Today's Homeschool Mom Author is Jenelle Leanne Schmidt...
How long have you been homeschooling?
How long have you been writing?
Since as long as I could write. Seriously, I recently found a story I had written when I was seven years old about my little brother. It wasn’t very good, but it was kind of cute.
What gave you the writing bug?
A myriad of things, I would say. My parents read a lot of books out loud to me all throughout my growing up years. My dad would read to us kids every night before bed, a tradition that I tried to stay a part of even after I could read to myself. It was that tradition that led to me writing my very first fantasy novel, as I wrote it one summer for my dad to read to my siblings. Also, my grandma was an author, and I grew up reading her book He Whistles for the Cricket over and over.
Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Well, like I said, I found that story I wrote when I was seven, though I don’t really remember writing it. The first story I remember writing was a ridiculous little adventure in which two sisters escaped an orphanage, lived off the land in the woods, found a wild horse, tamed it, and then went on to win the Triple Crown. It was awful. But it did teach me that I could write a long story and finish it.
What type of books do you write?
I write mostly fantasy, though I have dabbled in sci-fi as well, and occasionally I write fairy tale retellings.
How do you find time to write?
That is the question of the hour, isn’t it? I mostly write either in the middle of the afternoon when my children are all in quiet time or taking naps, or in the evenings after they go to bed. My husband will sometimes shoo me out of the house on weekend afternoons to the library or a coffee shop with strict instructions to write for a couple of hours, so that also helps.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
So much about writing is challenging, it’s hard to know where to begin answering this question! From finding the time to write, to finishing a rough draft, to getting through all the editing stages of a project, to working with my editors and cover artist to get everything finalized and published... sometimes it feels like the entire process is a challenge. But then, if it was easy, I don’t think it’d be as much fun.
Do your kids help with your creative process or give you ideas?
I often get ideas from cute or funny things my kids say. They definitely help me create more realistic younger characters, as they are 8, 4, and 2 respectively.
What is the single most significant thing you can tell us about your writing career?
The most significant thing that has happened in my writing career to date was winning the Rooglewood Press Five Enchanted Roses contest and having my retelling of Beauty and the Beast published in that anthology. So much of that process was a fantastic learning experience and I know my writing has only improved because of it.
Can you tell us about a character in your current work in progress?
Sure, right now I’m working on a series called The Turrim Archive that is a bit of a conglomeration of fantasy, sci-fi, and a hint of steampunk. Here’s a little bit of a description about one of the main characters: meet Marik, an airship pirate of the highest caliber. He has a reputation far and wide as one of the most successful pirates in the business. If you need something stolen and the price is right, I’m sure he can get it for you. However, he also abides by his own code of honor and there are some jobs he simply won’t do. Arrogant, confident, and fiercely loyal to those few he considers to be his close friends, Marik often seems like a walking contradiction. His true loves are flying his airship and making life miserable for the Ar’Mol and his armies.
Read an excerpt from King’s Warrior
|Click on the cover to go|
Kamarie urged Tor to go faster, wrapping strands of his silvery-gray mane around her hands. She was late, and Darby would be worried. She had not meant to wander so far from home on her daily ride, but her tutors had been particularly demanding that morning and Kamarie was frustrated. Why was all this so hard for her? The niceties of court etiquette gave her fits, politics was slightly easier, and history was one of her best subjects, but today she had been unable to grasp even the simplest of her lessons. And so, at her first opportunity, she had slipped out to saddle up Tor and go for a ride to clear her head. They had wandered through fields and over streams, chatting with the occasional farmer or merchant who happened to be passing by, and Kamarie had lost all track of time. Now the Dragon’s Eye was beginning to set and the chill of evening hung in the air. Her sable hair streamed behind her as Tor carried her at a gallop back to the palace. A fork in the road appeared before her; without hesitation, Kamarie chose the left-hand path, despite the fact that it would take her through the forest. The roads were safe, and although the forest was dark and sometimes sheltered rogues, she was not concerned. The forest road was the shorter route. And the sword at her side was not merely for show, after all.
When Kamarie reached the stables, she threw Tor’s reins to a stable-boy - something she never did - because if she took the time to care for the horse herself she would miss dinner all together.
“Princess, where have you been?” Darby sighed, as Kamarie entered her rooms. The elderly woman wrinkled her nose. “You smell like the stables again. I have been looking for you everywhere.”
“Relax, Darby,” Kamarie smiled. “There’s plenty of time before dinner.”
“Not if you don’t hurry!” The gray-haired woman ushered the princess across her grand bedroom to the smaller room where her bath had been drawn up and waited, the water quickly growing cool. “You need to wash that smell off you and then I’ll work on your hair. You really don’t have much time.”
