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Authors: Christine Grey

Echoes

BOOK: Echoes
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ECHOES

 

 

Christine Grey

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with.

 

Copyright © 2016 Christine Grey
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
 

 

I want to offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to the following people for helping me make this book possible.

 

Elise Abram
, my editor and proofreader. You never let me down, and for that I am so thankful.
[email protected]

 

Victorine Lieske
, for sticking with me and helping me find just the right image and feel for my story.

www.bluevalleyauthorservices.com

 

Richard Houston
, for all of your guidance and formatting assistance. I’m so blessed to know you. You’re such a gifted author and a truly wonderful friend.

Dedication

Dedicated to my children. To Kari, for teaching me that love is flexible, and we all make the world a more beautiful place because of the colors we paint with. To Michael, for helping me to see that all flowers bloom on their own schedule. To Emily, for proving there is always a way to see things in a different and brighter light if you look hard enough. To Nakaria, for her patience with a clueless mom and for proving that love is resilient. To JT, for trusting me, even when all of his experiences said he shouldn’t. To Terrence, for bringing laughter on the days when I thought there could be none. To Daniel, for telling me I was the best, even when I doubted.

 

God sent all of you to me at different times and sometimes in unexpected ways, and my life has been made richer, fuller, and more complete because of your presence.

Prologue

 

Tabitha sat on the large rock formation that jutted out from the stony beach. Her knees were bent, and she had her arms wrapped around her legs, one hand grasping the other. She stared out to sea and watched as a small flock of terns wheeled and dove, almost in unison. They were fascinating. They swept upward and then arced out and down before diving together beneath the swells, only to pop up a moment later. Not all of the birds were successful in their hunt, but Tabby saw that most had been, and their choreographed dance continued, unabated.

It had been over a month since Brin’s departure, and she was beginning to worry. He had told her he would be gone no more than a few weeks, which she took to mean three, but it was now closer to six, and when she asked about him, she had been told not to worry, he would be along. What did that mean? Another week? Another month?

In Brin’s absence, Tabitha had sought out her brother’s company. She
had
been neglecting him. As usual, her brother was forgiving of her transgression and welcomed her company. He was so easy to get along with. They shared a relaxed relationship that was a happy blend of easy conversation and comfortable silence. As different as one of them was from the other, they were like two halves of a whole, even though it didn’t seem as if it should be so. She was the fire, the spark that set things into motion. She carried the passion and the energy, while Brint brought the balance to steady their course. He was also one of the few people to which Tabitha would listen, and when he told her to slow down, to think, to listen, she did not take offense. When he said it, it seemed reasonable and prudent, but when others told her the same thing, it felt nothing short of constraining.

A shadow passed overhead, and Tabitha was pulled from her daydreams. She held a hand above her eyes to block out the glare from the sun and searched the sky for whatever had interrupted the light. 

“Brin!” Tabby said. She jumped to her feet and started running toward Brin’s cave. She stumbled once and swore quietly to herself before getting back up, hastily brushing the dirt from her scraped palms, and continuing her journey at a slightly less frantic pace. When she entered the forest, the canopy of gnarn trees overhead blocked most of the light from above. It should have been cooler here, but the air was still, and perspiration trickled down her back as she jogged toward her goal.

Her mind raced as she tried to imagine what had kept him so long from home. She had never been away from Maj, not even to visit Mirin Tor. Why should she bother? Everything she needed was here. She had her brother, her friends, her family, and almost every kind of healing plant she needed to make her medicines. If there was something she required that couldn’t be found on the island, she simply gave her list to one of the others to retrieve it for her when they went to the mainland. No, she thought, there was no reason for her to stray from home. 

She entered the cave and was greeted by the familiar red glow indicating her friend was indeed there.

“Tabby! What a surprise! I have only just arrived. I certainly didn’t expect to see you here,” Brin said, as he turned to look in her direction.

“You’re a terrible liar, Brin. I know you saw me when you flew over, and you made sure I saw you. Or am I supposed to believe that your shadow passed directly over me merely by chance?” Tabitha crossed her arms and arched a dark brow as she waited for his response.

Brin laughed his deep, booming laugh. “Guilty,” he said. “I tried to be subtler, but you were so lost in thought, I had to make three passes before you noticed me. I worried, for a moment, I was going to be forced to land right on you to get your attention.”

“That would have been quite an entrance, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed the experience. Why didn’t you call out?”

