Excerpt from Under A Pale Moon

That evening at dinner, Leander slipped past Rojah on his way to the buffet to pour another glass of wine.

“Thank you for not betraying me — about what happened the other day, old man,” Leander confided while offering a disarming grin.

Rojah smiled, nodded to one of Lady Margret’s dinner guests. “I leave that to you, old man,” he replied, leaving Fleming wondering at the exact meaning of his words.

“You El Nath chaps excel at concealing your emotions.” Leander selected a decanter, yanked out the crystal stopper, and refilled his wineglass. “Are you interested in the beautiful Jonquil Deering for yourself?”

“I do not like to see a lady’s honor compromised or taken advantage of,” Rojah replied, continuing to flash a dimpled smile to the dinner guests. He glanced toward the two other men standing beside the buffet. They appeared involved in an amiable conversation concerning trade and the financial markets.

“I hear that you are a frequent guest of Adria Gittel,” Leander said.

Rojah nodded, the dining room was beginning to fill with the invited guests as they each found their assigned seats at the dining table.

“Are you aware of the situation between Lady Margret and Adria Gittel?” Leander continued, nodding and smiling at the guests who glanced toward them. He winked at a lady twittering behind her jade fan painted with gold floral motifs.

Rojah nodded, said, “I have been advised. Good evening, Madame Sterling, you are exceptionally lovely tonight.”

The San Bargellian grand matron beamed. “Master Fayerfield, you have an exceptionally flattering manner.” Madame Sterling laughed in her deep, loud voice. “You young men must be the two most handsome gentlemen in San Bargel. You must come to tea next week, Rojah, and you, Leander. Please bring your dear, sweet wife.” The grand matron swept along to her seat.

“Tea with Madame Sterling is a lesson in torturous boredom,” Leander muttered. “The lady is about as lovely as a stuffed sea otter — unlike Adria Gittel. You do not see either Adria or her daughter here tonight, do you, Fayerfield? I would be careful to whom you mention either of those two ladies, especially in this house.”

“If I visit Lady Gittel that is my personal business, Fleming, and no one else’s concern.”

“Lady?” Leander scoffed. “Adria Gittel is no lady. Be careful, old man. The crux of the matter is not to become caught between mother and daughter. Other men have done so and lived to regret it.”

Piqued by Leander’s remark, Rojah asked, “Other men? Was one of those men named Flaric Deering?”

Leander choked on the wine he sipped. Purple stains splattered his white shirt front. “Now, look what you have gone and made me do,” Leander grumbled. “My shirt is ruined thanks to your incessant curiosity. Heed my warning, old man. Be careful to whom you mention Flaric Deering’s name.”

Rojah caught Leander’s arm before Fleming could walk away. “Who is he?”

“Was — who was he. I suggest you go to 2205 Seacoast Drive. You will be able to satisfy your curiosity. Now, if you will excuse me? I must change my shirt.”

Leander strode away indignant over the wine that stained his shirt. He was almost offended, Rojah thought. It was the first true reaction Rojah had managed to evoke.

“2205 Seacoast Drive,” Rojah said, committing the address to memory.

“Oh, Rojah, here you are!” Margret laughed as she took his arm. “Master Pascale has arrived. I have seated you next to him during dinner.”

“Lady Perrywhite—”

“Captain Girard! I am delighted you accepted my dinner invitation.”

The uniformed officer bowed gallantly over Lady Perrywhite’s elegant hand glittering with diamonds. “The honor is mine, as a representative of King Edrick.”

“Captain Girard, have you met Rojah Fayerfield?”

The King’s officer extended his gloved hand to the younger man. Rojah immediately disliked the glint in the man’s jet eyes.

“No, I have not. Fayerfield is it? You have recently come from Fayerton, I believe. May I inquire as to what business brings you to San Bargel?”

“Officially or unofficially?” Rojah replied, smiling.

Captain Girard offered a tight lipped smile. “Unofficially, of course.”

Lady Perrywhite laughed. “Not tonight, gentlemen. Tonight my guests must enjoy the evening and nothing more. Please, no business or political conversations. Master Pascale, have you met Captain Girard?”

Rojah saw the same dislike flare in Pascale’s dark eyes before it was carefully shuttered.

“Yes, we have met,” Pascale said, and rather stiffly Rojah thought.

“I was a dinner guest at Master Pascale’s the other night,” Captain Girard replied.

“Indeed?” Lady Perrywhite said.

“As King Edrick’s representative I am often invited to many of San Bargel’s finest houses,” Captain Girard said.

“You must find endless dinner parties a boring duty, Captain Girard.” Golden said as she joined her mother, Rojah, and the two other men who had deserted the buffet and their conversation for Lady Perrywhite’s attention.

“Boring? Quite the contrary, Miss Perrywhite,” the King’s officer said. “Compared to my usual duties, I find the evenings spent dining with King Edrick’s loyal supporters among my more pleasant duties.”

Golden laughed and, taking the Captain’s arm, she led him to his seat at the table.

“This shall be one formal dinner I enjoy, Captain Girard. You must tell me about King Edrick’s court,” Golden said.

Golden Perrywhite’s vivacious charm seemed to enthrall the distinguished officer of the King’s Guard. Lady Perrywhite smiled, as if she had political ambitions of her own and that satisfaction gleamed in the depths of her brown eyes.

“Your daughter and the Captain are well suited to each other, Lady Perrywhite,” Pascale muttered.

“Why, Denarri, from the tone of your voice, you have some personal reservations toward the man,” Lady Perrywhite cooed.

“I dislike the arrogant officer. That is true. You should be on your guard with the man, Lady Perrywhite. The King’s representative is a well paid spy with political aspirations of his own.”

“So you would regard anyone who is a possible threat to your business interests, Denarri,” Lady Perrywhite said.

“And, to your interests as well, Lady Perrywhite. You will hear about it in the next few days, so I see no harm in telling you. Captain Girard recently informed me that King Edrick has ordered a complete audit of my entire financial establishment.”

Listening intently to the conversation, Rojah asked, “You, Master Pascale?”

Pascale blinked, as if by speaking Rojah reminded him of his presence. “Yes, along with several other financial institutions. In fact, any business having connections with foreigners is at risk. I say it is only a matter of time before Edrick helps himself to the Perrywhite fortunes to finance his eastern campaigns. You will be wise to consider sending your investments out of Cardolan and San Bargel and to a safer country beyond the reach of Edrick’s control, Lady Perrywhite. Your brother Mead in Fayerton would be a safe choice,” Pascale said, his voice low, confidential. “Do not ask me anymore about this matter. Saying as much as I have subjects me to an accusation of treason.”

“Yes, but only due to your choice of associations, Denarri. I speak, of course, of your longtime alliance and partnership.”