When Kamarie emerged from her bath, clean and smelling of roses, she was dressed in a sapphire gown that matched her eyes and had been made from the finest satin in the realm. Darby sat her down in front of her mirror and fussed over the princess’ long, dark hair, combing, pinning, and arranging, all the while clicking her tongue disapprovingly. Kamarie smiled at her reflection, her blue eyes twinkling mischievously.
“Who is our guest of honor tonight, Darby?”
“Prince Elroy of Roalthae, Princess, as you would know very well if you paid better attention to your schedule.”
“Ah yes, Elroy,” Kamarie sighed. “What do you know about him, Darby? I’ve only met him formally, and we’ve never talked. At least he’s a bit older than me, unlike the Duke of Lan-Point.”
Darby grinned at the memory. “That was definitely a surprise.”
Kamarie rolled her eyes. As she neared marrying age, her father had begun receiving letters requesting permission to court his daughter. As the only child of the King of Aom-igh, Princess Kamarie was an ideal match for any nobleman with the slightest ambition. King Arnaud tried to filter out the most horrifying requests, but some surprises still occurred. They had exchanged correspondence with the Duke of Lan-Point, a small holding on the southern end of Iolanver and one of the four barrier islands directly to the east of Aom-igh. The duke wrote eloquently and respectfully, so Arnaud and Kamarie had agreed to invite him to the palace for a visit. When he arrived, they had discovered that he was extremely young, no more than five, and that his letters had been written by a well-meaning steward who simply wanted his young duke to be accorded the honor that an invitation to King Arnaud's palace would engender. King Arnaud had politely but firmly informed the steward that in the future he should be honest with his king, as it would save everyone subsequent embarrassment.
“He was sweet, exactly what I would like to have in a little brother,” Kamarie said.
“But not in a suitor.”
Kamarie smiled. “No... well, yes, but fifteen or twenty years older.”
“Well let’s see, what do I know of Prince Elroy,” Darby mused, holding barrettes up to Kamarie’s hair and considering. “Mmmm, he is the ruler of Roalthae.”
Roalthae was the largest and northernmost of the four barrier islands that stood directly between Aom-igh and open oceans. The barrier islands had always been friendly with Aom-igh, but they each had their own rulers. Of those rulers, three were married, leaving Prince Elroy as one of the best matches for Kamarie. In Roalthae, the ruler was given the title of “Prince” until he married and produced an heir, at which time his title would be changed to “King.” It was a strange system but one that worked well. As such, Prince Elroy was a worthy match for the Princess of Aom-igh, and it would be an attractive match for Elroy as well, since he would gain a larger throne than the one he currently occupied and could choose to either appoint one of his future heirs as Prince and future King of Roalthae or raise a deserving cousin to that position if he only had one heir. Add to all this Kamarie’s beauty and status as a wife and it was certainly an opportunity that the Prince of Roalthae would covet.
“Well, you know what he looks like: tall, handsome, blue eyes, dark hair, square jaw. He is said to be a fair ruler, although I have heard rumors that he is quite a bit sterner than your father. He keeps his country in line by threat of the sword, if you catch my meaning. However, that could simply be because he has no wife to temper him, and no heir to give him a feeling of security about his position.”
“What about his temperament?”
“I’ve heard he is an amiable man. If he has ambitions he keeps them closely guarded, he didn’t even write to your father until a few weeks ago, and you’ve already entertained dozens of would-be suitors. When I’ve seen him on formal occasions he seems friendly enough, but a bit aloof.”
Kamarie twisted her mouth in thought. “Well, I just hope he isn’t a complete bore. It doesn’t sound like he’s an ideal match for me, but I suppose I should give him a fair chance. Maybe he’ll surprise me and be an interesting conversationalist.” After a moment she grinned ruefully, thinking about some of the wild stories that were still told about her younger days. “Maybe we’ll surprise each other.”
Darby smiled and patted the top of Kamarie’s head gently. “You will be fine. Remember, your father has given you complete authority over your choice. Even if Prince Elroy is the best match for you politically, if you can’t stand the man you only have to suffer through one dinner in his company. At least, until you are queen, and then it will be your duty to host these sorts of occasions and mingle with your nobles.”
“Thanks for the comfort, Darby.” Kamarie grimaced. Then she stood up. “How do I look?”
“Lovely.” Darby smiled fondly at her young charge. “Don’t worry, I’ll be at your side, as always.”
❖ ❖ ❖
While Princess Kamarie descended the stairs of the palace towards the formal dining hall, far away to the south a young boy sat and watched as the Dragon’s Eye sank down in the sky and kissed the horizon. It had been a long, difficult climb to the top of Mount Theran, but Yole was convinced that it had been worth it. It had taken him nearly a week, but now he rested on the top of the world. It was the most free he had ever felt. He tilted his head back and let waves of cool wind wash over his face. By holding his arms out and closing his eyes, he could almost imagine he was flying. He relaxed and let his imagination take him soaring. In his mind’s eye he could see the village below him; the white fluffy sheep and the sleek brown cattle dotting the fields; he could also see the tiny houses of the peasants who tended the pastures and the animals. With his eyes closed and his mind wandering above the plains, he could almost hear the haunting melody of the pipes played by the shepherds in the valleys.
