she studied a huge clearing visible through a break in the trees. A massive slab of rock dominated a quarter of the space, absorbing the crisp, mid-morning sunlight. Sabine wondered what it would be like to sit on it, enjoying the warmth that must be radiating from it despite the chill in the air. Beyond, in the far distance, she spotted the glint and shimmer of a stream. A moment later the forward motion of her horse carried her beyond the opening, and the view snapped shut. “It looks more permanent than that.”
Koen quirked his lips into a wry smile. “What makes you think so?”
Sabine drew her eyebrows together, trying to find the words to express her thoughts. “Camps move. You can take them down, travel, then put them back up wherever you are at the end of the day. Your people have grown the trees into houses. Not just a couple, but enough for an entire community.”
Sabine gestured to her right, where some youngish Dryht were using their camouflaged-style clothing to play a hiding game in the branches of nearby trees. A short distance away an elderly Dryht woman stood near a copse of saplings, talking to the air as she waved her hands over them. The young trees appeared to be moving in response to the woman; not swaying as if in a breeze, but shifting, flowing ever-so-slowly to where the elder Dryht's motions indicated. “What is she doing?”
“Hmm?” Koen asked, glancing to where Sabine had gestured. “Oh. She's directing them. Telling them where she wants them to grow. Although, why she's growing her home right there is beyond me.”
“Growing her home.” Sabine gaped at Koen as they rode past the tableaux being discussed. “How is that even possible?”
Behind her, Tayte chuckled. “The Dryht have a way with nature. Some say they are able to commune with the trees, the plants... all of the living things around them.”
“Some have loose tongues,” Koen retorted dryly. “But your Aethel friend is right. It's a bit more complicated than that, but my people do, indeed, have a way with the living aspects of nature. It is part of our gifting from Torian.”
“How long does that take?” Sabine asked, then frowned. That question had made more sense in her head. Searching for a better way to ask what she meant, she noticed a thin sliver of pain tracing its way through the right side of her brain. “The houses, I mean. How long does it take to grow the houses?”
Koen shrugged. “A few years. Five, maybe. Depends on what type of trees you use.”
“See? That is exactly my point.” Sabine rubbed her right temple, trying to ease the pressure building behind it. “This whole place is much more permanent than a camp.”
Koen arched his eyebrows at her. “Even so, it is still only temporary. Once the Rüddan are overthrown and the balance among races is restored, we will return to our former homes, rebuilding with living stone once more.”
Recalling the Dryht ruins she had frequented in the woods outside Khapor, Sabine nodded. She tried to imagine what they would look like when they were rebuilt, but the pressure in her head was making it hard to think. It seemed to grow incrementally stronger with every step her horse took.
“Sabine?” Tayte’s voice sounded as if it came from a great distance away. “Are you well?”
“What?” Sabine started. She realized she was rubbing her temple again, so she dropped her hand to her lap and flashed Tayte a small smile. “I'm fine, thanks. Just a bit of a headache.”
Tayte nodded but eyed her warily. Did he look worried?
Sabine glanced ahead to where Aodhan rode with his sister, Diera, and her lady-in-waiting, Amala. She still had no inkling what the Aethel prince wanted with her, but she was not about to give him or anyone else in this group a chance to accuse her of being a burden.
“I'm fine,” she promised Tayte, shifting her attention back to him. Then, in an effort to change the subject, she turned back to Koen. “You were right, by the way.”
“Oh? About what?”
“About the people,” Sabine stopped, assailed by an airy, breathless feeling in her chest. Why did she suddenly feel so winded? Inhaling deeply, she tried again. “Before we left, you said there would be more of them,” she paused for an instant, trying to fill her lungs with air, then covered the action by changing the pitch of her voice to sound as if she were imitating Koen's, “in the camp.”
She gasped again, as discreetly as she could. Was this what a fish felt like out of the water?
Koen said something in reply, but Sabine could not make out what since she was busy cataloging her symptoms. A sharp headache on one side of her head, trouble taking a deep breath... the sensations were similar to the effects of the litri, the anti-escape charm Dargan had used to bind her on the first day of her enslavement, only they were not so strong.
The urge to panic swelled within her, but she quickly shoved it down. Now was not the time to lose control. Besides, Gaelan had deactivated the Rüddan’s charm last night. If he had not, then she would never have escaped Dargan's home.
Unless the Rüddan had wanted her to.
Panic surged in again, and this time Sabine had to fight harder to get it under control. The throbbing in her head was solidifying into a silver spike of pain, still building with each step her horse took even as her breath became more and more shallow. The paralysis was occurring slower than it had at Dargan's house, but the symptoms were the same. Could it be?
She needed to stop moving before she lost consciousness. She tried to tug on the reins, to stop her horse, but her arms felt so heavy. Although she managed to twitch her fingers, she could do nothing more. Oh, no...
“Tayte,” Sabine gasped. She waited for the Aethel shape-shifter to respond, but he appeared not to have heard her. Gasping for air, she tried again. “Tayte!”
This effort left her so winded that the edges of her vision turned black. This time the panic swamped her, overwhelming her as each gasping breath brought the blackness that edged her vision closer in. She struggled against the urge to cry, knowing that would only make things worse. At last, Tayte turned to her.
“Sabine?” he said, his voice distant and hollow.
She tried to respond, but the blackness was closing in too quickly, bringing a deep sense of nausea with it. She watched, helpless, as her vision tunneled, the darkness growing with each step the horse took, until everything finally turned black.