I am neck-deep in getting ready to release my epic fantasy novel, Son of the Shield, Book 1 of the Ransom Trilogy, in February, so I thought it would be fun to use that as my story snippet this month! (I wish I could share the cover art with this sample, but it's still in production so for now you'll just have to take my word for it being awesome!)
Son of the Shield features a lot of really intense and heavy scenes, but I decided to feature a more fun, lighthearted one...though I'm sure we can all empathize to some degree with the awkwardness Orienne is feeling. ; )
The sun was sinking in a bath of winter-golden light, casting sharp, crazy shadows through the leafless trees, and a gentle but frigid wind had drawn a thin veil of lacy clouds over the pale sky when Orienne made the walk back up the hill from the village to the fort.
She was bone-weary, but couldn’t remember when she’d last had such a pleasant afternoon. She’d spent the last several hours helping the women of the village fill their wood boxes, feed their animals, clean their barns, and finish a variety of other chores. They’d all thanked her profusely as though she’d made some great sacrifice, but in truth she almost felt as though she’d taken advantage of them, using their moment of need as an opportunity to indulge her own desires.
Their lives were so simple, so enviably perfect—of course not really perfect, as the problem of the Moorden fire and subsequent absence of the village’s men attested—but wasn’t that just the point? The primary problems in these people’s lives were an accidental fire and being short handed for afternoon chores. Not war, not tense diplomatic meetings, not absurd offers of armistice, not assassination attempts.
Just the simple, mundane problems of a simple, mundane life.
By comparison, it was perfect.
Not for the first time, Orienne contemplated resigning from her diplomatic position and leaving the capital for someplace like Sutton Village—Farindel boasted scores of such tiny, remote villages—since waiting for the war to end was proving in vain. But doing so would take her away from Allegar—Allegar, who had first committed himself as a soldier, and now dedicated his entire life to Farindel’s service as one of the Ransom. He was all the family she had left and she was loath to leave him for that reason, but it also felt so unfair, so selfish, to yearn so strongly for a life the war didn’t dictate, when he had accepted that role freely.
And now she was back in the place she had reasoned herself into so many times: that her only chance at a life free from war was to pray and hope for the war to end.
“Orienne, there you are!”
She stopped and pushed back the hood of her cloak as Allegar strode toward her across the fort’s courtyard, grinning.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he said.
“Is anything wrong?”
“Hardly!” He put one arm around her shoulders and gestured with his other hand at a second man coming towards them. “Will you look at what the wind blew through the gates while you were out?”
The approaching man was about Allegar’s age, though not quite as tall, with blond hair, blue-gray eyes, and facial features that were vaguely familiar—more and more familiar, the longer she looked at him. He wore civilian clothes, but the sword and scabbard on his belt were marked with the shield-and-wyvern insignia of the military.
His eyes widened when he looked at her. “Allegar, this cannot be Orienne.”
He knew her—but from where? Orienne wanted to study his face more closely, hoping to locate a memory of him, but was afraid to risk making eye contact lest her eyes betray the awkwardness she felt.
Allegar laughed and squeezed Orienne’s shoulders. “A bit different than last time, eh?”
“A bit?” The man laughed, blinking in disbelief. “That’s putting it mildly.”
Orienne nudged Allegar’s ribcage with her elbow, trying to signal that she had no idea who this person was, but he said nothing, so she did her best to smile politely in spite of the blush she felt crawling up her neck. No doubt her eyes were as pink as her face.
“Please, forgive me for staring—I’m just so taken aback! It is so good to see you again, Orienne!” the stranger said, extending his hand, palm-down.
Orienne rested her hand on top of his a bit uneasily. “Hello,” she said, meeting his eyes only briefly. His smile stirred something in her, something she’d felt before. Why couldn’t she remember his name?
After a moment’s pause, he withdrew his hand and chuckled. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Orienne cringed and forced herself to meet his eyes. “I know your face, but—I am so sorry—I have no name to put with it.”
The stranger glanced at Allegar, one side of his mouth tipped up in a mischievous smile. “Can I tell her now?”
Allegar leaned closer to Orienne and whispered: “Think Harrowby.”
Orienne shuffled through memories of the village where she and Allegar had grown up. Neighbors, relatives, friends… She gasped as the stranger suddenly fell into place among them. “Sorek Ronarres?”
He threw his head back. “Ha! You do remember!”
Remember? Orienne was shocked it had taken her so long to place him. She forced an uncomfortable laugh, trying in vain not to blush even more now that she realized who he was. “I—I can’t believe it, it must be…how many years?”
“Eleven, we figure,” Allegar said.
Eleven years ago Orienne was only twelve. Sorek was a lanky, awkward eighteen-year-old, Allegar’s best friend…and the sole object of Orienne’s girlish infatuation. Now, time had replaced his coltish gangliness with a mature, rugged physique and features. A healthy, well-maintained beard grew where before only thin, straggly wisps had struggled for existence, and his unbridled energy had settled into warm cheerfulness.
“You’ve…changed,” Orienne managed.
“I’ve changed?” Sorek laughed. “What about you? You were just a little girl when you two left Harrowby.”
Orienne groaned inwardly, remembering how she’d hung on everything Sorek said, the way her heart had fluttered every time he happened to glance her way…and the entire time she’d been nothing but “a little girl” in his eyes.