Yole loved the music that came from the shepherd’s pipes; that music was the only thing he could remember from his past. He could not remember much, but he could remember the music. His childhood seemed a blur to him. Fragments of memories danced around inside his head of places, people, and occurrences that could not possibly have happened to him. And there was a face: it stared down at him with bright eyes that somehow seemed to be the wrong color blue. The rosy lips parted gently as though saying something in a soft voice, and a tear glistened on the soft, pink cheek before falling to his hand where he could remember playing with it like a bauble. Of course, Yole knew that part of the memory couldn’t be real. The face looked at him in a fond mixture of joy and sorrow. He believed that the face belonged to his mother, but if the truth were to be told, Yole was not sure that he had ever had a mother.
Yole could not remember a time when he had not been on his own. Never had there been a time when he truly belonged to anyone and this nomadic life was all he knew. There were moments when he began to feel as though he had found a place and family to call home, only to find himself alone, bewildered, and searching once again. His most recent out-casting burned in his memory, and his cheek still stung from the rebuke he had received.
Yole had hired-on to tend the herds of a generous family this Warm-Term, but he would not be shepherding in Peak’s Shadow again. Something had happened, and he had been told in no uncertain terms that he must leave and never return. There was fear, yet understanding, in Brant's eyes as he told Yole to head for the Mountains of Dusk. Yole was bewildered as to what he had done to make himself an outcast by this family and this village that he had begun to claim as his own. Yole was a bit of a loner but not one to make enemies. He took orders and did what he was told, no questions asked. He knew better than to touch what belonged to others, and he followed all the unwritten rules that came with having no heritage to speak of.
The day was warm and slow. The type of day that makes one want to lie down in the long, cool grass and just pass the hours being idle. Yole was in the pasture watching Brant's flock, listening to the pipe music that neighboring shepherds were playing in their fields. The music intertwined and danced over the ground to where Yole was sitting. Pipe music was like that: it was light and floating, and the wind could carry it farther than most other types of music. Yole had always wanted to learn to play the pipes, but he had no one to teach him. As he listened, Yole felt perfectly content watching the sheep and letting the music wash over him. The longing was still there, of course, the longing that never quite left him, but Yole managed to ignore it.
The music enchanted and mesmerized Yole. He remembered falling asleep, but had no idea how long, or deeply he slept. He did know that he had a flying dream and was now awake in a cold sweat of fear. Yole loved these dreams of flying, loved that feeling of being up so high that no one in all the world could reach him. He loved waking with vivid recall of soaring through the skies, yet he also knew with every such dream, that anger, fear, and confusion soon followed.
Yole did not have to wait long. Within moments he heard shouting from all directions. He lay still; knowing, with that deep, insightful knowledge that possessed him at the most inopportune times, that the shouts meant trouble, and they were meant for him.
“Father, I found him!” Brant’s son called out loudly.
Schea was Brant's oldest child, only a few years younger than Yole himself, but for some reason he was frightened and would come no closer until his father arrived. Brant himself had no such hesitancy. He walked over to where Yole was lying and grabbed him by his tunic, lifting him to his feet. Yole opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, but he did not get the chance. An unexpected slap across his face rendered him speechless for a moment; the blow did not hurt, much, but it did take him by surprise.
“Wh-what was that for?” he asked.
“That was for putting my family in danger!” Brant’s voice was quiet, but deadly. “How dare you come into my home and endanger my family in this way? How did you dare to presume that you were under my protection?”
Yole stared into Brant’s dark, angry eyes in bewilderment. “I-I-I…”
“No excuses! Go back to where you came from, this town will not tolerate your presence here any longer!” Brant said with force. “You must leave, I cannot protect you.”
Brant paused and seemed for the first time to notice Yole's confused and frightened expression; his tone softened and he laid a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Now listen to me. I will not harm you and I will not let them hunt you. I will not have you caged or beaten or killed while I can prevent it. The longer you remain here, the greater your danger. I have known these villagers for many years and they have seen hard and desperate times. The King's protection does not always reach this far. They are not cruel or vengeful, but they are very, very serious about protecting their families and their livelihoods; they will do whatever that requires, so you must leave and leave quickly. I lost five sheep today and I can ill afford to lose any more. I will provide you with provisions for a fortnight and then you will fend for yourself. Head along the north end of Peak's Shadow and it will take you deep into the Mountains of Dusk. I will keep the villagers from following you, but if you are not well into the mountains within a fortnight, you will be at their mercy. Do you understand me, son?” Brant's voice was almost compassionate now. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added something Yole could not grasp, something that kept him awake at night as he puzzled over it for a long time afterwards: "And one more thing, if you must live near people, you really ought to be more careful.”
