Season of Change ~ excerpt from Mikuyi Moon, Book 7 in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series

Zalan Fayerfield gazed into the campfire’s flames scrying for an illuminated vision. Dog’s low growl warned him of approaching danger lurking beyond the safe margins of firelight.

He peered into the surrounding blackness where the wind gusted through the stone hollows and crags of the hills. A wolf howled in the distance; closer by a horse snorted.

Dog rose on all fours, growled, his hackles rising.

“What is it, Dog?” Zalan spoke lowly, one hand securely clasping Dog’s collar, the other reaching for his stout oak staff.

With silent stealth the Mikuyi appeared out of the black night. Startled, Zalan lurched to his feet. Dog growled, bristling, yet obediently waited for Zalan’s command — a word or movement to attack or disregard the sensed danger from the stranger. None came. Zalan knew Inali although he doubted the Mikuyi knew or recognized him as the son of Jantz Fayerfield.

Zalan relaxed. Dog, sensing no threat lay down, his yellow eyes carefully watching the stranger.

***

“I was hunting and saw your fire. May I join you?” Inali curiously regarded the young shepherd and the dog’s yellow eyes reflecting the firelight. Within the shadowy folds of the shepherd’s gray hood, the fire-highlighted features of a youth about his brother Tirzah’s age were visibly distinguished.

The shepherd pushed back his hood and gestured to a second log seat beside the crackling fire. “You are welcome to share the fire.”

The youth wore a thoughtful expression, one of recognition. Inali had never seen the youth before.

“Do you know who I am?”

Inali noted the shepherd’s odd pair of bi-colored eyes — eyes that steadily regarded him from across the fire.

The shepherd nodded, said, “You are the Mikuyi.”

Although he was young, the shepherd possessed a presence of self and something familiar in the curve of the youth’s jaw, in how his black eyebrows winged. Blue-black shoulder-length curls shaggily framed the shepherd’s lean, beardless features — a sensitive face. Intelligent, alert eyes observed Inali through the leaping flames and red hot embers that popped and shot orange and yellow sparks into the night sky.

“I have heard of you and your brother. I know you although we have never met.” The shepherd set aside his staff and leaned forward to pour a steaming brown liquid into a wooden mug.

Inali watched, his interest aroused by the solitary youth who invited him to share the cup of tea he offered.

“I only have a loaf of bread and some cheese. You are welcome to share them,” the youth offered.

Inali nodded, continuing to observe as he in turn was watched by the alert dog lying beside the youth, ears pricked, swiveling to catch each sound and lifting his head at any movement Inali made.

A heightened sense of awareness held them. On a fire warmed wooden board the young shepherd tore the loaf of bread into thick chucks and deftly sliced the goat cheese. Inali kept his eye on the youth’s sharp knife.

The youth tossed a crust and rind of cheese to the dog. He sheathed his blade in a scabbard attached to his belt, and leaned back against a log to eat.

Savoring the late supper of bread and cheese, Inali return the shepherd’s curious gaze.

Closer now the wolf howled. The mournful song carried through the dark night; crimson sparks flew into the night sky caught on an updraft of wind. Inali stiffened. The hairs on the nape of his neck crawled. Something strange moved through the autumn night — something felt more than seen.

As he swallowed the last of the tea from the wooden mug, Inali studied the youth. He leaned back against the dried log.

Wrapped in his gray wool cloak, the youth stretched out his legs to the crackling campfire and scratched the dog behind its black ears. The youth was relaxed, undisturbed by the night — but not Inali.

A fire log cracked, burning through. Huge and white, the full Mikuyi moon shed its prismatic radiance over hills capped by granite monoliths; the upright, rough hewn stones gleamed, silent ghosts.

The wolf howled nearer. Inali stood and walked to the edge of the campfire’s protective circle of light. He focused his concentration on the deeper night shadows and cast his gaze along the hilltops, searching.

The dog lifted its head, growled but made no move.

Tension rippled through Inali as he stood staring across the night-draped valley. He lifted his nose, scented the night. The lamenting wolf’s song drifted closer. The primitive song set Inali’s hackles on edge. What was it? Something indefinable yet close, too close instinct warned him.

Inali glanced over his shoulder at the shepherd. Undisturbed the youth watched him from his bi-colored eyes — one blue, one gray. Their dilated pupils reflected the fire’s yellow flames. The dog, resting its head on front paws, seemed to doze lulled by the stroke of the youth’s hand.

***

“Early in the season for the wolf to hunt so far from its northern range,” Zalan said. He thought of the looming danger that threatened his flocks and returned the Mikuyi’s black regard.