Pascale stiffened. “If you speak of Lady Gittel, I beg to differ on that opinion, Lady Perrywhite.”

Lady Perrywhite laughed and took Pascale’s arm much to Rojah’s astonishment after their disagreement. He understood the grand charade Lady Perrywhite played with her life and the lives of others — and the lure of power.

“An opinion over which we have always agreed to disagree without taking offense, Master Pascale,” Lady Perrywhite replied.

***

Intrigue. That was how the evening went, full of intrigue and innuendo. Perhaps it was due to the presence of the King’s representative, Rojah thought. He glanced down the long dining table to where Golden sat beside Captain Girard. Well mannered, gracious, the King’s officer lavished his complete attention upon Golden and several other ladies seated around him, including the overstuffed sea otter, Madame Sterling.

Rojah smiled and dipped his spoon into his curry soup that tasted of coconut and chicken. Beside him, Pascale laid aside his napkin and engaged him in conversation. “Adria tells me you are a frequent visitor, Rojah.”

Rojah glanced halfway down the table at Leander who was refilling his wineglass. No one enjoyed themselves more that evening than Leander. Hesper looked uncommonly pale and was quieter than her usual cheerful self.

“Yes,” Rojah answered. He gazed directly into Pascale’s black eyes. “Will you warn me about the harm I may be causing, sir?”

Pascale blinked. “Harm? I have seen far more good from your visits than harm, young man. These days Adria leads a reclusive life — for many reasons.” The dark gleam of Pascale’s eyes flickered toward their hostess reigning at the far end of the table. “For which I am grateful. You are aware of the lady’s fragile heart condition, Rojah?”

“Yes, sir,” Rojah replied, remembering an indignant face and raging sea green eyes.

“Good.”

“I find the lady fascinating as well as oddly familiar. Did you know she was born in El Nath, Master Pascale?” Rojah asked.

Pascale nodded and lifted his glass of wine to his lips. “Few are privileged with that knowledge, Rojah. I trust you are discreet. Adria guards her privacy and her past with fierce determination.”

“But she has spoken to you about her connection to El Nath.”

“No, she never has,” Pascale said. “Not even Jonquil knows as much as you do about the lady’s past, Rojah. Consider it an honor Lady Gittel trusts you enough to place her confidence in you.”

Rojah wanted to ask the San Bargellian financier more questions, but the lady to his left distracted him, engaging him in a trivial discussion of Sir Galan’s latest theatrical success of the star crossed lovers performed on a San Bargellian stage.

Denarri Pascale excused himself and left the dinner party soon afterward. The evening continued without his presence. Rojah was not as fortunate. Drawn from group to group among the lingering guests, it was almost midnight before he managed to slip away.

He had an early appointment the next morning at 2205 Seacoast Drive.

***

Excerpt from Under a Pale Moon, Book 5 in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series. Copyright 2019. Available on Amazon.com, September 2019!

Excerpt, Shadows and Substance, Book 6

Rojah’s gaze slid around the busy tavern. The hour was neither early nor late, but some time after supper and that part of the evening between being merely sober or completely smashed.

The Blue Swan’s usual patrons occupied the tables, chairs and benches and jostled for elbow space. Warbling male voices chortled in conversation; laughter boomed over the clank of wood and pewter ale mugs. In a corner space near the hearth, several men enjoyed a rousing game of dice. In the course of the last half-hour that Rojah had sat watching the game, several winners and losers had come and gone with no one in particular dominating the roll of the spinning dice.

Rojah’s restless gaze shifted from the knot of dice rollers to the smaller groups hurling darts at the Swan’s scarred game boards on the opposite side of the common room. Neither dice nor darts interested him ― no more than the card game going on in another corner of the tavern. A wandering minstrel strumming a gourd shaped lute, wandered through the patrons and accepted a mug of ale here and there for a song.

As he sipped from his second mug of Barleyman’s stout ale, Rojah did not feel all that sober, but not so drunk he could not tell what was more out of tune: the tone deaf musician or his battered instrument. If the musician kept up his singing and lute strumming for much longer, only a man drunk out of his senses could enjoy the music.

Arms braced on the table in from of him, Rojah’s restless gaze continued wandering from man to man, group to group. He did not look too long at any one person — no longer than the flicker of his eye sliding past. He did not make eye contact. He did not invite anyone to sit down in what had to be the tavern’s only remaining, unoccupied chair.

He waved the tone-deaf minstrel away when the long legged, shabby fellow ambled toward his table. Rojah shook his head, hiding a half curled smile when the scrawny, hungry looking musician abruptly whirled away, strumming out of tune chords and followed a harried tavern maid hefting a mug laden tray through the crowd.

The musician could not have been much older than himself ― undoubtedly a youth seeking adventure far away from home judging from the troubadour’s travel stained cloak, patched long vest, slouch hat sporting a ragged peacock’s feather, and scuffed boots looking as thin in the sole as the musician’s lean face.

Rojah knew most of the patrons who frequented the Blue Swan — all local villagers and tradesmen mingling with the occasional outsider from a nearby farming village. Those he did not recognize appeared to know each other. Few were strangers, other than the scrawny musician who had decided to settle for the moment in a nearby chimney corner, out of the way, his ear pressed against the body of his lute as he attempted to tune the instrument’s gut strings. Rojah caught the flash of shadowed eyes gleaming beneath a tumble of dark curls and the curled lip when the tuning key slipped.

The shift of Rojah’s gaze paused on two other strangers, who from their dangerous, scruffy appearance alone, had commandeered a nearby corner table and sent the previous occupants scattering into the crowd. The two strangers warded away any friendly attempts to join them. Both were outlanders. One wore his head shaved and a mercenary looking scar sliced his face from jowl to ear. The other was a shaggy haired, slightly smaller version of his companion. Gold coins slipped through their thick fingers, easier spent than earned no doubt, and neither caring too much with each mug of ale they drained while demanding more from whatever harried tavern maid had the misfortune to pass too close to their table.

From their fiendish appearance, Rojah did not care to speculate on the manner in which the two ruffians had earned their gold, not that either pair advertised whatever services they offered. Judging from the round bulge of their leather purses and the flash of gold slipping between their fingers, the two had rendered a valuable service, however dubious, to someone who had neither the scruples nor the morals to hire the two.

Someone like Noah Winterringer, Rojah guessed was their most likely patron. Few paid with leather pouches bulging with gold coins.