At the time, Yole merely nodded meekly. He had discovered that it was best not to argue or complain about what he did not understand. He was expected to understand. And he was expected to obey.
❖ ❖ ❖
Far below Mount Theran and Yole, in the village of Peak’s Shadow, Brant stared at the setting Dragon’s Eye with a hard look on his face. There was trouble in Aom-igh, and it was spreading, there was no doubt about that. What trouble, he did not know, but trouble nonetheless. He could feel it coming, there had been signs everywhere: first there had been Yole, and now there were whispers of a coming war and an increase in the number of strangers passing through villages. It could not mean anything good. Even though he was tucked away in Peak’s Shadow, Brant maintained his contacts in order to stay abreast of the happenings in Aom-igh. Just because all had been quiet for over twenty years did not mean that he could relax his guard. He wondered for a moment about Yole, the boy had been gone for almost a week now, and Brant hoped that he had made his way through the Mountains of Dusk and found some place where he could be accepted, although these days that was unlikely...
Brant remembered when he had first come to Peak’s Shadow, the people were a friendly lot, though they did not welcome strangers readily. It had taken time to win their trust. He and his wife had made this village their home, where they became part of the quiet lifestyle that surrounded them. This was precisely as Brant wanted. He had come to Peak’s Shadow for peace and quiet and rest, and here he had found it. Life in Peak's Shadow was good, with a loving wife, two wonderful children, a strong herd of cattle, and more than enough silly sheep. They owned a quaint, smallish cottage that he had built himself on a property with a spacious pasture, watered by a charming creek that gurgled and sang to itself. There was so much that life had to offer if a man worked hard and made a point of noticing and enjoying the little things.
He had tried to live a simple life; had tried to bury his past, although he never forgot. He had hoped to be able to work hard enough now, and for a good long time, so that he could live a peaceful, restful life when he got to that age that was considered “old.” But now, with an ominous premonition weighing in his mind, this desire for peace and solitude brought with it a vulnerability to the dangers of life he had never sensed before... had never feared before.
“Father!” His son came running up to him. Brant looked down at the little boy and felt a pang in his heart. He longed so to protect these little ones.
“What is it Schea?” he asked softly.
“Ryder and I found a lizard! Down by the creek! Come and see.” The little boy pulled on his father’s cloak and pointed.
Brant laughed, and the dark clouds that had seemed to hang about him all morning dissipated in his merriment. He allowed his son to pull him along towards the pasture creek. His wife, Imojean, laid her hand on his shoulder. He turned his head to look at her; she was smiling. He smiled back, as her presence chased away the last of his fears. He loved her dearly.
“Dinner will be ready soon,” she said. “Could you whistle for Kali on your way back from the creek? She’s out playing with the baby sheep.”
“They’re called lambs dear,” he teased her with a grin on his face.
“I couldn’t tell Kali that!” Imojean exclaimed. “Her favorite meal is lamb.”
Perhaps it was the look on her face, half playful, pretending to be shocked and hurt, and half loving. But it gave Brant an odd feeling. He leaned closer and kissed her. He wasn’t sure why he did it, he would see her again in a few minutes, but he kissed her as though he would never see her again.
“I’ll bring Kali,” he said. As he walked away, he was surprised to find that tears had sprung to his eyes.
The lizard was pretty neat, Brant had to admit, all slimy looking with dark green spots. Its tongue flicked in and out, causing Schea and his friend Ryder to shriek with laughter. Brant smiled at the boys’ antics.
“Look, look!” Schea yelled. The lizard had apparently grown tired of its audience for it was now slithering off the rock towards the water with as much dignity as could possibly be expected from a lizard.
“That’s our cue boys,” Brant said. “Time for dinner.”
“Can Ryder come over for dinner?” Schea pleaded.
“No, not tonight Schea. How ‘bout tomorrow?” Brant promised quickly as his son’s face fell.
At the promise of tomorrow the little boys brightened. “I hear my ma calling anyway,” Ryder said. “See you tomorrow Schea!” he called over his shoulder as he skipped off towards home.
Schea turned to his father. “We have to go get Kali,” he said earnestly. “She won’t hear if we whistle.”
“Why not?” Brant asked, slightly perplexed by his son’s suddenly serious gaze.
“Because, she’s in make-believe world. She can’t hear the sounds in this world,” Schea said importantly as he repeated what his sister had told him.
Brant laughed. “Oh, she is, eh? Well, we’ll just have to go rescue her back into our world. Let’s go!”
