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.

Excerpt ~ Chapter 21, Book 5

~ Chapter 21~

Adria Gittel did not admonish Rojah for declining several of her previous invitations as he expected she would. Instead, she welcomed him.

“Rojah, how good of you to come,” Adria said. “Denarri tells me that you have been quite the busy young man. I do hope you have not encountered too many difficulties during the completion of your father’s business?”

“Thank you, Lady Gittel. Everyone has been more than helpful,” Rojah said, taking the chair Adria offered.

“Does this mean you are leaving us soon?”

“My ship does not sail for two more months, Lady Gittel.”

Adria laughed softly. “Of course, how forgetful I am. Winter brings snow in El Nath and is hardly the time for traveling. I believe that is what I have missed the most — the cold of winter and the warmth of a cozy fire in the hearth. Continuous summer wears away one’s memories — everything blurs indistinctly into a tropical timelessness. How much easier it is to mark the events of life by each season’s vintage.”

Vintage? Did she say vintage? Rojah was quick to catch the odd phrase. Yes, she had said vintage, of that he was certain even though he was only half listening and thinking instead of having seen Captain Girard and Jonquil together earlier.

“Will your daughter join us today, Lady Gittel?” Rojah asked.

A slight pucker appeared between Adria’s delicate copper eyebrows.

“I saw Jonquil earlier this morning with Captain Girard,” Rojah continued.

“I hardly approve of my daughter’s choice of friends,” Adria replied.

“If you disapprove, then why?”

“My daughter rarely heeds my advice. Jonquil and I are too much alike. As a child, she rarely approved of many of my choices of friends — except for Sir Crispin. Jonquil worshipped Crispin as if he were her own father,” Adria said and then she quickly smiled and reached for the teapot to fill the waiting teacups. “But come! Let us talk about you, Rojah. You know my fondness for your El Nath wine especially the wine vinted at the Cloisters. I would love to hear more about the vineyards and how the wine is made. Is the vineyard still held by the Tourney family?”

“Tourney?” Rojah watched the steadiness of Adria’s slender hands as she filled the two white teacups upon the silver tray and set the teapot down. Steam rose in white whorls from the cups. “The Tourney family has not controlled the Cloisters for many years, Lady Gittel.”

“May I ask who oversees the vineyards?”

“My cousin — Chaeran,” Rojah replied.

Adria’s spoon rattled against the side of the porcelain teacup that visibly trembled in her hand and clattered upon the saucer she held.

“You cousin, Chae—” Adria hesitated upon the name’s pronunciation — or perhaps it was more her hesitancy to voice the name aloud.

“Chaeran,” Rojah said, repeating the name.

Adria briefly closed her eyes as if to steady herself. Rojah half rose from his chair wondering if she was feeling faint.

“Lady Gittel? Are you well?”

“I am fine — fine!” She laughed softly and waved aside Rojah’s concern. “It is a momentary weakness, which comes and goes. Please, tell me more, Rojah. How did your cousin — Chaeran — gain control of the Cloisters? Are there no Tourney relatives?”

Rojah smiled, picked up the waiting teacup and saucer and settled back into his chair. “If there were any more Tourney relatives claiming legal rights to the Cloisters and its vineyards, there would not be enough land to parcel off among them all, Lady Gittel.”

“Surely the Cloisters has not been parceled? The vineyard has been left whole? Surely, Jantz would not allow the land to be divided among a greedy lot of relatives eager to stake their claim since—” Adria paused.

A scowl tugged at Rojah’s eyebrows. What had she been about to say? “My father has done everything within his power, along with the Village Council and Mead Worthington, to keep the vineyards and estate intact despite the yearly petitions.”

“Petitions?”

“The petitions to deny Chaeran’s rightful claim which Anton Tourney’s will entitled him,” Rojah explained.

“Anton, ah, yes. I remember Anton Tourney and his sister,” Adria murmured. “Anton married—”

“My father’s sister, Jarutia. She is Chaeran’s mother. After Jarutia’s death, her brother, Martin Fayerfield, became Chaeran’s legal guardian.”

“And not your father?”

“My father was away at the time. His absent years as my father calls that particular time.”

“And Anton’s sister?”

“Bethana Tourney?” Rojah asked.

Briefly, Adria’s emerald eyes fluttered closed. “Yes.” She sighed. “What became of her?” She lifted her tea cup to her lips and took a sip.

“I am not sure. According to Father and Master Worthington, Bethana Tourney’s body was never recovered from the charred ashes of the fire that destroyed my father’s family home.”

“Rosenhall,” Adria murmured. “The names are all so familiar. Forgive me. I am grieved to hear that the Cloisters has become an issue of conflict and controversy between your cousin and the Tourney kinsmen. I remember so many pleasant times spent at the Cloisters.”

“You knew Bethana Tourney?”