“San Bargellian gold! Ye know I can’t take San Bargellian gold. Who do ye think I am, a money lender?” squawked Tisane, the boldest of Barleyman’s tavern maids and a woman with a face bearable to look upon only in the kindest of a tavern’s smoke-dimmed lights or a drunken stupor. She displayed a true harlot’s ignorance of danger toward the two ruffians. The loud stroke of Tisane’s voice pierced the noisy din, but she did not protest too hard ― not when the more grizzly of the two fellows slipped a gold coin down the gaping front of her blouse and squeezed her breast, as if to add further incentive to take their gold.

“Why, I do believe ye are tryin’ to buy me.” Tisane grinned and winked, the matter as settled as the round bottom she plopped down upon the man’s thick knee and the shrill cascade of giggles that followed when thick fingers groped beneath the hem of Tisane’s ale stained skirt. Snarling lips snagged Tisane’s laughter in a half growled kiss.

Rojah’s gaze slid past the scene and caught the flicker of the musician’s wandering gaze curiously observing him while he observed the two strangers spending San Bargellian gold and groping Tisane.

Whenever the wind gusted through the tavern door opening to admit another customer seeking a warm spot out of the night, a mug of ale, or whatever entertainment the Blue Swan afforded that evening, Rojah shifted his gaze to the door. Among the four men who entered removing cloaks, jackets, and hats, and greeting friends and acquaintances, Rojah spotted Edan Drum. The San Bargellian’s copper hair gleamed in the lantern light, striking a bright spot among dun browns, gray, and black.

Rojah stood, cupped hands to mouth. “Drum, over here!” he shouted over the boisterous crowd. A wave of his hand snagged the physician’s roving gaze and brought Edan, weaving a path among the tables and throng, toward Rojah’s table. Along the way, he snagged a mug of ale from a tavern maid’s tray, while avoiding jostling elbows and nodding to those he knew. Joining Rojah at the corner table, Edan spared the musician lounging in the chimney corner a glance. He sat down in the unclaimed chair.

“Busy night.” Edan looked around the crowded tavern and grinned upon seeing Tisane squealing on an outlander’s knee. Edan turned away from the scene and focused his gaze upon Rojah. “What are you doing here? I thought you would be at the Hotel Swan enjoying the company of our latest San Bargellian visitors.”

“I am trying to avoid the attentions of a certain San Bargellian who seems to find me too fascinating for some odd reason that I find highly appalling,” Rojah grumbled. Much to his chagrin, heat flushed his cheeks.

Edan studied him from behind thoughtful eyes. Although the physician did not dare follow that particular subject any further, Rojah knew Edan had a good idea the San Bargellian he spoke of was Reece Rau.

“Where is Chaeran? Is he here or are you enjoying Barleyman’s ale alone tonight?” Edan asked instead.

Rojah shook his head, snorted before tipping his ale mug to his lips. “Chaeran rode north two days ago.”

Edan arched a copper eyebrow. “Rather late in the season to travel north.”

“That is not the half of it, Drum. Can you believe this? Chaeran told me some crazy story about Maybelle Flower being his mother and that taking the old woman north to meet Doriano was his reason for making the journey.”

A gut string clanged, broke and, with a ringing snap, jarred a breathy curse from the musician. Rojah glanced toward the chimney corner and the musician nursing a gut-string-whipped finger between his lips. The musician grimaced, shook his long, thin hand, and resumed tuning his lute.

“Maybelle Flower? Are you sure?”

“Chaeran is not exactly known for his sense of humor ― not when it comes to his mother. Apparently, Chaeran believes Maybelle Flower is his mother, although I personally do not believe the old woman is Jarutia Fayerfield any more than I believe the stranger in the chimney corner is an accomplished musician.” Rojah scowled toward the chimney corner.

Edan grinned. “I am inclined to agree with you ― about the young musician. So, have you told Jantz about Chaeran’s extraordinary claim? Your father would know his own sister, surely.”

“I have not seen my father. He has been busy and so have I.” Rojah pushed aside his ale mug and leaned forward. “Can you keep a secret?”

The corner of Edan’s mouth twitched in an effort to refrain from smiling. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing.”

“I hope you are not entertaining some absurd notion about any more midnight excursions. I thought your father warned you to stay away from Noah Winterringer.”

“This is not about Winterringer. At least, I do not think it is. No, someone came to me several days ago ― someone who may have information concerning Oanada’s abduction.”

Edan blinked. All traces of his previous amusement vanished. “What? Are you certain?”

“Keep your voice down. Why else do you think I have spent my nights here waiting to meet Flora Moss?”

“Flora Moss?” Edan narrowed his eyes. He tipped Rojah’s mug and peered into its liquid depths. “How much of Barleyman’s ale have you had to drink tonight?”

Rojah retrieved his mug from Edan’s inspection. “This is my second and I have never been more sober in my life, Edan. It is true, I swear! I do not think my sister’s abduction anything Flora would lie about. Why would she? Especially after the role she played helping Rena destroy my sister’s marriage. Those two used you and your own life was devastated.”

“You were not here at the time, Rojah.”

“Something has Flora frightened. She was nervous, jumpy about meeting me, and all but forced me to swear I would meet her.”

Edan scowled. “I imagine the girl has reason to be frightened, especially after what happened at Winterringer Hall the other night.”

Rojah sat back in his chair, frowned. “What happened?”

“You have not heard?”

“What?”

“I delivered Noelani’s baby.”

Rojah lurched to his feet. His chair scraped the wooden planks of the ale stained floor.

Edan grabbed Rojah’s wrist, hissed, “Sit down!”

Rojah sank back down into the chair. Through a daze, he heard the tuneless drift of the musician’s voice from the nearby chimney corner and the cutting edge of Edan’s crisp, but low voice.

“I dare say Flora Moss has every reason to be frightened and if you have any true affection for Noelani you will stay away from Winterringer Hall and Flora Moss, Rojah.”

“Is ― is Noelani all right?”

“Mother and daughter are doing fine.”

“Noelani has a daughter? What ― what happened?”

“I do not see how what goes on at Winterringer Hall is any of your concern, Rojah. Let us say, I do not believe Flora and Darcy will be continuing their affair under Noah’s roof. If Flora has any news for you about Oanada ― well, can you not see? It is probably another one of the girl’s schemes to pull you into her deception and draw attention away from Darcy and her, especially after everyone starts noticing the girl’s expanding waistline in the coming weeks.”

Rojah glared at the physician. “I am not that big a fool, Drum. Everyone knows about Flora and Darcy. How else do you think Rena was able to use Flora? Flora would do anything to keep Darcy.”

“Not everyone knows about Flora and Darcy. Noelani certainly did not know about her husband’s infidelity. How do you think she feels now that she does know? Better still, what do you think Noah will do? How convenient for Flora to play you as the father of her child — how much more convenient for Darcy. That is what the girl has planned for you, my friend. Having news about your sister is just a ruse.”