“I considered it, but I didn’t want to startle you. It’s so rare that I catch you thinking instead of just doing, that I hated to take you from your reverie prematurely.”

“Oh, that’s so funny. How long did it take you to come up with that one?” Tabitha snorted, though she was too pleased to see her friend to be truly annoyed.

“I came up with it some time ago, but as I said, you so rarely sit in thought that I haven’t had the chance to use it.”

“I’ve missed you, Brin. Where have you been? I was getting worried.” Tabitha put her arm around the dragon’s strong neck and leaned into him.

“I told you,” Brin chided, “I had to visit some friends. I’m home now, though. I thought we could finish our story.”

“The story! I forgot the gift! I was so excited to see you, I forgot to stop at the castle and get it,” Tabitha said in frustration.

“Well, no matter. You can bring it another time.” Brin settled to the stone floor.

Tabitha was suspicious. Brin passing up a treasure? That had never happened before. And he had only just gotten back. Why would he be in such a hurry to tell the story?

“You never let me bring the gift another time. What are you up to, Brin?”

“You’re so cynical. Can’t you just accept a gift when one is offered? I swear you are exactly like–”

“I am not! Stop saying that! I don’t understand the rush. Usually I have to beg, plead, and bribe before I can get you going,” Tabitha said defensively.

“I wouldn’t say bribe,” Brin grumbled. “It’s more of a show of appreciation. I simply think we shouldn’t put these things off. Who can say what tomorrow will bring?”

Tabby laughed. “Tomorrow will bring the same thing as today, and yesterday, and the day before.”

“Don’t be too sure, young lady. One never knows what is behind the door until one opens it and walks through. Do you want to hear the story or not?”

Tabitha folded her legs beneath her and leaned back against Brin’s side. She waved her hand indicating he should proceed.

“Well, thank you so much for your permission. One of these days you’re going to find someone who isn’t so tolerant of your moods and tempers. I can only pray to Tolah that I am there to see it. Now, where were we…?”

Chapter 1

 

Dearra, it’s time.

Dearra was dressed all in white, as all of the Maj would be, to honor Lord Hugh. The month and a half at sea bringing Hugh’s body back from Parsaia had been the longest time in Dearra’s young life, and now there was the funeral to get through.

She leaned against the stone wall and stared out of her window at the waves that crashed below her. The sun was shining. The whole island was rich with fall colors. The sea foamed and frothed and left little rainbows dancing in the shallows each time a wave retreated. The sky was cloudless, the kind of blue that drew your gaze and refused to let go.

Wasn’t it bad enough that she’d had her father torn from her just as her brother was returned?

Wasn’t it enough that Jacob lived?

Wasn’t it enough that the Breken, even now, were making plans for revenge and war?

Evidently it was not, for the gods had decided that, on top of all of that, Hugh’s burying day had to be filled with light and beauty. Dearra’s heart felt as if it were torn and bleeding. She was now the Lord of Maj, with no idea of how to proceed, or where to turn next.

Why did the day have to be so damn beautiful? She wanted the world to grieve with her. She longed for a reflection of her feelings, the ones she was forced to keep buried, deep within her, to protect her brother, her friends, and her people from succumbing to the same terrible despair.

Was it really too much to ask the world bend itself to at least reflect her pain?

Dearra,
Brin gently prodded once again.
It’s time. They are waiting for you, dearest. Everyone will help you, now. You are not alone. Everything will be all right.

Dearra felt as if she were drowning. Each breath she drew was painful. At times, it seemed as though it were too much effort to bother, but duty demanded she try. She was honor-bound to keep trying, keep going, keep fighting, and keep…living.

She pushed away from the window and opened the door of her chamber. Darius stood outside waiting for her. He was striking, dressed in stark white, and she felt another stab of pain when she thought of the reason for his being dressed so. What would happen when spring came and with it, the Breken? Would she be wearing white at still more funerals? Would she even be here when the battle was over? Would Darius? Life was fragile; there were no guarantees.

Brin,
Dearra thought, taking Darius’s arm.

Yes, dearest?

You’re wrong, you know. Nothing will be all right ever again.

She looked straight ahead without blinking, as Darius led her through the keep. When they reached the door that led to the waiting people of Maj, Dearra took a deep breath and stepped out into the sun.

Dearra paused at the brazier filled with hot coals and lit her candle. In accordance with their custom, the coals had been kept burning since Hugh’s body had arrived home.

