Extracts from current Works in Progress

 

DUST BOUND – snippet 1

 

Deep cracks scarred the road in front of her. She stretched her leg across a smaller rift, one hand resting on the wreck of an old bus for balance. Ryder filled her mind. Strong arms and broad shoulders that carried the burdens of everyone in the compound. The smile that would turn to a grimace when she walked in too late, a fierce glint in his hazel eyes. She ignored the flutter in her heart. His care was for everyone, she was nothing special.

Blue light pulsed through the gathering Dust, a burning afterglow smeared across her eyes. She threw herself over the crack and tumbled to the ground before scrabbling under the carriage of the old double decker. Time stopped. Sucking in shaky breaths, she kept her eyes on the rusted metal above her and willed her pulse to stop racing. Distant sirens from the compound rang in her ears, drilling pain into the base of her neck. No. Breathe. Let go. Tears left tracks in the fine grey powder dusting her face and she scowled. Stop. Breathe. You’re safe. Safer here than at the compound near Fae eyes that see too much.

Her breathing slowed and she rubbed the silvery scars on her arms, burning heat prickling under her skin. Damn Faeries. They already came this year. They already came…

The orange tinged metal of the bus blocked out the sky, Fae magic filtering pale blue through holes in the panels. It would be so easy to stay hidden, to not put herself at risk. Ryder’s crooked smile came to mind. She might be safe, but that was no guarantee he would be. Memories clamoured to escape, Fae claws and pain flashed through her mind. She gritted her teeth, rolled over and scrambled out from under the bus. Ashen powder swirled around her arms and legs with every inch she crawled forward, until she swam through clouds of grey.

She pushed herself upright and fumbled in her pack for the binocs. They weren’t great. Unlike other models, they didn’t filter Dust from the visuals. Unlike other people, she didn’t need them to.

Tattered buildings forming the three wings of the central compound came into focus. People gathered at the edge of the impact crater where the fourth wing of the old hospital once stood. Blue shimmers surrounding the Fae cast stuttering shadows on the dead ground and her gaze drifted to the rubbled ridge that ringed the crater. Her heartbeat spiked and she looked away. Several thousand in their community, but only a couple hundred gathered to meet the Fae. They shuffled forward, eyes on the sky, children clinging to those who stayed at the back of the crowd. Everyone else would be waiting. The brittle casing of the binocs shifted under her fingers as images in her head battled the images filtering through the lenses. Jenny. Sitting on the sofa with her son. Staring at the door, willing it to stay closed.

She forced her gaze back the other way. To the lights. To the Fae. Blue swirls distorted the images but after a moment the lenses compensated for the glare and three Faeries came into view. Her stomach twisted and her vision shook as trembling hands slipped on the case. The Fae hovered just above the crater, bright multihued wings catching the breeze, shimmering in and out of focus. Bile rose at the back of her throat and she swallowed through a dry mouth. They can’t see me from here.

She dropped the glasses and rubbed her eyes, pushing a hand through her hair. Movement caught her attention and she peered at the compound. Ryder strode toward the Fae. Whipping the binocs back up she focused on his face, taut and grim even from here. Under control. Like always. He crossed his arms and faced off against the hovering floating Fae. Arguing. He was arguing with them. Her heart jumped into her throat. The Fae spread out, blue tendrils twisting from their outspread arms into the crowd. Ryder gestured sharply and the gate guards shifted to stand in front of the gathered people.  Fluttering wings spread out and a Fae garbed in red descended until it hovered directly in front of Ryder. Whatever it said seemed to change his mind. His shoulders slumped and the blue tendrils retracted, pulling children with them. Her lip trembled. A Taking. She turned away and shoved the glasses back in her pack with no wish to watch whose children they took.

Fine grey powder fluttered onto her cheeks and her arms, dusting her hair, turning dark strands into ash. The Dust was falling faster now, almost like raindrops. Cold, hard rain fell that day, seventeen years ago when –. She scrambled to her feet, shaking her head to clear the memories. Fingers tightening around her pack straps, she gritted her teeth. Time to head back. The Fae never stayed long once the Taking ended. The old tales told the truth. The Faeries do steal children and when they return them they’re never the same. Clambering over a car enveloped by Dust, she ignored the prickling of the scars running down her arms. Never.

 

DUST BOUND – snippet 2

 

Silence hit her as she stepped out into the compound, her door snicking shut behind her. People lined the wide path to the outside gate. She paused, her hand gripping the door handle, chewing her lip. No-one said a thing but they all met her eyes. Why have they all come? Taking a breath, she released the door handle and walked slowly down the pathway, conscious of every step. Towards the front of the line she spied Doc, who smiled at her and mouthed ‘Take care’ as she passed. Metal screeched as the guards dragged open the front gate as she came closer.

Ryder strode into the middle of the path and she stopped. Her eyes flicked over his pack, long coat and the goggles perched on his wound scarf. A small crossbow dangled from his hip and a knife holster sat on the other leg. Her heart stuttered. Nope. Not happening.

She stepped closer to him, keeping her voice low. “And what, oh great and glorious leader, do you think you’re doing?”

“Coming with you. Not very smart today, are you?”

His eyes glinted fiercely in the morning light and she lifted her chin. “I don’t need you to protect me.”

The air grew heavier as he leaned in so he was a hands-width from her face. “What makes you think I’m doing this for you?”

