Falkrag, Book 5 of the Wytch Kings series, is coming along nicely. This is Prince Shaine's story (Prince Mikhyal of Rhiva's younger brother), and it's looking to be another long one, 80 to 85,000 words is my current guess. I'm hoping to release it toward the end of the summer. Here's a little taste to whet your appetite...
Shaine read the passage again, heart beating faster as the meaning of the words slowly sank in. Stormshard was a hidden tower, deep in the Iceshards, beyond the northern border of the kingdom of Altan. The kingdom’s mythe-weavers had used it to research dangerous mythe-weapons, some of which were powerful enough to destroy an entire kingdom. Abandoned after a terrible accident, once the Wytch Council’s inflexible edicts and iron rule had brought peace to Skanda, Stormshard had been forgotten.
Or more likely, erased from history.
The book Shaine held in his hands was the journal of a young mythe-weaver who had been serving out his apprenticeship in the tower, learning the secrets of weapon creation. Fortunately for him, he’d been on leave when the accident occurred. There’d been no survivors, and the area had been left uninhabitable. The Wytch King of Altan had destroyed the mythe-gate that led to the tower to prevent anyone from trying to investigate.
Shaine closed the book and stared out the library window at the mountains surrounding Castle Rhivana. Somewhere out there, Stormshard still stood.
And if it does, what makes you think you can find it, boy?
He clenched his jaw and reminded himself yet again that Anxin was dead. The voice wasn’t real. Couldn’t be. Vayne had promised.
Staring down at the book, he struggled to organize his thoughts. He’d need to do some research. There was a rough map in the journal, but if he was seriously thinking about venturing into the mountains on his own, something with a bit more detail would be helpful.
Was he really going to do this?
You can’t. You’ll fail, like you’ve failed at everything else.
Shaine clenched his hand into a fist. He had to try, despite his fear that Anxin’s words were truth. If he could bring home a weapon powerful enough to give the Northern Alliance an advantage over the Wytch Council, it would prove his loyalty to both family and alliance, and might finally put a stop to all the whispered speculation he pretended not to hear. It might even drive the last traces of Anxin from his head once and for all.
With mounting hope, Shaine headed for the library’s history section.
Several hours later, he’d searched history, geography, and legends, but found nothing helpful. His frustration was tempered by the fact that the lack of information boded well for Stormshard having remained undiscovered and, more importantly, undisturbed in the centuries since the disaster.
He opened the journal again to study the roughly sketched map. None of the books he’d found mapped much of the Iceshards. Most only went into the mountain range as far as the most distant mines. If the scale of the sketch was accurate, Stormshard lay some distance beyond Altan’s northernmost mines. It looked like he could follow one of the mining roads part of the way there, but once the road ran out, he’d be forced to find his own way through the mountains.
“And what are you studying so intently?” Dirit materialized on Shaine’s shoulder. The little dragon craned his neck to peruse the journal, head blocking Shaine’s view.
Shaine slammed the book shut and glared at him. “Nosy. I thought you and Mikhyal had gone off to Miraen to deal with the attack on the fields.”
Dirit hopped down off his shoulder and landed lightly on the table in front of him. “Not until tomorrow morning. His Royal Disheveledness is currently attempting to tame his hair into something less reminiscent of a rat’s nest before reporting for dinner. He suggested you might need a reminder. Which you apparently do. You’ll be officially late in three minutes, you know.”
Shaine glanced at the clock, alarmed to discover that the little dragon was right. His research had occupied him so thoroughly he hadn’t taken note of the time. Tucking the journal under his arm, he hurried out of the library, not bothering to look back and see whether Dirit had faded back into the mythe or not.
He stopped by his own suite first to slip the book safely under his pillow, then headed for the dining room. To Shaine’s immense relief, after the signing of the Northern Alliance treaty, Wytch King Drannik had stopped taking dinner with the Court. The war took up most of his time now, and as his heir, Mikhyal saw to most of the disputes brought before the king.
Shaine was late, of course, but Mikhyal and Tristin were even later, and no mention was made of it. The queen, as she often did these days, was dining in her own apartment, so it was just the four of them. Without the queen’s sensibilities to take into consideration, dinner conversation began with the crisis in Miraen.
“You’ll be leaving in the morning, then?” Drannik said the moment Mikhyal sat down.
Mikhyal gave his father a nod. “Ai, and Tristin will be accompanying me to Miraen. Once we’ve seen what we can do there, we’ll be going on to Altan. There is still a royal wedding or four to plan. I’ll stay in touch by messenger dragon. I want to be kept abreast of the conditions here, though I expect we’ll be diverting most of our resources to patrols for the time being.”
“I think it best, and I expect our allies will agree,” Drannik said. “Unless we have some way of predicting where and when the Council will strike next, all we can do is keep watch on our most vulnerable resources. In the meantime, Ilya has called for all the mythe-weavers we can spare to come to Altan, where they will search for a way to thwart the Council, or at least put us on even ground. If we could open our own mythe-gates and send troops pouring into Askarra, we would be able to negotiate from a much stronger position. This attack on Miraen worries me greatly. If they succeed in destroying enough of our crops, they could starve us into surrender.”
“Have we anyone to send to Ilya?” Mikhyal asked.
“I’ve sent one of our dragon soldiers to visit all the estates and ask for those who aren’t needed there to report here. We’ll send a caravan… or a few dragons, depending on how many we get.”
“I’ll let Ilya know you’ve begun the search process, then.”
“Excellent.” Drannik turned his attention to his meal, and Mikhyal turned to Shaine. “I may not be able to get back here before the wedding, Shaine. Have you made a decision about attending yet?”
Shaine brightened as it occurred to him that the wedding celebration itself was the perfect reason for him to travel to Altan. From there, he could strike north using the mining road he’d identified. He’d have to obtain some mountaineering gear, and perhaps a pack animal, but those ought to be available in one of the villages.
Not wanting to appear too eager, Shaine peered at his brother through long, fiery red bangs that badly needed cutting. “I’m not sure. I… all those people…”
Yes, all those people, Anxin hissed. All of them watching you, all of them wondering just who it is looking out of your eyes.
Shaine couldn’t help the shudder that wracked his frame. All those eyes. Staring. Accusing.
“I know exactly how you feel,” Tristin said, giving him a sympathetic look.
“You never had a problem with people before, Shaine,” Drannik commented.
“Ai, but…” Shaine swallowed, reminding himself that he could slip away soon after he arrived, avoiding the Court entirely. “I never had a reason to fear what they might be thinking of me before, either.”
“Will you not go and represent your family?” Drannik pressed. “I’d go myself, but given the events of the past few weeks, I dare not.”
“Don’t push him, Father,” Mikhyal said softly. He gave Shaine an encouraging smile. “While I’d very much like you to be there, the last thing I want to do is force you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable. Just give it some thought. I won’t be hurt if you decide you can’t manage it.”
Shaine blinked back the tears that rose, unbidden, to his eyes. Mikhyal might be a strict military commander, but he was never anything but gentle with Shaine, even after all the horrible things Shaine had said and done to him under Anxin’s control. Even after Shaine had arranged for his brother’s murder. “For you, I’ll try, Mik,” he said, managing a watery smile.
Mikhyal didn’t need to know what, exactly, he meant to try.
No one needed to know.