“Yes, almost as well as I know myself.” Adria smiled over the rim of her teacup, a tiny mysterious smile. “There were few to whom Bethana confided her heart’s desires. Yes, she and I were extremely close. She was very much in love with your father.”

Intrigued, Rojah asked, “Did my father love her?”

“Does it bother you — to know that your father may have loved someone other than your mother?”

“My father rarely speaks of his past, Lady Gittel.”

“Not even about the night Rosenhall burned? Is Bethana Tourney held responsible for the death of — Martin Fayerfield?” Martin’s name was a trembling whisper.

Rojah scowled thoughtfully. “No, Lady Gittel, she is not.”

“Not even for the blow that took Martin’s life?”

“According to my father, Martin Fayerfield died in the fire, refusing to leave the burning house. Even Worthington claimed much the same. As far as I know, Bethana Tourney was never held responsible for Martin Fayerfield’s death or anyone’s death.”

Adria sighed, almost sobbed. “Except her own,” she murmured softly.

Rojah set his cup of tea aside. “Lady Gittel, I can see my visit has overtired you. Perhaps, I should leave.”

“Yes, that might be best. Thank you for coming,” Adria murmured. “Please, do not worry that your visits over tire me. Quite the contrary. You bring a measure of comfort and memories too long forgotten.” She laughed a wistful note that struck him as sorrow laden. “Yes, I do miss the heat of a crackling fire during the deep, dark cold of El Nath’s winter, and sipping hot mulled wine. Your father always told the scariest ghost stories during the holiday season of the lights.”

Rojah smiled, said, “Father still tells the scariest ghost stories, Lady Gittel.”

“Your father must be quite relieved that Old Maybelle Flower is no longer alive to torment him with her mad ravings?”

“Oh, but, Maybelle Flower lives still, Lady Gittel.”

“Indeed? She still lives? The old witch must be at least 200 years old!” Adria laughed.

“Father said once that Maybelle lived solely to haunt him. Good night, Lady Gittel. Thank you for the tea.” Rojah rose to his feet. “I shall see myself out.”

 

Copyright 2018 #work in progress #voice of the wind

Excerpt from Book 5 (untitled)

Jonquil set out to solve the mystery of the house room by room. Unlocking the secrets each room contained became an adventure. With a set of master keys obtained from Mrs. Lamb, Jonquil spent the morning and afternoon exploring. She found many of the rooms untouched; dust covers draped the furniture, cobwebs clung to shadowy cornices and corners; a scent of musk clung to the heavy drapes that darkened the rooms. The rooms with sheer curtains seemed almost suspended in both time and space.

She felt like a wandering intruder and silently retreated, closing and locking the doors. Jonquil realized the impracticality of reopening the entire house and the size of a staff required for caring for such an immense manor. Being only one person, her needs were few, but in time she hoped to change the emptiness of the house and fill its musky, haunted spaces with people, gaiety, laughter, and music.

The house felt imposing and yet for all the proclaimed grandeur of its past, it remained an empty, lonely house. The days and the years passed by the manor on the ceaseless activity of the winery and vineyards and the lives of those who came and went with the seasons, leaving the house silently watchful. Now, people stirred once again within its walls and beneath its roof. Doors and windows opened and closed. Light seeped into the darkness of forgetfulness and the house slowly awakened, remembering.

A forgotten trill of laughter drifted through the hallways; voices stirred the dusty silences. Especially at night after the servants retired and the winery workers returned to their own hearth fires and families.

Jonquil could hear the faint trickle of noises, escaping through some rent in the fabric of time captured within the house. She slept in her mother’s oak, canopied bed and wondered if she dreamed her mother’s dreams.

With each step further from the center into El Nath’s unknown, the mystery deepened. Jonquil thought, “This is a dream. I am asleep, dreaming I am awake within this odd, distorted world.”

The velvet comfort of mystery was a timed destruction set off by the opening of a door to a room of darkness terrified of the light. Jonquil saw her hand upon a brass doorknob, slowly turning and the light seeping in through an ever widening crack. She wondered what she would find.

Excerpt ~ Pale Imitations

Excerpt from Pale Imitations, Book Four in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series by Elizabeth Monroe

http://tinyurl.com/ybjqg32z

Hesper giggled softly. They were schoolgirls out on a lark meant to cheer Jonquil and so far, the ploy had worked. The fortuneteller’s booths, located among the San Bargel’s slave markets, offered a forbidden excitement.

Although reluctant, Jonquil let the old hag peer into the palm of her hand, chant and foretell the future she glimpsed with the scrolls of fine lines that etched her palm.

The fortuneteller’s voice crackled, brittle with age. A hand, with skin as thin as paper and withered fingers, clasped Jonquil’s hand. Apprehensive and yet intrigued, Jonquil could not pull her hand away from the fortuneteller’s strong grip.