Heat sparked on her cheekbones. “I’m going to be moving fast. Think you can keep up?”

His lips curled and he quirked an eyebrow. “If I can’t, will you leave me behind?”

“Don’t be stupid. But don’t hold me back, either.”

He stepped aside and bowed her forward. Hoisting her pack tighter on her shoulders, she walked past him, out the gate. He fell into step beside her, adjusting his longer strides to hers, and she squashed the flickering thought that it was nice to be not going out there alone. But alone with Ryder is probably worse than alone by myself. She darted a glance up at his square jaw and hazel eyes, noticing, despite herself, the way the weak morning sun still lit up the copper in his hair. Yes. Worse and, in some ways, more dangerous.

 

DUST BOUND – snippet 3

 

A sound sliced through the silence, filling the Dust with the terror of her childhood. The deep baying cut into her mind, splitting open the wall she had built over her worst memories. She froze. “Oh no.”

Ryder darted a glance at her. “What is it?”

“The Hounds.”

“Hounds?”

She pushed them forwards, increasing the pace.  “Fae trackers bring them in when they want to hunt in packs. The hounds help them find and corner their prey.”

Great black beasts surged through her memory, their teeth ripping into the flesh of the woman who had taken her in.

“We have to run. Now!”

They raced downhill, leaping over ruins of buildings and dodging around carcasses of cars. Dust continued to fall and the baying of the hounds drew closer. Tama fell behind and she dropped back to grab his arm. “Run. You have to run, Tama. The hounds won’t stop.” Hauling him beside her, she followed Ryder as he sprinted down an old main street. Grey heaviness deadened most sounds but from their left a deep howl echoed as large black shapes ran sleekly in the distance. An answering call sounded from their right. She didn’t bother looking.

She yanked down her scarf so her voice wouldn’t be muffled. “Ryder! they’re herding us. We need to get off this path, now!”

He didn’t acknowledge with so much as a nod, but immediately veered off on an angle towards a broken and shattered building. She dragged Tama along their new path, legs catching the churned-up Dust and heart pounding against her ribs.

The hounds veered too but Ryder swung round the other way. A fallen telephone kiosk blocked the cluttered remains of an alleyway in between toppled buildings. Ryder leaped over the obstacle, his hand sliding in the Dust coating it. She pushed Tama ahead, cursing as he scrambled awkwardly over the telephone booth. Once he was safe on the other side, she pulled herself up with her arms and swung her legs over.

Ryder better know what he’s doing.

He stood at the other end of the alleyway, waiting for them, one hand gripping a metal fire escape.

“Are you mad?” she hissed. “No way is that ladder safe. The metal is corroded.”

“Only one way to find out. You know as well as I do if we stay on the ground we don’t stand a chance against those things. Now climb, I’ll send the boy after you.”

She debated arguing with him, insisting she be the last one to climb the ladder, but the Hounds’ cry echoed through the air. She gripped the metal with both hands and climbed. She was the lightest – if it didn’t hold her it wouldn’t hold him.

Years of Dust coated the metal and her grip slipped more than once. She tried not to rush too much but once Tama clambered up behind her, she sped up to avoid him pushing at her feet. His fear was almost tangible. She spared a glance down and saw Ryder still waiting at the bottom. Her gut clenched. Foolishly noble as always. Bet he was waiting to make sure they got up in case his extra weight tipped the balance and the metal broke. She climbed faster.

Her arms burned when she reached the top of the building, hauling herself over with shaking limbs. Tama fell down beside her. She leaned over to watch as Ryder raced up the ladder. The hounds’ call rang out and she let her chin fall on her arm. The beasts couldn’t climb, but even up here the three of them were effectively cornered. Memories flickered, sending pain tingling down her arms. The hounds weren’t the only ones out there. Hounds had masters.

 

PROJECT SIREN – snippet one

 

Waves thundered down on the deck, knocking Evan’s feet out from under him. He’d thought he would welcome death but as the ship reared against the grabbing tendrils of the ocean, the drive to life pushed him into action. His fingers snatched at the rungs of the ladder on the side of the bridge, muscles straining as the ocean fought to take him. Salt stung the cut on his cheek and he blinked water from his eyes. He dragged himself against the current, closer to the bridge flooding with surf. Alejandro’s still body floated past in the pounding waves. Evan stared at the red streaks of blood trailing from the crewman’s head and drew back his reaching hand. Cold nausea churned in his stomach. He turned to peer into the bridge, searching for Dan.

Metal groaned and shrieked as the boat shuddered. He looked to the darkening sky. A giant wave sucked in all light, beautiful and deadly. The world turned to water as the wave crashed onto the boat. He lost his grip on the ladder. Tumbling, smashing into groaning metal, lungs screaming for air, he sank.

Beneath the waves a heaving mass of churning water and hunks of boat tore at him. Jagged pieces of wood and steel pulled through the dark ocean. His lungs burned and he clawed his way toward the light taunting him on the surface. The light died as a large object slammed onto the water, pushing through, pinning him underneath and sinking inexorably to the seabed.

Hands scrabbling for a grip, trying to pull himself out from under the warped vent, he felt the last air escape his lungs.

But I haven’t finished living yet.

His fingers loosened their hold on the metal.

I don’t know if I ever started.

As his eyes closed, a shadow fluttered through the inky depths trailing a pale glow behind it. He sank into black quiet but felt the imprint of fingers on his arms.