“Winter comes early. Already cold brings the hunting pack down to the Sparrow Hills,” Zalan continued. He peered at the Mikuyi. He read the flexing of tense cheek muscles, the defiant set of the man’s shoulders, broad beneath his fur cloak. The Mikuyi presented an intriguing enigma, his honed instinct sharply focused on his environment; the Mikuyi who stalked his life, defying physical limitations, regardless of time barriers separating the past, the present, and the future. In Inali the archetypal ancestor emerged in living flesh and blood. Eridandi once again walked the earth as the old legends foretold.

Awed by his visitor’s physical presence, Zalan felt no fear. He felt, oddly enough, safe. After listening to the night’s voices, the Mikuyi returned to his log seat, swirled his fur cloak around himself. He stared at the wooden mug he held in his hand as if just noticing he still held it and the conscious touch of the physical object drew Inali back from whatever threat he had sensed hidden by the night, waiting for a future appointment in time.

“Not a pack,” Inali said. Slow minutes had ticked past since Zalan had spoken.

Through the leaping yellow and orange fire, Zalan met Inali’s black eyes shot with striated flakes of amber and gold.

“A lone wolf — one without a pack. Perhaps in search of a mate,” Inali said. He picked up a stick of kindling and tossed it into the flames.

“And the Mikuyi?” Zalan asked. “Is he a loner? Hunting the hills on wings of night in search of his mate?”

The firelight bronzed the Mikuyi’s grim, brooding features. Beneath the furrowed eyebrows, black eyes burned with a greater intensity than the flames of the small campfire. Zalan, perceiving his question agitated the Mikuyi, did not expect an answer.

In the deeps of midnight, firelight danced in Dog’s watchful eyes. Alert ears listened to the surrounding night and the sheep he was entrusted to guard, as well as his young master’s life.

***

Inali stared at the youth. The question was not a thought he actively pursued, but one that pursued him. He chased the hunt more for escape than pleasure and all because of a woman, because of an image ever ready to spring into his mind although his heart rebelled.

The question drifting to the back of his subconscious, Inali pulled the warmth of his fur cloak closer and settled back against the log and hoped to find a few hours of sleep uninterrupted by the disturbance of dreams. And Zalan, his flock safe for the night, added another log to the camp fire before he settled down to find his own rest.

***

Inali dreamed. The mist-veiled time and place were familiar yet not. The faces belonged to people he had known, as well as faces of strangers — of those yet to come or to be born. Such was the strangeness of surreal dreams unfettered by the leash of time, physical space, or the limitations of consciousness.

One of many, the others receded, vanished. In that place the wind blew wet against him. He turned, faced the northeast, the heart of the wind’s gusting force. The stray wind lifted the long strands of his unbound hair steaming over his black-furred shoulders. The moistness of drying pigment streaked his face: red of power, white of peace, and black of war— protecting him from harm with its ritualized symbolism of invisible forces.

The wind scurried around him, separating him, drawing him apart from the multitude of strangers. The wind beckoned him to ascend a narrow, guarded height. The throb of drums vibrated, evoking the power of its primordial voice in song.

All the sacred rituals began with the simplistic banging of the drum, of hollow bone on stretched, transparent skin. Each beat, reverberated to the tone of his deepest being. Of all the Mikuyi, he was the one chosen. The choice of his fate led him forward. He took the first step. He took the second step, a third, and on and on, step by step, as the single drum was joined by a second drum, a third drum, one after another until he became the throb of the drum’s song, leading him from lifetime to lifetime — from the darkness of night to the emergence of dawn and a new day.

Within the circle of power he stood, alone in his nakedness. Voices chanted on the wind, voices that spoke in the ancient language of the Objishanda.

Each spiraling step within the power circle led him higher and higher, revealed the presence of the others. He knew them by the traditional garb of their tribal clothing. He knew them by their speech, by their rituals, their customs. They were the seven tribes of the Objishanda: The Onega, dwellers beside the water, their headdresses and costumes of shore birds, turtles and fishes, their lives directed by the ebbing tides of the sea; The Ganunda, mountain dwellers; The Gahada, forest dwellers; The Meltari, star wanders, a tribe lost during the galactic migration; and those tribes now extinct known only in the mysteries of legend and song brought to life by storytellers and the old shamans; The Ahwao, people of the rose; The Majara, shape shifters and spinners of illusion; and the Watchers and the Keepers from each tribe.

All summoned by the Great Ones, they came — all but the Mikuyi, banished in the Before Days but whose shamans clung fiercely to the prophecies of fulfillment and the Mikuyi’s promised return.