Rojah grabbed his ale mug and drained what remained of the tepid ale. He set the tankard down and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. With equal calmness, he stood and tossed two silver coins upon the table.

“Where are you going?”

“To see if Flora still plans to meet me.”

“Rojah, do not get caught up in the problems of others.”

“I do not intend to.”

***

https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Monroe/e/B008KACMBC?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1566064997&sr=1-1

 

 

Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time book series

 

Enjoy these books in the continuing Dynastic Saga, Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time

Written In Omen

Written in Omen, Book One
Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series

By E.A. Monroe

Set within a world that abounds in superstition, folklore, and the Star Folk of the Objishanda, Written in Omen weaves a story of love, intrigue, and a family curse.

Jarutia Fayerfield has three brothers and each brother has his own agenda. Martin, her oldest brother and their father’s heir, plots revenge for his father’s transgressions and schemes for control of the family. Her brother Keiron chases love wherever he finds it. Jarutia’s twin brother Jantz pursues answers to a mysterious gap in the history of a family that takes pride in loyalty and blood ties — no matter where the truth leads him, including possible betrayal of his family and beloved sister.

In defiance of Martin’s ambitious plans for her future, Jarutia desires the forbidden love of Doriano Drake, a man of the Objishanda, whose family secrets and ancestral memories threaten Jarutia’s happiness and Jantz’s life.

Will Jarutia win the love she craves, or will threats and fear for Jantz’s life force her into a loveless marriage to safeguard the family’s fortunes? Will Jantz discover the truth behind the family curse and seek his own destiny, or will life teach him lessons that will either break or harden his heart? Will Doriano Drake find true friendship and the love his mother promised? Not if Martin has his way!

Available as an eBook from Amazon.

 

VOW_1&2_Covers:WrittenInOmen_Covers

Fortune’s Hostage, Book Two
Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series

By E. A. Monroe

Book Two in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series, continues weaving a fascinating story of love, intrigue, ambition, and a family curse.

“Seize every opportunity and turn it to your advantage.” That is Martin Fayerfield’s motto. But, how far will Martin go to manipulate people, events, and circumstances to suit his ambitions?

Jarutia Fayerfield may have found love in Doriano Drake’s arms, but can she keep him or must she sacrifice all she holds dear — her hopes and dreams — to protect Doriano, their newborn son, and her twin brother, Jantz?

Who is the mysterious girl Jantz Fayerfield discovers wandering through the Abeytu? And, why has she placed daffodils upon the graves of Eolande and Cymbeline? When Jantz pursues her, will he find the answers he seeks and unravel long held secrets?

The struggle to break free of greed, prejudice, and the emotional tentacles woven in past lives, or in this one lifetime, threatens to overturn lives. Decisions are rendered and lies told, but for what price? For what price are Fayerfields, Tourneys, and Drakes willing to forfeit — or pay — for betrayal or happiness?

Or, are they all Fortune’s Hostage?

Available as an eBook from Amazon.

Cursed -- embedded cover

Cursed in Love, Book Three

Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series

By E.A. Monroe

Book three in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series, continues weaving a captivating story of love, intrigue, ambition, and a family curse.

Seven years ago, Jantz Fayerfield left his homeland on a quest to find Doriano Drake who is living among the Onega, the sea tribe of the Objishanda.

Adopted by the Onega and given the name Silveron Oktalonli, Jantz has known a peaceful life of simple contentment — until the arrival of Doriano’s kinsmen and their unexpected news from Doriano’s father.

Doriano’s revelation of a long kept family secret turns Jantz’s life upside down and brings him home as the Western stranger named Silveron Oktalonli.

Upon his arrival in his homeland, what will he find?

As Silveron, is Jantz prepared to confront his past and resume a turbulent life fraught with his older brother Martin’s ambitious maneuverings and hazardous kinsmen? Does anything of his past remain for him? Do the loved ones he left behind even wonder if he is still alive? Or do they mourn him among the dead, his grave as empty as his sister Jarutia’s grave — nothing more than a headstone scoured by time and nature’s elements?

And what of his family’s curse? Will he become another unfortunate victim, one more Fayerfield cursed in love?

Discover the secret that brings Jantz Fayerfield home as Silveron Oktalonli in Cursed in Love, Book Three of the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series.

Available as an eBook from Amazon.

 

VOW_4_Covers:WrittenInOmen_Covers

Pale Imitations, Book Four

Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series

By E.A. Monroe

Who is the mysterious lady behind the veil?

From ash and char, she arises — the woman once known as Bethana Tourney.

In the tropical city of San Bargel, Bethana Tourney creates a new life and new identity for herself far removed from her past and the people who once knew and loved her, and mourn her death. She forsakes everyone, except her faithful servants Fiona Galvin and Fiona’s son Bryce. She swears them to secrecy for the sake of her newborn daughter, Jonquil.

As Adria Gittel, she moves freely through San Bargellian society and becomes a successful business woman in partnership with Denarri Pascale, her deceased brother Anton’s former business partner.

Follow the woman once known as Bethana Tourney as Adria forges a new life for herself, finds a new love, and raises a daughter who grows into a beautiful young lady. When her daughter Jonquil begins to ask, “Who is my father?” Adria cannot answer, for fear of exposing her secrets and past.

Adria lives life on the edge, always fearful that someone from Bethana Tourney’s past will recognize and betray her. How long can she safeguard her secret? What will be the ultimate cost she is willing to risk? Will she risk the love and trust of her beloved daughter, Jonquil?

Find out in Pale Imitations, Book Four in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series!

Available as an eBook from Amazon.

 

Book 5 ~ Chapter One

~ Chapter 1 ~

Although San Bargel’s magnificence and beauty overwhelmed, Rojah Fayerfield decided he could never live in paradise. The stunning city’s class structures were too different from the simple, social hierarchies he knew and understood in his homeland. The striking, dark-skinned people, the scent of flowers and spice, and visual treats astonished him, assaulted his senses, a lush banquet table laid out before him.

Set behind massive seawalls and sprawling along the Cardolan coast with its busy port harbor protected by barrier islands, San Bargel’s beauty surpassed belief. The glistening white city, its buildings cast against the sharp clarity of a cerulean sky and the aquamarine sea lapping at the shoreline was almost spiritual in its intensity of color. He had never seen such vibrant colors before, and the brilliance made him squint and his eyes hurt, and grateful for the blue tinted sunglasses his father had tucked into his jacket pocket, saying, “You will need these to protect your eyes, son.”

The beach house Rojah leased upon his arrival from Tideover Bay aboard the Zephyr was located outside the city walls and situated along a costal strand of sand dunes overlooking the clear turquoise water and white sand beaches. Moist trade winds streamed across the inlet of the bay where white winged gulls soared and shrieked and incoming waves lapped at the shore.