 

 

PROJECT SIREN – snippet two

 

A jolt shot through Ana’s blood. An urge to stop Theia, to keep her from breaking her oath, brought her hand flying up, the webbing between her fingers pulsing. But she curled her arm back in a stroke through the water, pulling herself closer to the door. Her gills opened and closed with the rapidity of her heart beat. Theia cast her an opaque glance and slid the key into the lock.

The door opened with the merest push.

Darkness spilled out in streaking tendrils of sluggish water. The oily murk clogged her gills. She grit her teeth and pushed through the discomfort, sliding in through the doorway. Ripples of light flickered along the edges of the circular room, mosses and weeds responding to their luminescence and sending out their own weak light. Bubbles of light floated up from the bottom of the room as small shoals of jellyfish came to investigate. She twisted her tail, spinning slowly in the water, trying to take it all in. Carvings. So many carvings. Her heart thundered against her ribs. This place was a warning.

Theia’s tail flashed and disappeared around a column. Ana swam toward it, a prickling running up her spine. The column marked a dip, a  well in the floor. A fin slid into it as Ana stared.

Theia?

Follow me, sister. It isn’t as bad as you think.

The sides of the shaft scraped against her elbows and her hips bumped the rock as a sharp corner came up too fast. She clenched her jaw and thrust with her tail, seeking the end of this cramped space that stole her air.

The bright flash of Theia’s tail called her on.

Walls closed in on her at the end of the tunnel, a small space with a heavy stone slab at the centre. Symbols and pictographs covered the smooth stone.

I know you’re used to computers and books now, Sariana, but this rock bears our history. Here is the story of our uncle. The real story. It is tragedy and warning both.

She traced the carvings, the pain that lay within the story sending fire up through her webbing as the sensitive fibres brushed over the motifs.

 

 

Light Breaks – Snippet 1

 

Sunlight dappled the bonnet of the sedan, glaring off the grimy windscreen. Phoebe’s gaze caught on the swinging deodoriser cutout hanging off the rear vision mirror. She ripped it off, tossing it in the back seat.

“You don’t like it?”

She scowled at Damon. “It was making me dizzy.”

Leaning back against the car door he raised his brows in acknowledgement, a sigh deflating his chest. Blood soaked cardigan in one hand she fought back the simultaneous urge to smack him and kiss him.

Stupid idiot.

Blood oozed from ripped up skin. Balling up the cardigan, swallowing bile when red squelched through her fingers, she dabbed at the wound on his side. Why wouldn’t it heal? Breathing in sharply he pulled back from her touch.

“It’s your own fault, Damon. We should have left as soon as you sensed the Wyrgard.”

Indigo eyes flared, edged with gold, and his jaw tightened. Ignoring the skip in her heart she dragged her eyes back to his injury. “If you want to look tough you should get your hair out of your eyes.”  

“You should have left when I told you to.” Chill ice in his voice didn’t quite hide the jagged note of pain. Dammit, why didn’t he start healing?

Her fingers fluttered over edges of a wound turning ashen grey, her stomach twisting.

“In which case you’d be dead. You’re welcome.”

His hand covered hers, stilling shaking fingers.

“Phoebe.”

Her mouth scrunching she made herself look up at him.

“I’m not going to heal here. The dulling is too strong this close to the gate.” His fingers curled round hers.  “We need to get past the line, into Aelfhame.”

Words tripped over trembling lips. “You can’t walk.”

“No,” he said, mouth quirking up. “But you can drive.”

Her gaze slid past him, out the windscreen, long road leading towards distant mountains. Shifting colours layered the air, pointing the way for those who looked for it.

Driving a car. Into fairyland. Through a magic portal. With a wounded Fae in my passenger seat. What the hell has happened to my life?

“So when we take the car into the magic kingdom, does it disappear? What happens to it?”

His breath hitched as he laughed, and she pushed down against fresh blood leaking down his waist. Figures, the first time I make him laugh it hurts him.

“The car will stop working, but I will start working again. So, any time you’re ready, Phoebe.”

Pushing his hand on top of the bloody cardigan she sat back in the driver’s seat, scrabbling for the lever to move it forward so her feet could reach the pedals. The hum of the engine scraped in her ears, pulling on jagged nerves.

Potholes and broken concrete littered the road inside the tunnel. She cringed everytime the car juddered over something she couldn’t swerve round. Damon gasped once but waved her on when she slowed.

White haze curled around her fingers where they clutched the steering wheel. The painted line in the road taunted her, daring her to cross it. Heart pounding she eased up on the accelerator. Lilac mist snaked around her wrist, stroking her hand. She exhaled slowly.

“You can do this Phoebe.” Damon’s voice echoed as if it came from two different places . “It will take both of us to open the gateway.”

She tried to smile. “Are you sure using magic while driving is legal?”

He raised an eyebrow, then closed his eyes. Violet mist filled the footwell of the car, spilling out onto the road, flowing towards the line. Crap. Okay. I can do this. Red streamers powered towards the purple clouds in front of the line, darting in and swirling, twisting and pulling.

 

Light Breaks Snippet 2

 

Sunlight struggled to warm the early morning air and Phoebe shivered, shoving her hands in her pockets. She eyed the heavy door, its tattered panels and rusted knocker out of place next to the glass skyscrapers clustered around it.  Uncertainty spiralled through her. “Are you sure this is the place?”