Schea hurried along, running to keep up with his father’s long strides. Brant suddenly stopped short, overwhelmed by the scene before him. Kali was sitting in the field, the long grass matted down where she had been playing. Two baby sheep were frolicking around her and one was lying next to her with its head on her lap. She was framed with a halo of brightness. Her blond hair gently blowing in the breeze and catching the light of the setting Dragon’s Eye, her green eyes sparkled and shone as she looked up at her father and brother standing before her, entranced by the scene.
“Papa, the baby sheep were trying to eat my dress!” she giggled, and her young voice wafted through the air like tiny wind chimes.
Sharing this small bit of information she stood up. She was a year younger than her brother, but she was older (or perhaps wiser) than anyone Brant had ever known. She had a faraway look in her eyes more often than not. Her dreams of fairy worlds and her odd little speeches about magic endeared her to him as much as did her matter-of-fact way of saying things. Hers was a life lived without fear. Once, she had been very sick and he had been worried that she might not pull through, and it had been Kali who had comforted him. She was only three at the time, but already she was speaking in full, strangely grown-up sentences. Brant sighed as the memory came back to him in a rush; it was one he would never forget.
He had been sitting by her bedside. It was night and she was burning up with a fever, coughing badly. The physician had treated her, but said it was too soon to tell if she would recover. The medicine was helping her sleep, but her breathing was labored and painful. Brant had put his head in his hands and whispered a prayer to Cruithaor Elchiyl when she had suddenly stirred. Her green eyes flickered open, looking glassy in the candlelight. She touched his arm and said, “Papa, you don’t have to worry about me. If I die, don’t be sad. I’ll be in the world of the cearaphiym where everything is full of light, looking down at you and saying, ‘Don’t cry for me, it doesn’t hurt anymore, it doesn’t hurt anymore Papa.’ So I want you to promise that you won’t be sad.” He had promised in a choked voice, and had rejoiced when she had gotten well again.
“Come on,” Brant smiled, “your mother has dinner waiting for us.”
❖ ❖ ❖
When Kamarie finally entered the Long Hall, she noticed that it was crowded for a private dinner. She frowned slightly and then wiped the expression from her face and smiled pleasantly, mentally counting how many people were assembled. As she wound through the courtiers and greeted them with smiles and a few soft words, she realized that almost all the nobles in Aom-igh had been gathered for this dinner. She saw that Sir Garen was also in attendance, as well as the other senior knights, and she knew that something was wrong. This was obviously not going to be a private dinner with a would-be suitor. For a moment, Kamarie felt a sense of panic. Surely her father wouldn’t have pledged her to Prince Elroy without her permission. She glanced around frantically, expertly concealing the wild emotion she felt, looking for her father. She found him already near the head of the table. He was speaking in low tones to one of his senior knights and his expression was grave; he looked more serious than Kamarie could ever remember seeing him. Concern tugged at her thoughts as she noticed that in the midst of all the people assembled in the Hall, Prince Elroy was nowhere to be seen. She tuned into the mood around her and felt at once both relief and apprehension. There was tension and expectation, but mostly there was uncertainty. This audience had not been gathered to hear of an engagement, but something much more serious. Something more ominous.
King Arnaud straightened and raised his chin, signalling for all to be seated. A servant blew a short blast on a tiny trumpet and the courtiers quickly and gracefully flowed to their tables, waiting to be seated. Across the room, King Arnaud caught his daughter’s eye and, with a slight motion of his head, invited her to sit next to him and her mother, Queen Zara.
Kamarie moved across the floor in something like a daze. Questions tumbled together in her head. Normally, she would have felt extremely awkward to be walking across a huge room with so many eyes suddenly turned on her. The only thing that kept her mind alert were the whispers as she passed through the gaze and scrutiny of supposed friends.
“She's certainly grown in the past year, do you remember at the Cold-Term banquet last year when she tripped over the fountain and fell into the punch bowl?" one “lady” whispered to the next.
“Oh yes, but my favorite story is when she dressed like a peasant, parading into this Hall carrying a wooden sword!”
Then came the snicker. No, courtiers were too mannerly to snicker, so it must have been a cough. Kamarie kept her temper under control and smiled directly at the ladies who were whispering behind their handkerchiefs, causing both of them to jump conspicuously and curtsy respectfully. Oh yes, there were advantages to knowing how to play this game, Kamarie thought pleasantly. Besides, the event with the wooden sword happened eleven years ago.
As she took her place between the King and Queen, the princess congratulated herself on how far she really had come. Most of her lessons could be dreadfully dull and boring, but she could recite every one of them flawlessly. To her parents’ and tutors’ delight, she had seen her mistakes as challenges to be overcome and had taken great pains to learn how to dance without landing in the punch bowl, sit down without knocking over the table, and walk through a room of snickering guests without tripping over her own dress. Though Kamarie still could not see the use of these arts, except as a tool to avoid whisperings and ridicule, she had set out to master them, and master them she did.