In the early evenings, Rojah often walked barefoot along the beach, seeking time for meditation and a contemplative moment of silence to relax his overloaded senses. Despite his whirl of social engagements, introductions, and sightseeing tours since his arrival, he missed his home and family. His loved ones were too far away and longer still for the sending and delivery of letters and messages.

To Rojah it seemed he walked in another time and space, yet the azure eyes that gazed back at him from the reflection in his shaving mirror, proclaimed otherwise. He was the same youth he had been when he set out on the journey that brought him to the fascinating city of San Bargel with its glamorous, celebrated splendors and glorious wonders.

Yes, he was the same Rojah Fayerfield, yet since the beginning of his journey last spring, he felt the growing changes within himself. Was this the passage from boyhood to manhood? Or was the feeling no more than the keen ache of homesickness for his family and friends, for the familiar over the strange allure of the unknown, for the trusted and true?

As he walked along the beach enjoying his solitude, Rojah gave serious thought to everything that came to mind during his busy day spent within San Bargel’s city walls and among San Bargellian society. Strolling along the beach had become his evening ritual, for his own peace of mind.

Even then, enjoying the sunset and respite of solitude, he was not free from the noises of the vibrant city across the bay or the teeming seaport where ships’ hulls rode deep in the water, laden with riches and goods from foreign ports he knew only from names on a map. Once the merchant ships docked and the contents of their holds unloaded, market vendors, merchants, and private citizens viewed and purchased the ships’ rich cargoes. Most of the payload went on the auctioneers’ block, along with whatever remained after the sale of precious human commodities.

Slavery was not something he could accept or become accustomed to seeing, despite San Bargel’s social and class hierarchies. Uneasy of spirit, Rojah sensed and could not ignore the hidden, underlying layers of corruption hewn from the toil of human lives upon which the city and its people prospered, free man, bondservant, and slave alike.

That evening his teeming thoughts interfered with the inner tranquility he sought — the ceaseless life and constant activity of San Bargel and its million people was a constant ocean wave crashing against him.

He walked, digging his toes into the warm, white sand, his trouser legs rolled up to his knees. Often he bent and retrieved an unusual seashell the tide had washed ashore. After brushing off the sand and examining the seashell, he tucked it into the pocket of his trousers, another souvenir to take home to his mother and sisters. Living starfish and sea creatures stranded by the tide, he tossed back into the sea. When not examining a tide pool or walking, he sat upon the hummock of a sand dune among the silver tusked sea grasses and watched the setting sun sink into the fiery, living depths of the ocean.

He reflected upon his busy day, the people he had met, the interesting faces he had seen, and he thought about Noelani Winterringer-Oldroyd. Although he had pushed Noelani from his mind after her marriage to Darcy Oldroyd, his childhood sweetheart was not easily forgotten. Noelani’s sweet face crept unbidden into his mind. He was more determined than ever to discover the business connections that linked Noelani’s father Noah Winterringer to Lord Erebus, a San Bargellian merchant whose caravans traveled and traded among the remote villages of his homeland, the Mikuyi tribes, and other outlanders who inhabited El Nath.

He felt a keen loss not knowing what was happening in Fayerton and with his family during his absence. His familial bonds were strong, forged in love.

He was homesick.

As he watched the sun set upon his wandering contemplations, he saw it — for one incredible, unbelievable instance. Rojah blinked. The rare green flash was a real, physical phenomenon. He recalled the stories Mead Worthington had told to him and his siblings and a part of him wondered what precipitous event his green flash sighting portended.

“I met someone who completely changed my whole life and brought me to El Nath the day after I saw the green flash.” Mead often said in answer to the eager clamor of Oanada and his own questions to hear stories about their parents. The green flash was Mead’s favorite story and they all knew the one who had changed Mead’s life was Bethana Tourney although Mead claimed the one was actually their father’s sister, Jarutia Fayerfield.

Their mother always steered them away from the subject. As children, they were easily diverted and sent off to play. Rojah smiled at the memory.

Too soon, the daylight faded, settled into the ultramarine of night. He lay back against the sand, his fingers linked, cradling his head in his hands, and gazed up at the tropical star constellations. The pricks of starlight shone in different positions from where he knew the constellations should have been. In the northwest the faithful star of the Objishanda rose. The steadfast star shone clear and brilliant above the horizon of the world and brought his heart closer to home. He enjoyed a rare reflective mood that night as he gazed into the wheeling star sparks.

At Lilienfields, it was the time of star opening — early twilight. He had only to close his eyes to bring the images of Riverstone close and hear the musical voices within his father’s house — Oanada and Karanna laughing, his mother singing, the trill of Zalan’s flute, and the deeper voices of his father and his father’s friends, Worthington and Jora Wirt, conversing about their day, the weather, or upcoming events.

***

Rojah started awake. He had plummeted into sleep, stargazing and drifting among his memories of home and family.

The night was still, clear. Moonlight foamed on the surge of the incoming tide, yet a distinct noise had awakened him. Rojah sat up, straining to hear beyond the surf’s steady wash.

Yes, there! He scanned the retreating waves rolling away from the shore’s edge. There! He spotted a bedraggled body lying in tangles of seaweed, foam and sand, washed ashore by the strong force of the incoming tide.

His strangled cry erupted. He lurched to his feet and ran, stumbling down the grassy tussock of the sand dune toward the dark mass. He was not one given to panic. He acted from sheer instinct, from whatever strength made him Rojah Fayerfield and no other man — not even his father, or his brother Zalan, or his cousin Chaeran. Heart pounding, he panted for air, lungs aching as he fell to his hands and knees beside the creature the sea had washed ashore.

He clasped a limp arm and carefully turned the drowned creature over in the wet sand. Seaweed clung to naked, honey gold skin. His heart wrenched. What desperate act had driven this poor soul to seek death in the sea?

A glimmer of moonlight revealed the face — a woman! He brushed the straggling seaweed from her face and throat.

How still she lay! He felt for a pulse. Pressing his cheek closer to her mouth and nostrils, he listened for a breath that was not drawn. Lifeless! Yet, touching her wet flesh, he could feel the lingering pulse of life.

Rojah tilted her head back. He parted her cold lips, pinched her nostrils closed, and pressed his mouth against her mouth. He forced his breath into her water clogged lungs.

“Breathe! Breathe, damn you! I will not have your death on my conscience!” Rojah shouted. “Breathe! I beg you. Breathe — by the Great Ones — breathe!”