Phillip was waiting for Dearra, and he stepped to her side. His own candle flickered in the breeze. He had grieved, as they all had, but his heart had progressed past the fierce aching emptiness and had now moved on to a kind of dull ache. He had been to funerals on the island before, but they had always been for the elderly. Saying goodbye to a life fully lived was so much different from
this. Though there was still the sensation of loss, it was usually more of a celebration. Everyone would gather together, and many of them would say something about the person who had died. The memories were fond ones, and tears of happy remembrance were mixed generously with tears of sorrow over the passing.

Carly and Daniel joined the procession behind Dearra, Phillip, and Darius, and others followed behind them. Each person stopped to light a candle from the fire in preparation for their walk to the western side of the island.

On a child’s naming day, they all gathered on the eastern cliffs in the predawn hours. Walking in darkness on the smooth and well-trod path, they would meet in silence, the only noise being the occasional call of a night bird, or the happy babble of children too young to fully grasp the customs of their elders. Once assembled, they waited for the lord of the island to arrive. A single light would illuminate the darkness, and the lord of the isle would touch the flame of his candle to their unlit ones until a gentle glow covered them all. The child would receive a blessing, and then, as the sun rose in the east, be named by his or her proud parents. The candles would be left to burn until they went out on their own. It was unimportant how long they burned—the candle, along with the rising of the sun, was symbolic of a new day and a new life.

Today, the people of Maj brought their candles with them, already lit, to the opposite side of the island. As they progressed out of the keep, there was an uncomfortable stillness. This was the time for sharing, and as the eldest child, it was expected that Dearra would begin, but instead, she only walked steadily onward and said not a word.

Phillip glanced nervously at his sister’s face, unsure of what to do. It didn’t seem like she even knew he was there. “Dearra?” he asked tentatively, but she only shook her head and continued walking.

Pip swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat and squared his shoulders. “I remember once…” He paused and looked over his shoulder at Daniel who gave him an encouraging nod. “Father was holding a Hear to settle a dispute. I think it was the first one I can remember attending. It seemed that one of Duncan’s pigs had gotten into Dafyd’s pumpkin patch and torn it up something awful. The pig had trampled far more than it had eaten, and Dafyd was asking for compensation. He had expended a lot of effort hauling water all through the dry months to keep the patch from dying out. Duncan, if I remember correctly, was unhappy with the thought of paying any type of recompense for the actions of one stray pig.”

“Unhappy is an understatement, Pip. I think I uttered a few dozen choice words before telling Dafyd he was an unreasonable arse,” Duncan said, smiling at the memory.

“So, anyway,” Pip said, smiling a little himself. “Father just sat there saying nothing at all. He let both men get everything out in the open. I never heard so many bad words at one time, and I couldn’t believe that Father wasn’t putting a stop to it. Finally, Duncan and Dafyd seemed to sort of run out of things to say, and then they stared at Father, waiting for him to speak.

“Father walked toward one of the windows. He stood there for the longest time, not looking at anyone, and the room was completely quiet. When he did speak, he asked Dafyd if he was sure he wanted to give up ham, and bacon, and sausages. Dafyd didn’t know what he was talking about, but before he could answer, Father asked Duncan if he was truly ready to stop eating pumpkins, squash, and wheat. Both men looked at Father like he was out of his mind. Father then said that we were one family. When one of us had plenty, we shared. When one had little, he counted on his neighbor for support. If we were going to start counting pumpkins and pigs, and who owed what to whom, things could get a little hard. Why would Duncan want to share his bounty with Dafyd, or the other way around? Father shook his head and continued to look out the window. Then he told them to think about it for a moment, and let him know what they would like him to do, and, of course, he would honor their wishes. Both men lowered their heads in shame and left the Great Hall, departing much more quietly than they had arrived. When they were gone, Father returned to his seat and smiled at me. I learned a lot that day.”

There was a pause after Phillip finished speaking. Many smiled at the memory, while others commented they had learned a lot that day as well.

Daniel cleared his throat. “Hugh was twenty, I think, so I must have only been around nine or ten. He had been sent by his father, Lord Edmund, to Mirin Tor to visit King Jaymes. I was allowed to go along, and I was very excited to see the palace. After he had been at court for almost three weeks, Hugh discovered Alanna. She was sitting in the palace garden, embroidering seabirds in silver thread onto a shirt of blue.

