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Authors: Kelly Walker

Tags: #Teen Paranormal

Second Stone

BOOK: Second Stone
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By Kelly Walker

For Brianna,

When I look at you, I know without a doubt that one girl can change the world.

Copyright © 2013 by Kelly Walker

Published in the United States by Kelly Walker

Version 1.0

Cover Design by Kelly Walker

All rights reserved. No portion of this book, whether in print or electronic format, may be duplicated or transmitted without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.

This book is a work of fiction. All characters, places, names and events are a work of my imagination. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is a coincidence.

This book is provided DRM free for your convenience. You are welcome to make additional copies for use across your own devices within your household. You are not welcome to duplicate it for the purpose of distribution.

Prologue

Under the heavy blanket of drowsiness, Terin didn’t realize she’d heard the footsteps outside her chamber until it was too late. A rough hand clamped over her mouth, preventing her instinctive scream. All thoughts of sleep fled as she struggled against the shadowed form.

In another moment, a gag filled her mouth. Sharp cloth bit into the tender skin of her wrists as her attacker bound them.

The hearth had settled itself into quiet embers hours ago, leaving the room in silent darkness. Her bare foot connected with soft flesh as he struggled to scoop her off the bed. His muffled grunt was unlikely to carry through the heavy walls. The uneven shuffle of his leather soles on the stone floor could scarcely be heard.

Where were the guards? She writhed in the man’s arms as he carried her effortlessly down the corridor.

The man never spoke. In the flickering light of the central campfire she caught a glimpse of the stable yard cluttered with tents, yet devoid of activity. Her stomach lurched as she was thrown sideways across a saddle with her hands bound behind her. Blood rushed to her head. The dirty rag he’d used to gag her was rancid in her mouth, adding to the dizziness that tried to claim her.

Her captor mounted quickly in the darkness, wasting no time before riding toward the bridge connecting Castle Ahlen with the rest of Thalmas.

––––––––

Emariya Warren tried to open her eyes, and fought back a rising panic when she found that she couldn’t. Waking was something she did every day. It was supposed to be easy, something she did without thought, without effort. But it wasn’t. Every time she tried to open her eyes, the blackness stretched further, enveloping her more instead of receding as she’d intended.

It wasn’t simply the blackness that she associated with having her eyes closed, this blackness was nothingness. It wasn’t the blackness of a darkened room with no light source; even then she could usually see vague shapes, outlines silhouetted in ambient light.

For all intents, it was as if the world around her had ceased to exist, leaving her alone in the quiet nothingness. Emariya forced herself to concentrate past her fear, focusing on her hands. She attempted to move them, but her arms remained defiantly still. Focusing hard, she tried to determine if she could feel anything touching her skin—her bed, the ground, anything that might tell her where she was. It occurred to her that regardless of her success, the mere fact that she was making a conscious thought to move, to feel, must mean she wasn’t asleep. But if she wasn’t asleep and she wasn’t awake, did that mean she was dead?

If she were dead, she should be able to talk to her brother. They were Roths, and the Roths could talk to the spirits of the dead. She was fairly certain she wasn’t dead. If she had died, she would have noticed…hopefully. What was her most recent memory? Maybe if she thought over everything that had happened before, she would figure out what had happened to her, and why she couldn’t make the blackness recede.

Emariya drifted between consciousness and unconsciousness, between awake and asleep. If she concentrated hard, she could detect a fine mist hanging in the air. She felt it as it entered her nose, reminding her that she was breathing, so she could not be dead.

Not to say that she wasn’t comforted by the thought of not being dead, but the fact of still being…lost…was disconcerting. Reaching deep into her memory, she searched backwards in time for some recollection of what had led her to be here, drowning in the nothingness.

CHAPTER ONE

Proper, Promised, and Proclaimed.

––––––––

A few days before

Only an ornate iron door stood between Emariya Warren and her future. Though she wasn’t sure what she’d expected, it was nothing close to what was waiting for her inside the regally decorated throne room. Lost in a fog of nerves, Emariya barely took notice of Jessa using every last moment to fuss over each strand of her wild blonde mane. Jessa had brushed it ‘til it gleamed, then topped it with a simple silver circlet. The three pearls inlaid on each side were only one shade lighter than the locks they rested upon.