Damon paused with his hand over the knocker, dark brows raised over glinting indigo eyes.

Heat flamed on her cheeks and she shrugged. “Only asking. Never expected a secret Fae lair to be in full view on Main Street.”

Her eyes roamed over the deserted footpath, littered with cigarette stubs and forgotten bits of people’s lives, avoiding his gaze.

“Are you learning nothing, Phoebe? When was the last time you were here?”

A restaurant across the road caught her eye and a familiar tightness spread over her chest. Simon loved that place. I always hated it. She bit the inside of her lip then sighed. “A while ago. Before my marriage ended.”  The moment the words fell from her lips she cringed. Oh man, Phoebe you doofus. He’s not interested in your failed love life. She peeped up at him. The lines of his face caught the shadows in the door well, his eyes shone cold and inhuman. Tingles of white mist curled up from her pockets and she shoved her hands further in, her heart skipping. “Yeah, so not for a long time. Why did you ask?”

He turned back and lifted the knocker.  Phoebe winced, anticipating screeching metal, but the heavy lion head moved silently upwards. The resounding boom when it landed bounced echoes off the stone doorway. Damon stepped back and glanced down at her. Ripples of light spread out from the mouth of the lion, purple, blue, and orange mist curling, teasing, and seeking.

Her breath hitched, the rush of her heartbeat filling her ears. The grey stone around her vanished, slowly unwinding into a riot of colour and luminescence. Damon grabbed her shoulder and marched her through the haze and into the darkness behind the door, which shut out the light with a clang. His hand dropped and he stared toward the staircase looming at the end of the short hallway. She drew a shuddering breath, taking in the wrought iron candlesticks lining the walls and the creeping shadows.  “Subtlety. Have your people ever heard of it?”

Cracked pine stairs covered in a faded brocade runner circled up into darkness.  She stepped forward and rebounded off Damon’s outflung arm.

“No. You are not ready for what waits above.”

Heat from his arm radiated through her thin sweater. She kept her eyes on his so she wouldn’t focus on the indigo mist creeping from his cuffs. “Why am I here then?”

“I did not expect him to be here.”

She crossed her arms, shuffling back. “Who?”

“That is none of your concern. Suffice to say I would prefer not to subject you to his tender mercies. Stay here. And Phoebe? I mean it.”

His words stung. Just a human, that’s all I am to him. Foolish to forget it. “I’m not a child. You don’t need to order me around like one.”

A shadow passed over his eyes and his mouth softened. “No. But you are not Fae. I know you don’t understand but this is not someone I would have you meet.”

Her chin lifted. “I can fight.”

His eyes met hers and she bit the inside of her lip to stop the memory cascading. Smashing glass. Bones crunching on concrete. The splatter of brains. Someone never going home to his family.

“Do you really want to do that again?”

A shudder wracked her before she could stop it. “No. No I don’t.”

“Then stay here. I will be back as soon as I can.”

 

REDEMPTION – snippet one. (my first ever, and *unrevised* MS)

Anton drew a breath. “Two of them are elves. Tiernan Allerman and his sister, Alaea. I do not know where they would be.” The tea sloshed over the side as his hand trembled and he grimaced at the burn. “I was hoping you might know of someone who has heard of where they have gone.”

Malcolm regarded him out of steady blue eyes. “Do you think they will want to see you?” he asked.

Anton’s stomach clenched. It was nothing he had not asked himself. “I don’t know. I think probably not. But I need to know if they are safe.  There would have been others with them I think, Daegal Redbury and Marius Knightson, and possibly Reinaldo Olsen if he was still in town. I am not seeking their forgiveness – I do not yet deserve it, but I would offer them my aid if they will have it.”

Quiet filled the small room as the old man kept his eyes firmly on Anton’s face, his hand stroking his beard. The scent of the tea should have been calming but was making Anton feel a bit sick. At least, he thought it was the tea. Finally Malcolm sighed.

“You see, Anton, my problem is this. No-one really knows why you disappeared. Some say you saw sense (or turned traitor, depending on who’s telling it) and deserted. Others say you were told to disappear so you could hunt out dissidents. I might know some people who could help you but how can I know you will not condemn them all to death and worse? What can Malchor’s golden boy offer me as proof of his change of heart?”

Anton looked at his hands where they clenched round the mug. It was chipped and had been mended but was still useful. It still had value. “I had no need of a change of heart. The elf maid I spoke of, Alaea, she has had my heart in her keeping for some time. I would die to protect her and always would have. When I left, I believed I was doing the right thing. But this was never what I wanted and never what I fought for. If you heard of me you will have heard of my exploits on the battlefield. What they leave out of the stories is the blood lust, the kill or be killed, the black stone inside that cuts off any memories of what you have done until you have ended it. Because of what I have done, have been a part of, a piece of my soul has died. I would honour what is left of my soul and the lives of my friends by doing what I can to protect them.”

“Fine words, son, but fine words build no bridges. Or something like that.” The old man rubbed his chin and grimaced. “Gods know why but I think I trust you. Maybe it’s because you look like Malinda. She’s a good girl and thinks the world of you. She’s a smart little thing, maybe she’s right about this.”

Anton blinked rapidly at the thought of his tiny sister standing up for him. He wanted to push it back down, but another little tendril of hope unfurled inside him.