He did what he had seen his father do the summer a child fell into the Sun River and was thought drowned. He breathed his breath into her lungs. He pulled her arms up and, rolling her over on her stomach, he pressed his hands downward along her spine, pulled her arms upward, and pushed down along her spine, repeating the motion countless times. Tirelessly he worked for what seemed an eternity. Then, a violent cough and sputter, she choked and seawater flushed from her lungs. She gasped for a living breath, groaned.

Alive!

Rojah scowled, angered and bewildered. She was too young and beautiful to crave the bitterness of an early death. Tears stung his eyes. He lifted his head and gazed toward San Bargel across the bay. What could have driven such a young life to seek her death in the sea?

Nostrils flaring, Rojah caught his breath, calmed himself. He gazed down upon the sea drenched face and gently brushed aside the clinging tangles of wet hair and seaweed. Beneath his fingertips, the flutter of a pulse throbbed in her throat. His eyes traced the rising swells of her breasts. Yes, she breathed again.

Rojah removed his shirt and wrapped the homespun tunic around her nakedness. Not a shred of her clothing remained, nor jewelry, nor shoes. It was as if she was born from the ocean, birthed upon the beach from the ocean’s watery depths, perhaps a mermaid in human form.

Rojah picked her up and carried her into his nearby cottage. He dried her, clothed her in one of his clean tunics, and laid her within the cool linen sheets of his bed. Then he settled into an armchair to keep a watchful vigil upon the sleeping sea nymph.

Who was she?

He glimpsed something familiar in the repose of her features. He had seen her before. Yes, of course! She was the young woman at the theater who had approached him, mistaking him for someone else. What was the name she had uttered? He could not remember.

Within the bed, she stirred as if she dreamed. What did she dream? He leaned forward in his chair, elbows braced on his knees, his chin resting upon his clasped fingers. She riveted his attention. Each flinch of her eyebrows, each rapid movement of her eyelids, each breath she drew.

What did she dream? He wished he possessed his mother’s gift of the Objishanda. His mother could read a sleeping person’s dreams, slipping into another’s stream of consciousness with the ease of flowing water.

Excerpt from Under a Pale Moon, Book 5 in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series, copyright 2018, E.A. Monroe, Monroe Media

Excerpt, Shadows and Substance, Book 6

~ Chapter 56 ~

Rojah dispatched the post he had received from the Zephyr to his father. He scribbled a hasty note and slipped the hired messenger an extra coin to ensure delivery to Lilienfields; from Lilienfields, his father would see that Belladonna’s packet of letters was sent on to Chaeran at Bethhaven, as well as Worthington’s letters to Jonquil. Rojah grinned at the thought of his cousin reading Belladonna’s letters ― if Chaeran could stand breathing the heady perfume that doused the expensive pastel paper. Not even a three-month sea voyage of salt and brine had managed to subdue the potent fragrance of the San Bargellian perfume Belladonna had discovered and adopted for her personal use.

Rojah paid Gray Sirine’s stable care for one more day, as well as another night’s lodging for his room at the Tidewater Inn. After his curious, midnight prowl in Noah Winterringer’s warehouse, Rojah had decided to spend an extra day in Tideover Bay. As long as Noah remained in the village, keeping an eye on the man was worth the extra time spent, and whatever he learned certainly worth the effort.

The discovery he had made the night before of the Cloisters’ wine labels, along with the unlabeled bottles of wine, and the packets of white powder, weighed on his mind. What is Noah scheming now? he wondered. He worried what those plans would mean to Jonquil. After all, she was the key to the Cloisters ― the only key and reason to worry as far as he was concerned, which added to his determination.

Setting a snare for Noah Winterringer was all but impossible. How did a younger man, possessing limited experience, challenge a man who wore the advantage of a well honed, shrewd cunning? Rojah did not intend to provide Noah any amusement that was certain to come at his own expense. Nor did he intend to confront Noah on the public streets of Tideover Bay. He hoped to avoid Noah, if such an encounter was possible in a village as small as Tideover where every stranger’s presence became known within the hour. Doubtless, Noah Winterringer had already learned about his arrival.

The village streets, deserted at any other time during a normal day when the local fishing vessels put out to sea, were crowded with the typical assortment of market day folks. Many came to barter and trade; others came to see the San Bargellian merchant ship the Zephyr and marvel at the unusual wares being unloaded, tagged and tallied, loaded into wagons, and sent inland to the various other markets in White Horse and Fayerton. A portion of the Southern cargo would end up being sold, bartered or traded to traveling merchants whose routes carried the merchandise further inland to the remoter villages, and on rare occasion as far as the northern holdouts of the Mikuyi. Rojah knew his Uncle Kieron had been working to bring trade to Wolfdale, and there were other men eager to open the trade routes, his father and Worthington included. Upon Worthington’s return, Rojah hoped to be among those who brought the world to the remoter outskirts of El Nath.

Rojah had his reasons for hanging around the Zephyr and watching the unloading of the cargo. He mingled with the crowd of men, women, and children who also watched and marveled at the huge wood and rope cranes and hoists that unloaded enormous bales and wooden crates of goods from San Bargel. He mentally noted the different wagons from Fayerton and White Horse and what the merchants bought, sold, traded, and shipped out in their cargoes to the Southern markets. He walked past stacks of crates that bore familiar labels from Wellborn’s textile houses and mills, Stark’s glass and ironworks, along with various other local products from Fayerton’s merchants and craft guilds.

Wealth beyond a single man’s imagining stood on the docks of Tideover Bay waiting to be transported a world away ― a world few in El Nath could imagine, having never seen a tropical sunset, or the brown skinned San Bargellians and their wonderful, dazzling white city that defied description. How could they when the only thing most folk had ever known was the soil of El Nath?

Rojah strolled among the small, enclosed pens and wood slatted crates of domestic animals also being readied for transport. He counted the numbers and kinds ― chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, a few specialty bred cattle, as well as horses. He was not surprised to find Duncan of White Horse’s brand on many of the horses, or Duncan himself standing in the midst of a corral fenced paddock.

Rojah stepped up on a lower fence rung for a clear view of the proceedings. He watched the horse handlers and the sweat-lathered Duncan work the nervous herd of about a dozen, unbranded horses. The horse handlers had managed to cut out one particular roan stallion from the band that wheeled around the circumference of the paddock and sought escape from their confinement. When the charging band of snorting, bucking horses streamed through the only available opening in the fence, several of the men swung the gate closed behind the escaping horses. The roan stallion reared before the closed gate, cut off from the rest of the stampeding herd. At Duncan’s shout, coiled lengths of rope flew from the surrounding handlers and snared the infuriated stallion as the beast wheeled away.

Roped, but not subdued, the high-strung roan eluded the braver handlers who tried to approach with saddle and halter. Now that Duncan had caught the surly beast, the stallion made its anger and displeasure known, kicking, snorting, biting, lashing out with both front and back hooves at anyone unfortunate enough, or stupid enough, to think they could control the beast and bring him to harness.