Her mother whispered, “Beautifully done, my daughter.”
Kamarie squeezed her mother’s hand. “What is going on?”
“Prince Elroy sent a message to tell us that he has been unavoidably detained and will not be joining us tonight, or perhaps ever.”
Kamarie had never seen her mother frightened, yet Queen Zara’s tone struck a chord that sent a chill through her. She glanced at her mother questioningly.
“Is something wrong?”
Zara smiled for the benefit of those nearby, and whispered, “You must be brave now, darling.” Then she turned away, leaving Kamarie confused and questioning.
King Arnaud stood and raised his hand. A hush filled the room. Kamarie noticed the underlying tension that filled the Long Hall. This uncertain feel was present when she arrived, but she had been so focused on not embarrassing herself that she had not fully appreciated it. Now, in this eerie silence, it was the only thing she was aware of.
Her father held up a small piece of parchment and said, “Prince Elroy has declared war on Aom-igh.” Arnaud's words fell like stone in the tomb-like silence of the hall, and then cautious whispers rose to the rafters as questions of alarm tumbled together.
King Arnaud raised his hand and spoke again, his calm silencing the whispers. “I have sent trusted men to Roalthae to learn the meaning of this threat. We do not know but we can guess that Elroy has allied himself with the Dark Country.”
Kamarie felt an icy hand creep down her spine at these words. The Dark Country was only spoken of in whispers. Six hundred years had passed since King Llian had defended against their invasion, but fear of this Warrior Kingdom lived on in legend and the people of Aom-igh could not talk about the Dark Country without recalling those dark and evil times.
Kamarie stopped contemplating the Dark Country and turned her attention back to her father.
“Since Prince Elroy had hoped to court our daughter, we can only assume that he means to take by force what he could have gained through marriage. As I do not know his plans, it is reasonable to assume that Kamarie is in danger. For this reason, I am sending her south, to stay until the danger has past.”
She was to be sent away? Kamarie looked up, her bright blue eyes widening. In her outrage, she promptly forgot every single etiquette lesson she had ever learned and raised her voice for all to hear. “No!” she cried, rising out of her chair. “I will not be sent away. I will remain right here where I belong. I will not cower in safety with our people in danger!”
King Arnaud smiled kindly at his daughter, she reminded him so much of himself in his younger days. “Kamarie,” he said firmly in a quiet tone meant only for her hearing, “we will speak of this later.”
At the warning in his brown eyes, Kamarie fell silent and sat back down. As her father continued with further instructions, Kamarie let the words wash over her. She kept a pleasant look on her face, picking at her food, while her mind was spinning with fury at the prospect of being sent away without even being consulted.
When at long last the dinner was over and their guests had departed, with grim faces and pledges to return in the morning for a full council of war, Kamarie turned to her parents, her eyes flashing. Arnaud glanced at her and placed a weary arm around her shoulders. Kamarie stiffened but accepted the hug impatiently.
“Let’s not do this here,” Zara said.
“Right,” Arnaud turned and led the way to their private family quarters in the castle. In the midst of their public lives, these quarters were a tiny, but beloved, haven that all three members of the royal family were grateful to have.
When they had settled into the older, thread-bare and comfortable couches in the family den, Kamarie opened her mouth to complain, but Arnaud raised a hand, forestalling her tirade.
“Kamarie, it is not what you think.”
“Not what I think? What am I supposed to think? I walked into that room tonight fearing that I had been pledged to Prince Elroy without my approval, which would have been bad enough, but to be sent away without even discussing it with me first? How can you do this to me? Where am I supposed to go?”
“Kamarie, let your father speak.” Zara sat down next to her daughter and patted her hand gently.
“I have an assignment for you, but it must be kept secret. I needed an excuse, something to keep anyone from guessing the real reason that I am sending you away from the palace. Fortunately, it is common knowledge that Prince Elroy was intending to court you.”
Kamarie felt her anger receding. She sat back quietly and let her father continue.
“There is a man that I need to send a message to. I cannot entrust any normal courier with this message, and I cannot let word get out that I am trying to reach him. I need someone I can trust, and at this moment, the number of people that I can both trust and spare is very small.”
Kamarie nodded, at once both placated and intrigued. “So that is why you are sending me.”
“Exactly. His name is Brant, and he was once the King’s Warrior. I need you to find him, the last I knew, he was living near Peak’s Shadow, and ask him to come to our aid. I will give you a note so he will know I sent you, since he is not likely to recognize you.”
“Who is he? Why do you need him?”
Arnaud sighed. “He helped keep me on the throne when King Jairem first proclaimed me as his heir. He was my right hand man for the first years of my reign, and he was a brother to me before that. He knew me when I was just Arnaud. Besides that, he is an excellent warrior and a brilliant strategist, and I will need both in order to win this war.”