Malcolm stood. “I’ve made up my mind. I’ll take you to them. Let’s go.”

Anton got to his feet, still holding onto the mug. “Do you mean now? Shouldn’t we wait til dark?”

Malcolm snorted “Oh yes, wait until dark when all the nefarious deeds are done. That’ll make us look extra innocent when we get stopped by a patrol. No, we go now.”

Anton made sure to place the cup down on the table gently. He didn’t want to crack it again.

 

REDEMPTION – snippet two

Alaea started drifting around the room once more. She adjusted the set of the curtains and fidgeted with the set of the clothes hanging over the rail near the fire. When she spoke again it was in a quiet voice that Jelena had to strain to hear. “I had forgotten about the wheat. How Anton” she stumbled over his name ‘how he cared for all those people.” She fidgeted some more and Jelena watched her with patient compassion. Then Alaea heaved a big breath and turned to face her “How could the same man care for so many and yet kill so many more? How could someone who made children laugh every day with his silly stories watch as soldiers put swords through other children’s mothers? How could the same man who sat with Tiernan so many evenings talking about music and history be a man who killed other men just because they were elves?” the words were tumbling out now and tears glistened on her cheeks.

“How could a man who held my heart destroy it so badly?” Her hand came up to her mouth as if she realised she’d said more than she intended. The two women looked at each other and Jelena wondered if she should embrace the young elf, or if it would not be welcome. She wished she found it easier knowing what to do in these situations. Alaea let her hand drop and sighed. “I cannot speak to Tiernan about it, he continues to have a stubborn faith in his friend. I thought as you were a soldier you might be able to explain it to me.”

Jelena put down her coat and took Alaea’s hand, leading her to the ottoman. They sat awkwardly next to each other and Jelena stared into the fire, hands clasped tightly between her knees. “I wish I had more answers for you Alaea, and I don’t think you will like the ones I have. Anton is, was, a soldier. One of the best. He loved the idea of service to his country; that’s the same ideal that made him ensure that the most needy families were fed every winter. As a soldier, you are trained to follow orders. It’s not just a case of ‘I was given orders’ it’s a case of automatic hear and obey. An army has to have obedience if it is to be strong.” She ran one hand down her plait and tugged at the ends, trying to work out how best to explain it to someone who had led a fairly sheltered life until recently. “It is like with a child. A small baby doesn’t understand why they can’t hold the knives, you just have to teach them to respond instantly when you say no’.

“But I don’t think he was just being blindly obedient” Alaea said and Jelena could hear the pain in her voice, “even Malinda thinks he went eagerly, she doesn’t say so but you can tell by how she avoids it’.

Jelena rubbed her eyes. “No I agree, he isn’t a blind man. I wasn’t there for the coup but it didn’t surprise me to hear that he supported Malchor so willingly. He admired him a lot. I did too to tell you the truth.” She grimaced at Alaea “I told  you you might not like what I had to say. Malchor was someone who held out a promise of a brighter, fairer tomorrow.  A country led by men of deeds not breeding. It is an attractive vision. Of course, it wasn’t until later when he had consolidated his power that he began to really push the anti-elf policies. I too have talked to people and even Marius admits that the first push North was genuinely held up as a bid to restore Devnor’s stolen lands. It wouldn’t surprise me if Anton was so enthused by the vision he saw that he was blind to the impact it had on others.”

She looked down and saw that while her own hands had relaxed somewhat, Alaea’s were twisting around each other tightly. She put a hand on them to stop her and the young woman took a deep breath.

“I think that’s my real question then. How could he, knowing me, and” she added hastily “my brother, not be aware of the impact on us? Did he not care? How could he not notice if he did care?”

Jelena smiled and felt her sadness seep into her smile. “That’s what makes it a tragedy. He did care and he didn’t notice.” She squeezed Alaea’s hand gently “I hold out hope that we will see Anton again one day. When that day comes you will have to decide if bitterness or forgiveness will make you happier. And if you cannot reach forgiveness then perhaps understanding will do.”

Alaea gave her a half smile and disengaged her hand as she stood up. “I think that will depend on the manner of his return. I would like to be happy, but I cannot quite see a happy ending.”

 

REDEMPTION – snippet three

As she helped Alex stuff his brightly coloured garments in the rucksack, Alaea felt Anton’s eyes on her. It was if he was devouring her with his gaze and she felt herself begin to flush. She wished she had a pretty dress like the one Jelena had worn for the council hearing and had put away carefully with just a twinge of something that might have been regret on her face. The cowled tunic she wore had once been one of her favourites, the soft dove grey a colour she knew suited her. She detested it now and the grey was merely dingy. Her leather pants had worn up a little better under the hard wear but she’d already had to stitch up more than one hole. Not that it should matter what he thought of her when she had told him she didn’t want him around but it absolutely did.

“Why are you sending me away Anton? You know you need me here.”

She cast her eyes sidelong at Alex while she busied herself with the buckles. The pain in his voice was stronger than she expected. It was a relationship she continued to marvel at. Anton pulled the lapels of the young elf’s coat closer together and brushed off a shoulder.

“Because I need someone that the people in Dafydd’s camp with believe and will follow, and you’re the best person for the job. You’re from Port Adair, you’re eloquent..”

“And I’m an elf” came the bitter response

The patience in Anton’s eyes was the same as she’d seen when he was trying to persuade Malinda of something, his voice was as gentle.