Rojah looked away from the dust-swirling activity within the paddock and searched for Thora among the nearby crowd of onlookers. He did not spot her, or her delightful daughter, enjoying the amusing scene of a horse displaying more wits than the men possessed who attempted to break its wild streak. He knew Duncan had never bred such a creature but had captured the stallion and the other horses from one of the many wild herds that roamed El Nath’s downlands. Duncan had stolen the majority of his breeding stock from the wild herds.

In the space of time that Rojah had looked away from the activity in the paddock, one of the inept handlers had managed to have his foot and leg trampled by the stallion. As Duncan shouted and raved, half a dozen men jumped over the fence and dragged the screaming, cursing man from beneath the beast’s hooves before the stallion trampled the unfortunate man to death. Two other handlers jumped to secure the downed man’s place on the loose rope that whipped through the dust.

“Ye’d be better off puttin’ the beast down, Duncan!” someone shouted from among the spectators lined up along the paddock fence.

“Ya aimin’ to ride the crazy beast, Duncan!” another hooted.

Duncan brandished the coiled loop of his whip. The meaty bulge of his sweaty arms gleamed in the sunlight. “I’ll ride the damn beast or die tryin’!” he shouted back, black eyes scouring the onlookers.

“Why not put the stallion to stud and breed him to your mares, Duncan? You will never break him, man,” Rojah called adding his voice to the chortles.

The sweep of Duncan’s black eyes found Rojah in the crowd.

“Is that what ye’d do, Fayerfield?” Duncan retorted and struck the coil of his whip against his leather clad thigh. “Ye should know about breedin’ mares ― a fine stud like yerself, man!”

That brought a chorus of oafish laughter from along the fence.

“You managed to catch a fine horse, Duncan. What purpose would it serve breaking the stallion and killing a dozen good men in the effort?” Rojah ignored the whispers in the crowd behind him and focused his attention upon Duncan.

“It’d serve my pride, Fayerfield, to tame this beast to my will. I’ll wager ye, man, if I cannot keep this bit of horse flesh between my legs, ye could do no better.”

Rojah grinned, shook his head. “I am not a fool, Duncan. I do not believe I want to have my neck broken today or any other day for that matter.”

“What’s wrong, Fayerfield? Too worried my horse here will unseat ye? Mess up yer pretty face? Come on, man, where’s your sense of sport?” Duncan jeered, brows raised, challenging.

Rojah glanced at the onlookers up and down the fence on either side of him. They had sided with Duncan and several were pooling their hard earned coins into a battered, brown felt hat that one scraggly bearded fellow passed around.

A group of fashionably dressed sightseers, who joined the crowd to see what the commotion was about, had drawn an equal amount of curious stares with their San Bargellian finery and urbane manners. The group of San Bargellians, lately arrived aboard the Zephyr, murmured to their companions, shook their heads, and looked appalled at the rough sport of men and beasts. One of the newcomers, clearly fascinated by the local spectacle, pulled out a thick wad of San Bargellian currency.

“I will stake the fellow with the yellow hair,” the San Bargellian called. He dropped his money into the sweat stained hat.

“Ye’ll be losin’ a bundle, sir.” The old man collecting the wagers revealed a toothless grin and cackled. “But then maybe not. Young Fayerfield’s capable enough but he lacks Duncan’s brawn.”

Hanging onto the upper rail of the wooden fence as he exchanged barbs with Duncan, Rojah caught the flash of the San Bargellian’s discrete glance aimed in his direction.

“Fayerfield, did you say?” the San Bargellian inquired, lifting his voice above the swelling cacophony of the surrounding crowd that parted in a curious murmur to let the group of San Bargellians closer to the fence where Rojah stood on one of the wooden rungs.

“The old man’s right, Reece, the young fool will break his neck,” commented another elegant peacock, garbed in a sapphire silk jacket, snug-fitting yellow brocade trousers, white silk stockings, and embroidered, pointy-toed slippers. The group of San Bargellians all wore tall, wide brimmed hats plumed with jaunty feathers dyed to match their colorful clothing.

The taller, elegant San Bargellian laughed, and with a manicured hand, waved aside his companion’s worry. “It is only money and I mean to enjoy my visit to this backwater country since Edrick hardly gave us any other choice. Besides, I find the young man rather amusing. He is certainly attractive, do you agree, Armon?”

The one named Armon sniffed and lifted a lace trimmed handkerchief to his offended nose. “Whatever you say, Reece, but I wonder ― this animal stench will surely kill me if all this dirt and filth does not.”

“What do ye say, Fayerfield! Care to show one and all what yer made of, man?” Strolling around the paddock, Duncan grinned. He flexed his arm and chest muscles in a show of strength and encouraged the men along the fence who shouted, waved, and slapped Rojah on the back.

“Come on, Fayerfield!”

“Take Duncan’s money!”

Glancing around at the crowd the commotion had attracted, and avoiding the curious stares from the San Bargellians, especially the tall one who leaned on the fence next to him, Rojah considered the wager. What choice did he have, other than keeping his mouth shut and minding his own business? Other than jumping over the fence, riding the stallion, and getting his damn neck broken? Other than walking away and being branded a coward by louts like Duncan of White Horse?

“Come on, Fayerfield!” Duncan laughed. “Show us the stuff yer made of, man! There’s not a day, ye can’t beat Duncan of White Horse, and if by chance ye do, then I’ll give ye the damn beast and ye can put him to stud for yerself ― breed him to all the mares the beast can mount.”

Rojah tightened his jaw. So much for keeping a low profile on the streets of Tideover Bay. Shoving aside his misgivings, he climbed the fence and swung his leg over the top rung. A chorus of boisterous cheers rang out; the stallion snickered, pranced and snorted; men sweated but none appeared to sweat as much as Duncan of White Horse. Sweat dripped off the man’s face.

“All right, man. I accept. I hope we both do not live to regret this crazy wager,” Rojah said. His gaze flickered over the crowd that hung onto the fence and perched upon the top rail, cheering and waving along with old Hersh and his battered hat stuffed with coins and bills. The overdressed, out of place Southern foreigners, their handkerchiefs fluttering to keep away the flies, looked on with dread and fascination, if not boredom.

Duncan nodded, tossed his coiled whip to one of his handlers, and flexed his arm. “Hersh! Toss a coin and see who rides first. Heads, I go ― tails ye go first, Fayerfield.”

The San Bargellian gold coin Hersh fished out of his hat and tossed into the air, flashed in the sun, then tumbled and spun earthward to land in the dust.

Hersh grinned. His head snapped up. “Heads! Yer first, Duncan.”