“I see,” Kamarie said. “Forgive me for losing my temper, I just want to help so much, and the idea of being sent away without any opportunity to do something, anything, was more than I could stand. I would be honored to undertake this mission.”
“Thank you,” Arnaud replied wryly. “I thought you would understand, if you gave me a chance to explain.”
Kamarie nodded, barely hearing his words; her quick mind was racing to plan out her journey. For a moment, she slipped into a pleasant daydream. She would be the traveling princess in disguise that none would recognize but all would love. If she was lucky, bandits might attack their party, steal their money and kidnap her escorts. She, of course, would slip noiselessly into the forest and then, when her attackers least expected, she would rescue her friends and they would travel on; maybe the bandits would even be of the breed that was loyal to their king, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor and all that. Then they would offer to be their guides through the forest and sharpen their survival skills as their band grew. This trip was definitely starting to have possibilities.
Kamarie grinned and Zara squeezed her shoulder, bringing her out of her daydream. “You must leave as soon as possible. Darby will travel with you, of course, and your father has arranged for one of the squires to escort you on your journey.”
The castle was turned upside down within a few days. Soldiers and diplomats were everywhere, taking stock of their weapons and options. Dining halls and ballrooms were exchanged for mapping and strategy rooms as Arnaud readied his people for war. The countryside was now a training ground where the sound of metal on metal never ceased.
Kamarie’s own preparations were underway as well. While it felt strange to be leaving the palace not knowing when she would return, there was a deep contentment growing inside of her. Trading long gowns, pointless sheer shawls and diamond-studded, uncomfortable shoes for sturdy boots, leather cloaks and woolen tunics was far more to her liking. These clothes were more practical for the adventure ahead and far more comfortable for the activities she preferred.
Understanding his daughter’s heart more than she guessed, King Arnaud asked Sir Garen to present Kamarie with her own sword. She received it gracefully, doing her best to hide her delight, but she fooled no one as she easily sheathed the familiar weapon and looked up with a glow in her eyes. Queen Zara may have been surprised, but King Arnaud quietly shared the glow with his princess.
Kamarie was to depart within forty-eight hours. Darby had shown little reaction to the news that they were traveling south. All she had said was, “Humph, I suppose it couldn’t be helped.”
Oraeyn, a young squire about the same age as Kamarie, would be the only other companion on this journey. He had the misfortune to be training under a knight who had two squires. The other squire was older and would be going to battle with his knight-mentor. Oraeyn was not pleased with this new assignment, but nobody had asked him so he gritted his teeth and bore his disappointment alone. This was to have been his first big battle and the ache of being sent away grated on his nerves. Oraeyn glared at Kamarie and Darby every time he saw them over the next two days. Neither one of them seemed to notice his silent attack, which only added to his frustration.
Kamarie spent much of her time finding out all she could about this King’s Warrior. Since her mission was supposed to be secret, she asked her questions as innocently as she could, expressing her interest as pure curiosity due to rumors and gossip she had heard. She tried to speak with her father, but he was preoccupied with other tasks and did not seem eager to answer her questions.
“I’m sorry, darling,” Zara replied when Kamarie came to her, “I do not know Brant well, but your father trusts him and my heart tells me he is worthy of that trust. My only comfort in sending you away is that your purpose is to find him. More than that, I cannot say.”
In frustration, Kamarie turned to Darby. “If he and my father were so close, why have I never heard him mentioned before?” she asked, as the elderly maid folded up some clothes to be packed for their journey.
“Well, dearie, he’s been gone from your father’s service a long while now, before you were born, I believe. I never got to know him, although I saw him around the palace quite a bit at the beginning of your father’s reign, but he and your father were quite close, at least according to your mother. Closer than brothers is how she described them once, if I’m remembering correctly.” And that was all that Darby would say on the subject, so Kamarie hunted elsewhere for information.
She found Sir Garen in the armory polishing his sword. He was the oldest and wisest knight in Aom-igh. It was common knowledge that he was undefeated with a sword and his history in battle required an age he did not show. He directed all combat training with a demanding eye and his knights both loved and feared him. Garen would be one upon whom Arnaud would rely in this coming battle. Garen insisted that knights take care of their own armor and weapons, and he led by example.
“Sir Garen?” Kamarie asked.
“Yes, Princess? I suppose you’ve come to learn about Brant.”
“What?” Kamarie was puzzled.
“The King’s Warrior, his name is Brant.”
“Yes, I know... I was just wondering...”
Garen grinned. “I know all about your mission, Princess. It was my idea.”
“Oh. Well, yes, I was wondering what you knew about him?”