“Yes, an elf. You should be proud to be able to serve your people in this, young peacock. It isn’t a safe trip, there will be many happy to get rid of you for simple entertainment. You will stick to the forests and travel at night. I don’t want harm to come to you.”

The boy looked up between his hair which continued to flop in his eyes.

“You aren’t just trying to get rid of me?”

Anton laughed and the sound froze her in place. It had been over a year since she’d heard him laugh. Gods it was glorious.

“No, young imp, I don’t want to be rid of you and wish you will hurry back with an army at your side. We need you here.” He smirked “Reinaldo’s already been sobbing into his stew. His income is going to go down without you to throw money at him every night”

She gave up trying to look busy and just watched. To see him like this, playful and protective, was to see him as he was before he went to war. Something in her heart hurt at the realisation that it was a young scrap like Alex who brought it out in him and she wondered if what she and Anton had was too battered to ever get back to that. He met her eyes at that moment and she chanced a small smile. He seemed to freeze and then his smile widened into one she knew was just for her. She bit her lip as her cheeks warmed and she hoisted Alex’s bag up.

“Here you go. He’s right you know. This is a good thing you do for our people.”

Alex shouldered the bag and sighed.

“I know. Can you tell Malinda I said goodbye? I’d hoped they would be back from the infirmary by now.”

He looked so woebegone that Alaea gave him an impulsive hug.

“I will tell her. She will be sad to see you go.”

Her own throat was closing up a little. First her brother and now Alex. She felt stupidly alone for a moment, but then Anton was giving Alex his own bear hug and she thought that maybe she was only as alone as she let herself be.

She let Anton walk his friend out to farewell him and moved restlessly over to the mantel to fidget with the ornaments there. Really she should have gone at the same time, she thought, but then she wouldn’t want Mali to think she’d not stayed to see her and she had promised to pass on Alex’s goodbyes to her. Her eyes rolled and she plonked the small china bird back on the mantel and spun around to leave. Anton filled the doorway. She stood still, her fingers on her right hand beginning to pull at her the edge of her tunic. Her breath seemed trapped in her chest and her mind went blank. Her only consolation was that he seemed just as frozen. He ran his hand through his hair and began to speak, then coughed and tried again.

“That was kind of you to bring Alex a bag. He was worried about his clothes.”

“Well, I didn’t want for Reinaldo to rip them up for rags to clean his blades.” Her heart leapt at his delighted smile and she continued speaking despite her voice seeming to not want to be under her control “he has no sense of fashion that man”.

This time when he laughed she knew it was because of her and she couldn’t stop her heart singing. There never was anything as wonderful as his laughter. It was a rich rolling sound that swept others up in its joy. Her own smile grew even though she felt her lips trembling. But when he moved closer to her she couldn’t help but step back, cursing herself even as she did so. His smile died but the tender light stayed in his eyes. He put a hand out and she looked at it until it began dropping away and then she couldn’t help but reach out and grab it.

“Do you know something Alaea?” he said as his thumb stroked gently over her wrist. She shook her head, her heart pounding.

“Every feeling you have is written on your face.” Her eyes met his and the understanding in them made her knees weaken. “You’d make a terrible card player. Never play with Reinaldo. You’d lose more often than Alex does.” He squeezed her hand and turned to the door. “I think I hear my gallumphing little sister and her devoted swain”. She pulled her hand back to her side, still feeling the warmth of his hand, so large and strong it made her now callused hands seem so frail and delicate.

She swallowed “Alex said they’d been at the infirmary, is she healing?”

He nodded over his shoulder as he reached the latch, Malinda’s earnest voice reaching them even through the thick oak. He paused before he opened it.

“Thank you, Alaea” his voice was low and gentle and she knew he didn’t mean thanks for the bag. She took a breath and smiled a little awkwardly.

“You are welcome, Anton”

 

REDEMPTION  – snippet four

Once outside the gates the seething mass of people petered out into a steady stream. They remained near the outside of the gate, watching over the refugees. The sound of horses hooves came and Daegal looked to see Anton riding a circuit around the city, Marius at his side. He saw Jelena wave and smile widely when Anton waved a salute back. Something twisted inside him and he didn’t realise he was frowning until he saw Jelena’s brows lift when she looked at him.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing” he shrugged.

She frowned and edged her horse closer.

“That’s clearly not true. You’ve hardly smiled since Anton returned.”

He looked down, away from her clear blue eyes that saw too much. Their knees were almost touching and he wondered suddenly what it would have been like if they’d never been forced into this war. Would she ever have let him as close as she had? He drew his eyes away from her strong leg encased in her combat trousers and tried to summon a smile.

“It’s really nothing, I must just be tired. Rowdy inns and noisy peasants and all that.”

She shook her head, her plait swinging. “No Daegal, you don’t get to do this. You don’t get to encourage everyone else to admit to their fears and then refuse to talk about your own demons. That isn’t fair”.

He felt his mouth twist as he gazed at her, her strong face intent on him. He realised with a pang that he didn’t want her to think less of him for admitting that he couldn’t forgive Anton as unconditionally as she seemed to. He cast a glance around. There were others on patrol and no imminent danger. He made a decision.