“I ran right into him when he stopped suddenly in my path. He was completely struck by her beauty, but he was young, and he had no idea of how to talk to her, so, instead, he turned and walked away. The next day he returned to the garden, and there she sat, but after watching her from the shadows for a while, he once again retreated to the safety of his room. The third day he awoke before dawn, and I trailed after him as he made his way to the garden. He plucked only the loveliest blossoms he could find, tied them with a ribbon, placed them where Alanna would discover them, and hid himself from sight. When she came, she lifted them to her nose and smiled. She laid them in her lap and continued to stitch the shirt, now nearing completion. The next day, Hugh left a necklace of beautiful beads. Alanna smiled again, and slipped them over her head. She finished her work on the shirt and placed it into a silken bag before departing the garden. Hugh spent the night in restless agitation, worrying that she would not return the next day, but she was there. She picked up the single rose he had left and put it into her hair. She pulled a vest of silk from her bag and began to sew again. Two more weeks it went on until she was almost done with the vest. Hugh paced his room until I could stand it no more. ‘Talk to her!’ I pleaded. I think he was surprised to see me. He didn’t take much notice of anything other than Alanna. He nodded his head and fell into a fitful sleep. The next day, when Alanna came to the garden, she saw Hugh sitting in her spot, waiting for her.

“She smiled at him, in the same, soft way she had smiled at all the gifts Hugh had left for her. She sat down beside him and said, ‘I told my father you would be along today to ask for my hand.’

“I thought Hugh was going to swallow his tongue, he looked so shocked, but then he just nodded. ‘How did you know?’ he asked her.

“Alanna took his rough hand in her own soft one. ‘I knew from the moment I first saw you. I just had to find a way to get you to notice me. I knew you liked to walk in the garden, and so I came. I thought that I might as well work on your joining clothes while you worked up the courage to speak to me.’

“Hugh’s eyes widened. ‘My joining clothes! That’s what you’ve been working on?’

“Alanna took Hugh’s other hand and tugged him to his feet. ‘Of course. You must have them to join with me, and I don’t think I want to wait. We were always meant to be together, and I am anxious to start our forever.’

“I’d never seen anything like it before. Lord Hugh allowed himself to be led away. I didn’t follow, so I don’t know how he ever managed to get the words out to ask for permission to join with Alanna. My guess is that she did most of the talking, but one way or another, they were joined within the month.”

One story after another followed, and as the afternoon sun began to sink in the sky, they arrived at Hugh’s funeral pyre. He was dressed richly, and rested on a bed of pine boughs, carefully removed from the tree Cyrus had planted so long ago. Though he had died nearly two months earlier, he looked as though he was merely asleep. Carly was responsible for that. Normally there would have been no practical way to return him all the way to Maj, and there would have been a sea burial, but Dearra had refused to release him. She had thrown herself across his lifeless body until Carly took pity on her and encased Hugh in a frozen chrysalis of ice.

One achingly sweet soprano voice rose Heavenward, eventually joined by others until the air was thick with their song:

 

The sun dips low as day’s end nears.

Darkness closes in; you journey into the final night.

We cannot hear you; your voice has been taken from our chorus.

Your candle has gone out, and we grieve the lost light.

Still, you are with us.

 

Time claims us all and calls us home.

Heartbeats are numbered; now our hearts beat for you.

Your spirit goes where we cannot yet follow; you walk a path apart.

You are never really gone; your soul is only made new.

Still, we are with you.

 

Our voices call out for you to hear.

Your breath is in the trees; your eyes in every star.

We look for you in the faces of friends; we search for you in every voice.

We will join you when our sun sets; you are never very far.

Still, you are with us.

 

Lay your comforting hand on weary hearts.

Your laughter rings in our ears; your smile fills our memory.

We know you will always be waiting for us; you are just beyond the next hill.

Light a new candle in the place to come; its brilliance our guide will be.

Still, we are with you.

Still, we are together.

 

Dearra stepped forward, and she held her candle between the stout logs that supported Hugh. The fire caught the kindling and straw that had been stuffed inside, and the flames licked greedily at the wood. The people of Maj crowded closer and held their small flames to the pyre as well. There were far too many people for them to all get within reach, but they held their candles forward symbolically, so that their lights could join with the rest.

Over three hundred people surrounded the flames in a circle several bodies deep. The sun disappeared on the horizon, leaving behind only an orange and yellow glow. 

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