Inali stood among the costumed representatives of the Seven Tribes. He was Mikuyi, the one called forth. One by one he witnessed as the seven tribes were scattered upon the twelve directions, swept away by the winds and the tides of time and the civilization of man encroaching from beyond the Mountains of the Sky.

He stood in command of his life, listening. A great voice spoke to the assembled tribes and put forth a long unanswered question: “Who among the Objishanda will chose the Mikuyi?”

A terrible rumble of dissension fell upon the gathered multitude. The drums throbbed, became the beat of his heart. He refused to accept their rejection; he defined the unseen Great Ones whose deep voices moved the winds and sent the Mikuyi scattering, scurrying across the ancient lands of El Nath, withered brown leaves, stripped from their ancestral tree of life.

And when it seemed none there would consent, so long and deep was their bitterness toward the Mikuyi, the lilting timbre of a single voice spoke from among the midst of the many.

“I choose the Mikuyi.”

Whispers of astonishment stirred and parted the mist-veiled void and Inali glimpsed the vague shape of a winged bird flying forth from among the assembled hosts of gathered tribes, shredding the obscuring mists.

“I choose the Mikuyi,” the white winged creature sang.

Inali peered through the shredded mists and beheld the mysterious figure wearing a fantastic headdress of pearls and white feathers and a cloak sewn of swan feathers. Feathered arms opened, embraced him within the folds of soft white wings meeting midnight.

The lilting voice was that of a woman he knew, as he knew the opalescent light of her silver eyes gazing at him through the slits of a white feathered mask.

“I choose the Mikuyi,” the swan sang. “A keeper of the Gahada may choose whoever she wills. There is no escape from that choice. Look upon me and know I speak the truth, Inali of the Mikuyi.”

Even as he reached out to remove the white feathered mask, the dream receded, spiraled into wisps of smoke. Inali awakened to the wild thumping of his heart and the distant roll of grumbling thunder. Jerked from the depths of the bizarre dream, Inali lurched to his feet. To the east, the orange rind of sunrise gilded the deeper purple of rising hills and the jagged edges of the Mountains of the Sky.

The muted gray dawn revealed the hillside where the shepherd and his dog herded a flock of bleating sheep down through the steep valley that skirted the hillside below him.

Black Fire’s snorted whicker greeted Inali and secured him, rooted him. With the rising of the sun, ethereal tangents of his dream vaporized and, plying a conscious effort, Inali shoved aside the dream and whatever it meant, along with the other unsorted feelings and emotions that simmered into his conscience wearing the guise of dreams.

The shepherd had left a portion of bread and cheese to whet Inali’s grumbling stomach. He washed down each swallow with a mouthful of tepid tea brewed to the same brownish hue that he had drunk the previous night. As he chewed, he scanned the craggy hills and their distinguishing landmarks — a rocky outcropping to his left, the gnarled stump of lightning charred oak to his right, and other landmarks by their jumbled, eroded shapes or the colorful patchwork of wild heather, broom and rhododendrons, and the dense stand of forests.

Inali committed the landmarks to memory as his gaze swung across the broad expanse of rolling hills humping skyward one above the other. Lowering his gaze, he searched for the young tender of sheep and the dog. They had vanished from sight but not out of hearing range. A gust of wind rose lifting the morning mist, and brought a snatch of a clanging bells and bleating sheep.

From a long tether looped around the slender bole of a birch sapling, Black Fire grazed. Ears pricked to Inali’s movements and the extinguishing hiss of the campfire. His heart eager for the morning’s ride, Black Fire reared, turned his head east toward the Unfaithful Mountains, but the firm command of Inali’s voice, the hard bite of bridle bit, and the Mikuyi’s heels headed Black Fire toward Fayerton instead.

Copyright 2020, Monroe Media, E.A. Monroe

Excerpt: Voice of the Wind, Book 8

Albert Anker Girl Peeling Potatoes

Flora Moss sneaked into the house through the kitchen’s back door and scurried into the pantry, hoping she had not been missed. She slipped off her wool cloak and returned to the kitchen to finish peeling potatoes.

Madra peered suspiciously at her. “About time you got on with those vegetables, Flora. Where have you been all this time?”

“Out, I had to see my sister,” Flora said. She sat down on a kitchen stool and faced a bowl full of potatoes and carrots. Frowning, she began stripping the vegetables of their skins with a vicious zeal. Each lump of potato, each stick of carrot, had a name — Rena Oldroyd, Darcy Oldroyd — every Oldroyd she could name — even her sister Tilly — and then she picked a few more choice names.