Garen sighed. “Precious little. He arrived with your father when King Arnaud was summoned to court to be named as King Jairem’s heir.” Garen’s eyes took on a far-away look as he sat back, lost in memory. “They were just boys at the time, but there was something about the way that one carried himself. It spoke of nobility and pride and self-assurance, the kind that a man gets when he’s been in battle more than once and faced enemies that meant business. Oh, he tried to hide it, tried to stay in the background and let Arnaud take all the scrutiny, but he couldn’t escape the notice of everyone. Some noticed and some thought a mistake had been made, that Brant was the real heir. King Jairem insisted though, and so did Brant. He could have taken the throne, there were quite a few who would have given it to him,” here Garen chuckled, “Arnaud himself was one of them, but that Brant... he never seemed to want it.”
“He wasn’t ambitious?”
“Not in that way. He was content to become Arnaud’s Warrior, to wander the realm and bring justice where it was needed and report problems back to his King. Then, in the year you were born, he came to the palace one time, just briefly, submitting his resignation, asking the king to let him out of his oath, his sworn bond. Seems he had met a woman and he wanted to settle down and pursue a life with her. The land was settled and at peace, and Brant had done so much... well, your father granted his request, didn’t even think about it.”
Kamarie frowned. “Thank you, Sir Garen.”
“You be careful on your journey now, do you understand me?”
“What do you mean?”
“I just mean that you shouldn’t go looking for trouble,” Garen replied.
Kamarie grinned and left the armory without saying a word. She had much to think about and she felt that, even with all the information Garen had shared, this King’s Warrior was an even bigger mystery than before.
The morning of the departure was cloudy, and by the time Kamarie, Darby, and Oraeyn were ready to set out the sky let loose with a cold downpour of rain. Queen Zara’s pale blue eyes searched the horizon anxiously. She turned to her husband. “Do you think they really ought to…?” she did not finish the question, but Kamarie knew what her mother had been going to say. She was actually wondering the same thing herself. She did not relish starting out in the rain, nor was she going to get too excited about setting up camp or sleeping outside if it continued like this. It was a miserable day for traveling.
King Arnaud replied to the half-asked question, “Your tracks will be washed away by the rain; your cloaks are of good, solid cloth; and your horses are well trained and will not mind the weather. The longer you stay here in the palace, the harder it will be to leave in secret. Also, you may as well get used to this weather, you will certainly run into more on your way to Peak’s Shadow.”
Kamarie believed him and steeled herself inwardly. Her father had come to the throne in unlikely fashion. He had been raised by his aunt and uncle on a farm in southern Aom-igh with no knowledge that his real parents were distant relatives to the king. The king before Arnaud had never had any children. The distantly related Arnaud, living in the country and completely unaware of his royal blood, had been King Jairem’s choice to succeed him to the throne. King Jairem had searched the country far and wide for someone with the right family history as well as the right sort of character and had found Arnaud. Kamarie’s father had been set on the throne somewhat against his will. His life growing up had not been the sort that most royalty considered their right and privilege. Kamarie knew her father had spent many cold nights tending sheep before his appointment to the throne of Aom-igh.
Outwardly the king smiled cheerfully when he spoke of the weather they would run into, but inwardly he was worried. He did not know what was in store for his kingdom; all he had was a guess. He had allowed a few rumors to escape the walls of the palace encouraging the belief that Kamarie would be traveling the country in royal style, surrounded by an entourage, with the purpose of expressing encouragement and hope among their people. He calculated that sending her on this urgent mission, off the beaten path, in peasant attire, with only two companions would keep her unnoticed. He needed her to reach Peak’s Shadow unharmed and undetected. Not only for her sake, but for her companions and for Brant as well. He knew what Brant’s presence would add to their chances and he feared this may be known to their enemies as well.
He turned to Oraeyn. “Do you remember the directions?”
The boy nodded. “Yes, sir, like I know my own sword.”
Arnaud was satisfied. He knew this capable squire was disappointed at being given these orders and taken away from the impending battle, but someday perhaps he would understand just how important this mission was. When he meets Brant, I don’t think he will remain disappointed, Arnaud smiled to himself. Someday, the king was sure, this youth would make a fine knight.
Zara held Kamarie close as the rain poured down on them. “Be careful Kamarie,” she whispered almost pleadingly. Then she turned to Oraeyn. “You watch over them.” It was not a request.
Arnaud hugged Kamarie and handed her a small piece of paper with his seal on it before she expertly mounted her horse. Kamarie met his eyes and smiled as she slipped the note into a secret pocket on the inside of her cloak.
“Don’t worry, Father, we will find Brant.”
Arnaud put an arm around Zara as the three travelers rode off into the rain. “They will find Brant, and we will see them again.”
Zara stared after her daughter. “I hope so,” she whispered, “I hope so.”
Together they turned and walked back inside. The private farewell took place behind the stable and away from prying eyes. No one knew when the Princess was leaving, and King Arnaud intended to keep it that way. Meanwhile, he now had to prepare his country for war, and a weariness settled over Arnaud that would not pass for many long days.
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