“I see someone who loves you,” the fortuneteller’s crackling voice rasped like smoke swirling among the tendrils of frankincense that burned in a nearby ewer and added to the mysterious allure.

Jonquil smiled at the absurdity of the fortuneteller’s vagueness.

“I see marriage, yes, and much happiness — Oh! I see children!”

“How many children?” Jonquil glanced down at her upturned palm the fortuneteller clutched.

The fortuneteller’s eyes glinted within the veiled folds of her purple headdress trimmed in gold beads. “Four. Yes, I see four children — two boys, two girls — but they are far away, far from the shores of your birth land. I see a long voyage — a very long journey. Yes, a journey over water to foreign shores — San Bargel is not your home…”

“What do you mean San Bargel is not my home?” Jonquil interrupted. Anxiety spiked through her, despite her disbelief in the utterances of a crone who spoke about the fates according to how much silver or gold a patron dropped into her purple, star-studded donation box.

“I cannot see. It is too dim — too far,” the old woman muttered, shaking her head as her thin fingers probed and stroked the lines on Jonquil’s palm. It was the clue to drop another coin into the donation coffer.

Hesper and Golden both giggled.

“What else do you see, old one?” Jonquil asked.

Suddenly, the fortuneteller dropped Jonquil’s hand and uttered a hoarse cry. “Ayee! I cannot see anymore! No more! My old eyes tire looking for young girl’s fortunes! Please go — go!”

“But you saw something. I wish to know what you saw,” Jonquil insisted.

Hesper laughed and tugged on Jonquil’s arm. “Come on, Jonquil. Let us leave.”

“Can you not see her game? The old hag’s a fraud like the other frauds who hawk their visions of the future for the cost of a gold coin,” Golden said.

“Fraud am I?” the fortuneteller cried. “My fortunes are truth, child. No fraud! No gold!” The crone wagged a crooked forefinger before Jonquil’s face. “This girl — she knows!”

Jonquil stared into the gaping opening of the veil and into the old woman’s khol-lined, black eyes.

“You know the truth,” whispered the fortuneteller.

Jonquil swallowed. “Truth?”

“I see one who loves you. He is no longer with you. He has gone.”

“Flaric,” Jonquil whispered. Her heart thudded, a slow pounding beat.

The crone continued. She lifted her hand toward the shadowed ceiling of her booth. “His spirit watches over you — always. The connection of love is a strong force. It does not wither away at death. There is much darkness. I see shadows of evil — and fear. But love keeps you. He will send another to help you when your hour is darkest.”

“Jonquil, come on, of course she can tell you everything that has already happened,” Hesper said.

Golden countered, “Anyone who hears the news from the streets and the marketplace—”

“Or reads the newspapers—”

“Would know about Flaric’s death—” Hesper and Golden both insisted, speaking as one.

Both twins grabbed Jonquil’s arms to hurry her from the booth, but she stood frozen.

The crone laughed. “This girl knows the truth!” the old woman shouted.

“Come on, Jonquil. Father is waiting for us to join him for lunch,” Hesper whispered. She tried to draw Jonquil away.

The old fortuneteller was not finished. “Yes! Loved you will be — many times — but not all love is true — only when love despises love! Only when love despises love!”

The twins tugged Jonquil away from the shadows of the fortuneteller’s booth and out into San Bargel’s brilliant sunlight where their hired cab waited.

Hesper and Golden frowned at each other. “I am not so sure it was a good decision to visit the fortuneteller’s booth, even as a lark,” Golden muttered to her sister.

“How appalling! The old crone should be forced out of business!” Hesper cried.

“Jonquil, are you all right?” Golden squeezed Jonquil’s hand.

Stirring, Jonquil murmured, “Yes, I am fine.”

Hesper and Golden frowned at each other.

“What did she mean when love despises love? Did you understand any of the old fortuneteller’s gibberish?” Hesper asked.

“Let it be, Hesper,” Golden said. “The old witch was trying to take advantage of Jonquil’s bereavement. Another question would have cost you more coin. That is how they operate.”

Hesper nodded. “Frauds. That is what they are.”

But Jonquil was not so sure. She could not forget the fortuneteller’s words, not even when they joined Sir Crispin Perrywhite and Leander Fleming at the Green Dragon for luncheon and were seated at Sir Crispin’s reserved table.

Although death had claimed Flaric, Jonquil had felt his presence hovering close. She had heard his voice speaking to her — as real sounded as he had spoken to her in life. And that night when the stable had burned, Flaric’s warning had been more than a dream. Jonquil shivered.

#excerpt #Kindle #amazonebook #amwriting

Pale Imitations ~ Now Available!

Pale Imitations, Book 4 in my Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series, is “Live” on Amazon. Finally! 🙂 $3.99 or read for Free on Kindle Unlimited.