When she spied Orrick driving the sleigh past a kitchen window, she asked, “Where is Orrick going in Miss Oanada’s sleigh at this time of day? Is something going on? Is Miss Oanada leaving?”

“None of your business, Flora. Finish peeling the vegetables. Lotta Jo needs them for the stew.”

Madra!” Flora hissed beneath her breath and sent a peel of potato skin flying across the kitchen table.

***

Painting: Albert Samuel Anker (Swiss, 1831-1910) ~ The Little Potato Peeler (Girl Peeling Potatoes), 1886, public domain.

Excerpt, copyright, 2020.

#Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series

 

Excerpt, VOW, Book 8

….

Althar frowned. His dream kept returning. He was part of it. Oanada was also part of his dream. Stirring, Althar grimaced. The ivory piece would please Inali. He set it on the shelf above Inali’s work space for his brother to find and put away his tools. He would clean up the crescent moons of ivory shavings and curls tomorrow.

Day grew lighter beyond the carriage house windows. He stretched, yawned, and as the kitchen stirred with the rumblings of another early morning, Althar slipped quietly and unseen through the house and to his room. The plans and preparations for Fayerton’s Winter Ball and the young woman he had been invited to escort were far from his thoughts as he drifted into a dreamless sleep.

***

Hours later, Madra, Mavis, and Oanada fussing about him, Althar was properly attired in his freshly pressed black velvet evening suit. Spills of white, homespun lace edged the cuffs of his sleeves and collared his throat. The chain of a gold pocket watch hung from the fob of his jacket lapel.

“Take care of that watch. It belonged to your grandfather James Breen,” Mavis said. “My, but how I do remember the way Master Kieron was always asking for the time.”

“Whatever do I need a watch for?” Althar protested. He had protested everything done to him since he had walked unaware down the stairs shortly after lunch. It was not long before he realized the reason behind Inali’s smile when his brother helped Natty Banary dunk him into a bath of hot water and, laughing, pushed him under. Then to add further insult to his Mikuyi pride, he was forced to sit still while Oanada clipped the shaggy length of his hair — not that he minded the radiant fragrance of Oanada’s closeness or the tickle of her slender fingers in his hair, tugging if he dared move. While Oanada threatened him with the shears, Madra trimmed, filed, and buffed his fingernails.

“Master Althar,” Orrick squeaked. He eyeballed the bandage wrapped around Althar’s right hand. “You hurt yourself.”

“I cut my hand,” Althar muttered, reminded of the dull pain. He picked up the cup of willow bark tea Oanada had prepared. The tea had grown tepid, but he took a swallow of the bitter liquid.

“How did you do hurt yourself?” Pearl asked.

“I broke the window in my room—”

Flora looked up, interested. She moved closer and sat down at the kitchen table. Althar smiled absently at the girl who rested her chin in her cupped palm. Flora sighed. As Oanada trimmed the uneven lengths of Althar’s hair, Flora watched every movement, her attention absorbed.

Finished with trimming Althar’s hair, Oanada let Pearl comb the glossy black locks. “At least you left some hair on my head unlike the last haircut Father and Mistress Rosenthorn gave me.” Althar laughed. He shook his head and stood, pulling the towel from his shoulders.

Flora blinked, sat up straight, her cheeks pinking at the sight of Althar without his shirt.

“I am not finished with you yet, Althar,” Oanada said, pouring steaming water into a basin. “Sit down and let me clean your hand. I have a healing salve that will help and you need a clean bandage.”

Althar reluctantly obeyed. Pearl and Flora looked on, grimacing in sympathy when Oanada removed the blood stained bandage and examined and cleaned several small but superficial lacerations without disturbing the tender, swollen flesh.

The green tinted salve felt pleasantly cooling. Althar recognized the fragrance of the Dreamweaver and remembered Oanada’s healing from before — a lifetime ago it seemed to him now. He had forgotten the puckered, crescent scar on his shoulder until Flora reminded him.

“How did you get the scar on your shoulder, Althar?” Flora asked before fully realizing the inappropriateness of her question or that she was staring at him, all eyes and sighs.

“Flora!” Madra scolded. “Perhaps it is none of our business and you have other things to do this morning than sitting there staring at Master Althar. You too, Pearl. Go check on Orrick and see if your father has finished repairing the broken square of glass in Master Althar’s window.”

“Yes, Momma,” Pearl sulked reluctant to leave the room.

***

Hours later, he stood transformed from Mikuyi to fashionable gentleman preparing to leave for the evening.

Pearl giggled. “The watch is to remind you to come home by midnight, Master Althar,” Pearl said. “Or you might turn into a pumpkin!”