“Walk with me. I can’t talk on this horse.” He felt a flicker of his usual self “he’s a bit of a gossip” 

She smiled but the blue of her eyes stayed troubled. “All right, but we better stay near them in case”

The grass under his feet was trampled into mud which would turn into a boggy mess once the rain came but the flickers of hardy green gave him an odd feeling of lightness. They walked the horses in silence until he spied a broken old wagon bed half hidden by weeds. Looping the reins lightly so the horses could graze he sprawled out on the ground with his back against the wagon side. Letting his head fall back he looked up at the sky; the dark clouds closing in and obscuring the sun seemed to suit his current mood. Jelena squatted on her haunches next to him and he could feel her troubled gaze on his face. Finally he turned to look at her.

“It’s harder than I thought. Anton coming back.” His hands clasped loosely over his bent knees he contemplated the grime ingrained in his sleeves. “I thought it would be easy, you know. He’s my family, he’s been there for me when no-one else was. I thought that forgiveness and understanding would just happen.” He let out a huffed sigh. “In fact, I thought I’d already forgiven him and was feeling pretty virtuous about it.” He turned a wry face to hers. “Turns out I was completely wrong and I’m the one who’s finding it hardest to deal with his return. I mean, gods Jelena, even Marius is back to trailing his every step and Alaea’s smile is lightening every day.” His hands tightened their grip. “And then there’s you of course”

Her brows contracted. “Me? What about me?”

“Well, you’re pretty happy to see him aren’t you? Lots of hugs and laughs and no tension at all”

Understanding lit her eyes. “Jealous, Daegal?”

He shifted uncomfortably in the face of her tight voice. “No. Well okay yes a little. But not of the hugs” she looked dubious and he tried to articulate what it was he really felt “I’m jealous of how easy it is for you. I’m jealous of how quickly you fit back together again while I’m standing in the corner trying not to hit him.”  Compassion lit her eyes now and she reached out as if she’d take his hand but then she drew back.

“He’s my family too” she said quietly, and Daegal remembered the way that the Baruchs had taken in the disgraced noblewoman when she’d given up dresses for swords. He remembered the way she’d refused to cry and the way that Anton had helped her get back together after the pain of her family’s distance. She turned and sat next to him, stretching out those long legs and sighing as her back met the side of the wagon.

“It isn’t just that though. I understand him, Daegal. In a way that maybe you just won’t ever. It’s the reason that Reinaldo and Marius have accepted him back, even if it took Marius longer. But then, he’s always been one to hold the moral high ground.” She turned her gaze back on him, clear blue and direct. “We are soldiers.”

He grimaced but he knew what she meant. He could fight but he’d never gone to the academy, never been attracted to the life of the military. She sighed “I don’t mean that you don’t have an appreciation of what it means to be a warrior, you are after all a skilled fighter” he ducked his head to hide his surprised smile; praise from Jelena was like rain in a drought. “But you’ve never fought simply because somebody told you to. You have that blessing, Daegal, to be someone whose bad memories from a battle are yours alone, not ones that you doubt, that you wonder if were right. Because the choices were always yours.” Her gaze turned inward and he moved slightly, wanting to be nearer.

“What about you” he asked “you don’t strike me as someone to blindly follow orders”. Her mouth twisted and his breath caught at the thought that he might have caused her pain

“Not blindly no, but there are things I have done that I’m not proud of” She pushed up off the ground, dusting the seat of her coat. “And that’s why it is easier for me to forgive than it is for you. I know the pain of second guessing what you did for someone else. Your heart is more pure and that means it might take longer for you to truly accept what he did. I know you, and I know that what happened at Ravens Water is something you might never forgive.” She did hold out a hand then, and pulled him up when he gripped it. She released his hand and looked to where Marius and Anton were riding over to join them. “Just remember that he can’t forgive himself either”

Daegal stretched his back and sighed. “Wise words. I’ll think on them” He walked to stand next to her where she watched their friends and the first drops of rain began to fall. Leaning in close so that he could smell the lavender in her hair he grinned. “and yes, I’m a little jealous of the hugs. But admit it, you’d be mad if I wasn’t”

 

Merlin – The Return of the Once and Future King (Fanfic) – Snippet One

Snippets are from full book. First 10 chapters available here

The first thing he noticed that morning was that there was no pain. He blinked once or twice and tried to decide if he was still sleeping. Finger and knee joints weren’t screaming for attention as they normally did and his back felt nothing but the comfortable firmness of his bed. Comfortable. Now that wasn’t a word he’d used much in the last 500 years. Experimentally he stretched out his arms. A vigorous energy shot through his body. His heart leapt as the blood pulsed through more strongly than it had in recent memory and he felt the magic curl around his hand, as if it was a kitten seeking to be stroked. “Forbearnan” he murmured, and then jumped out of bed as the fire leaped high. “No! Bugger! Um, ācwencan!”

The fire vanished replaced by the smell of burnt wool. He screwed up his nose and turned to look about the room, nearly knocking the lampshade with his head. That was strange. He flexed his straightened shoulders, relishing the fact that he was no longer stooped over. He took a dazed look at the smoking carpet, realising he wasn’t squinting.  With an oath he stumbled backwards; no long grey beard, no wrinkled skin. Both hands went to his face and felt a short stubbly beard the likes of which he hadn’t worn for centuries. Strong muscles and youthful though trembling hands forced his gaze to the mirror by the bed. A face he hadn’t seen in a very long time looked back at him. His heart skipped a beat.