“Pale Imitations” brings a departure from the landscapes of the previous three books in the series. Escape into the tropical, southern world of San Bargel where there are new characters to meet, love and hate, plus a rotten villain (or two). 🙂

I hope everyone enjoys reading Pale Imitations as much as I enjoyed scribbling the story. Reviews and comments are greatly appreciated!

Thank you! ~ E.A. Monroe

https://tinyurl.com/ya9o89x3

 

#amwriting #ampublished #fictionsaga #mothersanddaughters

The Promise, Chapter 1 from Trouble in River City

“Must you and Poppa go out tonight?” I whined as Momma tucked me into bed.

“Darling, you know it’s Poppa’s job to attend company functions. Tonight is a very special night for him and many important people will be there.”

I didn’t want Momma and Poppa going out to their New Year’s Eve dance at the Petroleum Club’s Magnolia Ballroom. Ice slicked the city streets. I always fell down on the ice. How could Poppa drive his brand new motorcar on the ice without sliding? Poppa was proud of his Buick automobile even though Momma complained when he drove too fast. Poppa laughed. He loved driving fast and even promised to teach me how to drive when I was old enough, older than the eleven years I was now.

Momma continued, her carmine lips curled in a smile and the slant of her green twinkling eyes crinkled at their corners. “Poppa and I can hardly stay home, as much as we’d rather. Alexander Jordan is in town for the premiere of his new movie…” She sighed, her eyes glazed and dreamy. “Just imagine, darling! River City’s Golden Boy and our own Hollywoodland success story! Shall I bring you Alexander’s photo and his autograph for our scrapbook? Would you like that?”

“We have a scrapbook full of his photographs, Momma,” I said continuing my whine.

“But we don’t have his newest photograph for our scrapbook. Movie premieres are special occasions, darling, and I seriously doubt Alexander will visit River City again anytime soon.”

Momma’s scrapbook. She had pasted her favorite matinee idols’ glossy photos and news clippings on every page. Valentino, Gloria Swanson, John Barrymore, Dietrich and Garbo, Tom Nix — Momma said she had even met them. How else could Momma have their autographs with her name on them if she hadn’t met them? Dearest Olivia. They even knew Momma’s name. She had tons of Alexander Jordan’s photos. I didn’t know why she wanted or needed any more photos of him.

She had more photos, magazine and newspaper clippings of Alexander Jordan in her scrapbook than any of the other radio personalities and movie stars! I think Poppa might’ve been a bit jealous, but Momma always teased him and said she loved him more and how there was no one more special to her. Poppa’s ears always turned red and sometimes he grumbled or laughed and danced around the living room with Momma in his arms, their eyes shining.

“I hope I don’t swoon!” Momma said, pressing her fingertips against the hollow of her throat.

I giggled. “Poppa will catch you, Momma.”

Momma laughed, her head tilted back on her shoulders, her neck long and graceful. Her special laugh always made strangers notice her and smile. Poppa always beamed with pride.

Momma was beautiful and tonight she looked like a movie star in her shimmering red evening gown with its hand-sewn crystal beads and her black hair piled in curls atop her head. She didn’t flash and drip diamonds like the glamorous lady stars in the photographs. Instead, she wore her special locket — a golden heart that held two pictures, my sister Mary Rose on one side and me on the other half of the heart.

Her two blessed angels she called us, even when we acted naughty and got into trouble or when we refused to eat the vegetables Mrs. LuElla Jones piled on our dinner plates, especially beets. I hated beets, but I ate them, especially when Momma made me feel guilty because children went to bed starving on the streets of River City.

LuElla always took Momma’s side. I hardly thought that was fair since Momma paid LuElla and I said as much. “None of your sass, Miss Agatha Grace Sabra Haisten!” LuElla always scolded me every time I messed up something she’d just cleaned, especially when I was hungry and decided to bake a cake and powdered flour all over the kitchen. Or when I told our neighbor, Mrs. Breeze, that she looked like a turkey. “I earned every coin your Momma pays me to teach you polite manners. Child, you seriously lack good manners. Now, shoulders back, head up. Stand straight!” Sometimes LuElla poked me between my shoulder blades and said, “Stand up straight, child!”

LuElla lived in a section of River City called the Deep Second and came in every day, except on Sundays, to help Momma, or to stay with Mary Rose and me — like tonight when Momma and Poppa were going out on the town. She’d stay over, no matter how late, and Poppa would drive her home to the Deep Second where she lived with her other family. I didn’t know why LuElla couldn’t live with us all the time.

“Go to sleep, darling.” Momma stroked her fingertip down my nose. When she kissed my cheek, I inhaled her sweetness as deep as I could. Ah, Chanel No. 5.

“I promise, darling, I will tell you all about the movie premier and our evening over breakfast.”

“You promise?”

“Yes, darling, I promise.”

Momma always kept her promises.