Althar grinned, said, “A pumpkin, eh?”

Oanada straightened the lace cravat spilling down the front of his black velvet evening jacket. “Yes, a pumpkin!” She laughed, silver eyes dancing. She stepped back when Inali returned.

“Is that you, Althar?” Inali grinned, raised an eyebrow.

Althar frowned at the reflection of the stranger facing him in the foyer mirror. “I think so, although I doubt Rhan or Brego would recognize me. Well, I am ready. I hope Fayerton and Megan Wellborn’s family are ready for me. I am beginning to think this may not be a good idea, Oanada. Is it too late—”

“Yes,” Oanada said. “Megan is expecting you, Althar.

Althar glanced helplessly at Inali for support.

“Natty has already hired the cab and driver,” Inali replied.

“It is here! The cab and driver are here!” Pearl announced from her post at the drawing room window.

Althar shrugged on his greatcoat. Inali opened the front door. Oanada laughed and brushed a kiss upon Althar’s smoothly shaven cheek.

“Megan will be proud to be seen with you tonight — and my father will be there,” Oanada said.

Pearl yanked on his coat sleeve. “You have not forgotten how to dance have you, Althar? You remember the steps Flora and I taught you?”

“I hope I remember, Pearlie.” Althar chucked the girl beneath her chin.

“You look so handsome, Althar,” Flora said. “I wish I could go to the Winter Ball. You will remember everything to tell Pearl and me?”

“Yes, I will, Flora.”

Inali nudged him. “You are keeping the driver waiting, brother.”

“And do not forget to be home by midnight!” Pearl called as Inali walked out with Althar.

“I would not dare forget, Pearlie.”

“Enjoy the Winter Ball, Althar — for all of us,” Madra called as she, Pearl, Oanada, Mavis, and Flora all squeezed into the doorway to wave. Orrick wearing a wide, toothy grin stood at the cab door to open it for Althar.

***

The cabbie sat on top, snug in his fur rugs. He had a dozen other fares that night but none as interesting as the household of Fayerfield House crowding through the front door to see the Mikuyi off for the evening. His next stop at the Wellborn’s townhouse would be even more interesting — one of the reasons he had accepted Natty Banary’s hire for the evening.

Visit my Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series page on Amazon.

 

Shadows and Substance: A Description

VOW_6_Cover:WrittenInOmen_Covers

Drama and intrigue abound.

Passions ignite.

Threats whisper in the shadows.

Someone from Jonquil’s past arrives in Fayerton.

Skeins of dreams and unraveling schemes…

 

In a new country, surrounded by strangers and odd customs, Jonquil Deering desperately wants to belong as her mother, Bethana Tourney, once belonged. But, when Jonquil knows nothing about her mother’s home, the Cloisters, or her mother’s past and the people her mother knew and perhaps loved, the challenge becomes a difficult, if not impossible task.

Jonquil’s determination to reclaim her mother’s legacy meets immovable object in Chaeran Fayerfield-Drake, the current Master of the Cloisters and heir to the Cloisters. Chaeran remembers the night that changed the destiny of Jonquil’s mother and drove Bethana to flee, leaving behind loved ones who believed Bethana had perished in the fire that destroyed Rosenhall and ended Martin Fayerfield’s life. When Jonquil asks Chaeran about that night and her mother, he doesn’t answer and avoids her.

Jonquil reopens the Cloisters’ manor house to its former grandeur. She plans to avenge her mother and confront the man she believes is her father, Jantz Fayerfield. But, Jantz denies she is his daughter. If not Jantz, then who is her father?

Mysterious events being occurring, and when Jonquil begins losing pieces of time and she cannot remember, Noah Winterringer takes advantage to further his own ambitions for Jonquil, for the Cloisters’ future, and for the downfall of his life-long nemesis Jantz Fayerfield, Jantz’s son Rojah, and for Chaeran.

Among all the new people Jonquil meets, who can she trust? Who can she depend on?

The cast of characters is long: Chaeran Fayerfield-Drake, Jantz Fayerfield and his wife Zaire and their son, Rojah who is conducting his own investigation; Mead Worthington and Mead’s adopted daughter Belladonna; Noah Winterringer, his daughter Noelani and her husband, Darcy Oldroyd; and Maybelle Flower. An entourage of assorted servants, townspeople, winery workers, miscreants and villains, and a troupe of thespians make a riveting free-for-all in Shadows and Substance, Book 6 in the Voice of the Wind: Shadows of Time series.

The reader never knows what will happen next!

***

“When a shadow flits across the landscape of the soul where is the substance?” ~ Henry David Thoreau (1873). “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”, p.373

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!