Gardens of War & Wasteland, Short Stories

the morning of

Ami watched the sun rise over the swell of mountains on the horizon. The golden arms of morning spread dawn’s embrace across the sleepy castle town below. The Holanian capital, Adria, would soon be waking. Her still-made feather bed beckoned, though she would not be joining it. The young princess sipped the wine left on the drawing table along with the remnants of her uneaten evening meal. The dark Bararnite vintage was a sharp assault so early in the morning but Ami welcomed the wetness on her tongue.

It was the Day of Blessing—a humble day of virginal simplicity to be enjoyed in the presence of her betrothed. A day of tradition, of ceremony, of celebration—a day Ami would not see through to completion. Had it been Tallas, she would have endured. Tallas, heir to the neighbouring throne of Bararn, had been her promised one, not his snivelling, unctuous little brother, Reminas. Even before Tallas’s cruel and untimely death, Reminas always believed himself entitled to everything his older brother possessed—his titles, his birthrights, his armies. Now he had the impudence to name himself successor to the Holanian marriage alliance as well. But he would not have Ami. She would not be Reminas’s bride. He would not be her king.

The princess drained the remaining wine with a grimace and set it down on the nightstand. She drew back the heavy oaken doors of her wardrobe, not pausing to admire the ornate carvings in the grain; her breath caught in her throat as the iron hinges groaned. When no guards came scuttling down the corridor to her bedchamber, the princess retrieved her riding leathers from where they hung, swallowed by gowns of velvet, silk and lace. She fastened her breeches quicker than her handmaiden ever had; her tunic and surcoat slid on just as easily. With a leather cord she bound her chestnut hair into a bunch atop her head. Ami took a deep breath and smoothed her hands over the supple tan suede of the surcoat. Next, she reached for a knife.

There could be nothing. Nothing to remind her of Holania, of her duty, of her dishonour. Ami gripped the blade’s handle and brought it to close to her chest. Clenching her jaw, she sawed through the fabric, wrenching free the royal crest emblazoned on her breast. It fluttered to the dresser in front of her, glaring back, indignant. She speared its centre with the knife.

As Ami’s passing gaze caught in the looking glass so did the glimmer of the silver chain about her neck. The Holanian Royal Crest. It had been a part of her for seventeen summers—a yoke she’d worn with pride. Ami touched her fingers to the pendant, to the shield crafted just for her: there had never been two Holanian children, never been a daughter to inherit the sigil of her bloodline. Amikharlia Elys Holani was the first Princess of Holania—and the last. She gathered the necklace in her fist and ripped it free. The chain snapped with audible protest. It spilled from her fingertips in a metallic waterfall, pooling on the table beside the severed family crest. There could be no reminders.

The household would soon wake, calling handmaids and manservants to empty chamber pots and deliver the morning meal to their lords. Time was running out. She had such a narrow chance to escape, the briefest of moments when the Royal Guard was at its most lax. Ami had studied the predawn changeover for weeks and noted how the guards would pause to chatter in the stairwell below, leaving the royal siblings’ bedchambers unattended. It was then she would make her dash for the window—the window that dropped down onto the narrow mantel spanning the length of the westernmost wing of Castle Adria. From there she would scale the wall to freedom.

Ami listened for footsteps trailing away from her chamber and waited for the hushed voices that would soon follow. Boots in hand, she slipped from her room, barefoot and silent as she padded down the long corridor. The sconces lining the hall were naught but embers and somewhere below she heard the rousing bell toll in the servants’ quarter. Heartbeat in her ears, Ami hurried on, her soft-soled feet ignoring the bite of the cold stone floor. She was almost to the window when she stopped and turned towards the door at the opposite end of the corridor.

What words could she possibly offer her older brother? An apology? An explanation? She pictured her dear older brother, entangled in the quilts and furs of his bed, his unruly ebon hair even more of a mess than usual. Dear Kio, who was never quite the same after their close friend departed in the night without so much as a goodbye. And now she would do the same. They had been an indestructible triangle, strong and unbreakable; but Rei was gone and now was she and Crown Prince Kiokharen would be alone, an apex without his supports.

Ami longed to kiss her brother’s cheek and whisper her farewell. But if she woke him, he would speak. If he spoke, she would listen. If she listened, she would stay. And she could not stay. He would be okay, she told herself. He would have to be okay.

Swallowing the stone in her throat, Ami raced towards the window. Her pulse thundered. Her eyes burned. Her feet pattered on. She mounted the stone ledge under the window. Ami took a deep breath to steel herself and jumped into the dim light of the dawn.

The above story is a prequel for my fantasy trilogy, The Garden of the Gods, Book One. This teaser will be one of many short pieces aimed at introducing readers to the world of Whyt’hallen and its characters.

Comments and critiques are strongly encouraged.

(c) Jessica A. McMinn 2017

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