“Well. That’s unexpected.”

A knock at the door dragged his face away from the mirror. He pulled his pajama pants up on much narrower hips and pulled the drawstring tighter. The knocking got louder. “Yeah, alright I’m coming!”

The knocking was pounding the door by the time he got to the door and pulled it open, the safety chain catching. Gwaine’s familiar shock of hair framing his worried eyes appeared through the narrow crack. Those eyes quickly widened and his friend’s jaw dropped. “Merlin!”

“Yeah, I know. Surprise. Come in” He unhooked the chain and stepped back, running a hand through much shorter hair.

Gwaine edged in through the doorway.

“Bloody hell, mate, I mean it’s certainly an improvement but what’s going on?” his friend wrinkled his nose. “and what is that smell?”

“Carpet. Burning. Well, it’s out now so I guess you could say charred.” He forced himself to stop babbling as Gwaine’s face screwed up in more confusion.

“Magic, Gwaine. That’s what’s happening. But I’m not sure why”.

“I don’t understand”

“Join the club” he muttered, turning away. This was too much to focus on this early in the morning, despite the energy racing through him. Tea would help.

It was a bit unnerving, the way Gwaine stared at him while he made the tea. He couldn’t blame him though; he kept stealing glances at his own reflection in the window.

“So, Merlin, any thoughts on why a thousand year old man suddenly looks 33? Sure you weren’t mucking around with youth spells or something?”

“Don’t be stupid, I haven’t done that since 1915”

 

Merlin – the Return of the Once and Future King (Fanfic) –  Snippet Two

The explosions had stopped  and the air was filled with white dust from the concrete. People were hurt and shaken but what was worrying Merlin was the mood of the crowd. He’d seen disasters like this before, been in London for many attacks over the centuries; never had he seen a people turn on itself. It was like watching starving wolves rip each other to pieces while the lions waited at the sidelines.

Elyan stepped in to a fight and broke it up – they didn’t argue with the man with the sword. All over the square there were fights breaking out and people began picking up rocks from the ground and hurling them. It didn’t seem to be aimed at anyone or anything, just general outpouring of rage.

“Arthur, we have to stop this, they’ll kill each other!”

Arthur looked around and then ran to the statue of Queen Anne that stood in front of St Paul’s, pulling himself up over the anti-pigeon spikes to stand next to the saintly queen, one arm holding her round her neck for balance. Merlin stood below him, on the lap of one of the stone ladies in waiting. The scuffles had turned into full on riot now. Arthur’s voice was harsh as he shouted for them to stop, but it didn’t carry far over the yelling and screaming and the sirens. At that moment someone threw a rock right at his King and without a thought Merlin stepped up and flicked it aside with a look. He could feel anger rising and with a few harshly murmured words and a gesture from him the crowd found that the rocks they held were suddenly so heavy they dropped harmlessly in front of them.

Arthur stood above the rubble, majestic even in his torn t shirt and dust covered jeans. Excalibur shone in the sunlight filtering through the dust and a sea of cellphone cameras were lifted, recording every moment. Merlin shrugged inwardly. At some point in time the rest of the world was going to have to know about Arthur – looked like the world had decided it would be now.

 

Merlin – the Return of the Once and Future King (Fanfic) –  Snippet Three

Mordred. Mordred can you hear me?

Emrys. What is it? I am here.

How to say it.

I am afraid.

Mordred’s voice in his mind took on a deeper urgency. Are you hurt? Is Arthur okay?

Arthur is fine. Very kingly. I on the other hand am losing control. His hands twisted around each other and he took a shuddering breath. How do we do it? How do we keep the power chained so that we don’t unleash hell on the world?

His eyes opened and he looked at Gwen. Arthur had stopped the bleeding but there were streaks of it still down her face. Those men had bruised her but it had been him and his power who had knocked her out. Guilt washed over him and he looked away.

Emrys. Of all men I know, you are the one best suited to answer that question. How did you stop this time?

A frown wrinkled his brow and he looked under his eyelashes at his friends.

Love. It was love that stopped me.

I told Morgana once that the love that binds us is more important than the power we wield. It was you who taught me that. You have the answers within you Merlin. Do not doubt yourself. We do not doubt you.

Arthur came over and held out a hand. Accepting it, he allowed his king to pull him to his feet. Arthur met his eyes with a half smile and gripped his forearm tight. “Gave us a scare there Merlin, but I knew you wouldn’t do it. It’s just not who you are.”

He smiled a little. Maybe he was right, it wasn’t who he was, but he could never forget that it was who he might become.

 

Merlin – the Return of the Once and Future King (Fanfic) –  Snippet Four

Merlin inhaled deeply “Then magic will return until the world’s end”. He quirked his eyebrows at the dragon. “At least this prophecy has a happy ending.”

Aithusa blinked slowly at him and he heard her voice in his mind. The ending is not certain to be happy for all, Merlin. You must be careful. I know what you mean to do.

He straightened his shoulders and met the dragon’s gaze. Tell them and I will unleash such wrath upon you. You know how it must be, Aithusa, for Albion. For Arthur.

The great head lowered and a wave of sadness hit him with such strength it took him a second to realise it had come from Aithusa. Stepping forward he leaned into her neck, inhaling her scent. We are, both of us, the last of our kind. The thought was so mingled he didn’t know if it was his, or the dragon’s.

 

 

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