“Damned Fayerfield luck!” Duncan muttered, swearing oaths as ripe as the clods of horse dung that littered the ground.

Rojah laughed. “Care to reconsider the matter, Duncan?”

Duncan scowled. He turned and shouted at his handlers. “Get that damn beast in the loading chute. We will see who stays mounted and who goes flying over the fence!”

That man was not Duncan of White Horse. Although he did give a good show of bravado before he hit the dust and waved off the handlers who rushed to pick him up and dust him off. He winced and, rolling a thick shoulder, grinned at the cheering crowd, his teeth flashing white in his dirty, sweat streaked face.

“Yer turn, Fayerfield. I got the beast warmed up for ye!” Duncan hooted.

Rojah scowled as a swarm of handlers hastily maneuvered the snorting, bucking stallion into the narrow confines of the makeshift loading chute. Offering a silent prayer to the Great Ones in this foolhardiest of moments, Rojah walked across the paddock and climbed the chute fence. He stared down as the protesting stallion kicked, bucked, reared, and gnashed teeth at both wooden fence and human flesh.

“Ready, Fayerfield?” one of the handlers shouted above the commotion of the enraged stallion. Wood splintered and cracked.

Rojah swallowed. This is madness, he thought, deafened by the cheers and shouts of the onlookers, the curses of the swearing handlers, and the horse below snorting and screaming in protest.

Easing down into the chute, Rojah mounted. The horse crashed into the narrow fence that confined him. Rojah grabbed the rope halter and secured his grip. He clamped his thighs and knees tight against the stallion’s heaving sides. He nodded at the handler. The gate swung open.

The rearing stallion blew out of the chute.

Every bone in Rojah’s body jarred loose each time the stallion bucked and reared and came down hard. He rocked, swung; he clung to the horse for what seemed like an eternity. The next thing Rojah knew, he lay flat on his back, pressed against the ground, his lungs sucking in air. Black spots danced before his eyes.

Duncan of White Horse peered down at him. “Ye still alive, Fayerfield?”

The crowd along the fence had gone silent except for the handlers, swearing and cursing, and one ragged, snorting stallion standing on the far side of the paddock, head hanging and sides heaving for air.

“Ye rode the wind out of the damn beast, man!” Duncan laughed and extended a broad, callused hand. “But ’tis hard to say who stayed mounted the longest. Old Hersh ain’t such a good counter, especially when he gets excited.”

Rojah managed to peel himself from the ground and sat up, but not without a grimace and feeling a few aches and bruises that had not existed before he had climbed onto the stallion’s back. Tasting blood, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

“Eh, looks like ye got yerself a busted lip, man, and a few bruises but nothin’ damaged that pretty face of yers. More’s the pity, man. Can ye stand?”

Taking Duncan’s offered hand, Rojah staggered to his feet. The paddock spun around him but he managed to keep his balance.

The crowd of onlookers roared their approval and immediately demanded to know who had won the wager. Some shouted Duncan of White Horse; others swore Rojah Fayerfield. Punches flew, fists bruised and bloodied faces in the brief scuffle that followed.

“Hey, look there!” Hersh cackled. “That San Bargellian fellow’s fainted dead away. Couldn’t take the sight of seein’ yer blood, Fayerfield.”

Rojah grinned and gingerly touched his split lip. “At least my neck is not broken.”

Duncan laughed. “Ye’ll probably wish it had been when yer daddy hears how ye’ve been conductin’ yerself.”

Rojah grimaced, grinning hurt too much. “I do not even want to think about my father right now. What do you say, Hersh? Who stay mounted the longest?”

Old Hersh eyed his hat full of money and, squinting up his leathery face, he scratched his dirt-caked neck. “Well now, I cannot say exactly who stayed on longest. Seems like the count was about even, so I’d say it was a draw.”

“What about our money!” someone shouted. Several others, nursing bloodied noses and swollen fingers joined the demand.

Duncan raised his muscular arm and turned to the crowd. “Since it seems the only loser here is that damn beast, I say let’s all go over to the Bouncing Woman. Drinks for everyone! What do ye say, Fayerfield?”

“I say―” Rojah hesitated. He glanced at the prostrate San Bargellian sprawled in the dust a few feet away.

“Yeah, man?” Duncan peered at Rojah.

“I say rouse the San Bargellian who fainted dead away on my account and welcome the Southern foreigners with hearty El Nath ale!” Rojah laughed. A stout blow of Duncan’s broad hand against his back almost sent Rojah reeling face down into the dust with the unconscious San Bargellian.

“Yer a good sport, Fayerfield. As much as I hate ye ― because of Thora and the girl and all ― I gotta like ye, especially if ye can drink as well as ye can ride a wild bronc. What do ye say? Care to wager who can consume the greater quantity of ale, man?”

***

A dipper of cold water splashed in his face, and the San Bargellian lying prostrate on the ground, his feather plumed hat crumpled beneath him, woke sputtering, and gazing up, squinted his gold-lashed eyes against the dazzling sunlight.

“Flaric? Flaric ― is that you?” The whispered named escaped the San Bargellian’s lips in a murmur of awe.

Rojah stepped back. “Afraid you made a mistake, mister.”

“Come on, Fayerfield. The San Bargellian’s alive. They can join us over at the tavern if they ain’t too grand for El Nath ale!” Duncan clapped his arm around Rojah’s shoulders and pulled him away from the dazed San Bargellian.

Scowling, Rojah glanced back over his shoulder at the San Bargellian. Several of his companions helped him stagger to his feet and were trying to dust him off with their crumpled handkerchiefs. That was not the first time someone had called him by a dead man’s name, and the chilling sensation that crawled up Rojah’s spine felt as unnerving as the words he heard the man utter to his companions.

“Did you see him, Armon? He’s beautiful ― almost as beautiful as―” The stunned San Bargellian caught himself and blinked, as if trying to focus his eyes.

“Careful, Reece―” The one named Armon shook his head over his friend’s disheveled state of dress and mind.

“These El Nath fellows are a curious lot. Suddenly, I find myself incredibly thirsty and lightheaded. Do you think El Nath ale is as potent as San Bargellian wine?”

“Shall we find out?”

A moment later, Rojah lost sight of the group of San Bargellians and, laughing, he forced the disturbing feeling out of his mind and followed Duncan, Hersh, and a crowd of thirsty men into the cool dimness of the Bouncing Woman, where round after round of cold ale waited.

____________

This was one of my favorite chapters to write. I once worked designing and laying out a magazine called “ProWorld Rodeo,” and I guess after working too long on one issue, with an editorial titled, “Blowin’ out the Chute,” this scene came out of me. 🙂

 

Note: This is not a Western story.