Emariya could hear them—all of them—as they fidgeted on the other side of the iron door. Each had come to Castle Ahlen to witness the most exciting announcement of their lifetime. Their collective whispers bound together, building to a steady hum of anticipation. Their prince, Torian Ahlen, had chosen his bride. Most knew she had come from Eltar. A few even knew that her mother had been a Roth, and, according to her handmaidens, rumors of her beauty had spread far and wide. However, nothing in her noble, council-born upbringing could have prepared her to face an entire throne room crammed full of expectant citizens of Thalmas, each vying to catch a glimpse of the girl who would someday be queen.

Feeling a tug at her waist, Emariya glanced down. Her handmaiden and closest friend, Jessa, was arranging each fold of her elaborate gown. The iridescent silver gown, adorned with elaborate, black embroidered swirls, cut boldly across her bare shoulders. Snug sleeves hugged her elbows where sheer, flowing white silk floated towards the floor. The same sheer silk encircled her waist, billowing out behind her, creating an elegant train.

“Ready?” Jessa asked.

Emariya swallowed hard.
It’s only a formality, nothing has changed
, she reminded herself. Pasting her practiced smile on her lips, she nodded for the guards to open the door. The sooner this was done, the sooner she could be on her way to her father. It wouldn’t be soon enough.

Moving in fluid synchronization, the pair of black and silver clad guards swung the iron doors open. Stepping aside to allow her to enter, the one on the right gave her an encouraging smile. Her gaze wandered ahead of her, settling on Torian, who was waiting for her at the front of the room where he stood on the steps beside his father.

How could he be so relaxed, so calm, when her own heart was dancing sporadically in her chest? It was fluttering like a moth blinded by overwhelming light, not knowing which way to run. Her heart screamed at her to race toward Torian and the promise of their life together. Her good sense begged her to turn on her heel, hurrying in the other direction to avoid the heartache and broken promises that likely waited for them.

His smile joined with hers, singing to her eager heart, silencing even the most vocal of her inner fears and causing her knees to quiver as her legs grew weak. The guards followed two steps behind her as she proceeded forward, concentrating on placing one foot artfully in front of the other, determined not to trip with the entire kingdom in attendance. His Royal Highness King Dellas Ahlen began to speak.

“It is with great pride that I present my son’s betrothed, Lady Emariya Warren, sister to Lord Reeve Warren, High Seat of the Great Council of Eltar.” Dellas’s voice rang strong and clear, echoing around the large, spacious room. A few weeks before, his clarity would have been impossible. The herbs Emariya had offered as a means of controlling his vision-induced condition had given him back his mind, giving Torian back his father. His gray eyes shone brightly, bearing no trace of confusion as he turned to watch his son.

Every pair of eyes along the two sides of the enormous room turned to watch her approach. Emariya barely noticed their smiles of approval; she kept her gaze steady on Torian as she paused upon reaching the base of the steps. Torian took her hand in his as he stepped down to stand beside her. His graceful fingers wrapped around hers displayed no sign of the clamminess of her own.

“My son, do you accept the proclamation of her promised hand here today before the people of Thalmas?” Pride filled Dellas’s eyes as he glanced back and forth between the couple.

“I do, Father.” Torian squeezed her hand. “I pray that the good people of Thalmas come to love her as I have.”

A lingering heaviness lifted off her heart at Torian’s words. There was no doubt that he meant them.

King Dellas stepped forward, his coarse gray hair brushing against his cloak. He took Emariya’s hand from its place in Torian’s. His skin was wrinkled and cold against her fingers. “Lady Emariya, do you accept the people of Thalmas as your own, receiving all the loyalty and protection that they might afford? Will you seek to guide them in honesty and fairness with a just hand and an open heart?”

“I would be honored to, Your Majesty.” Emariya spoke strong and true, while desperately hoping it would not be a promise she was forced to break.

From her place behind her husband, Queen Arwen Ahlen stepped forward. Reaching out from beneath her silver cloak, she removed the circlet from Emariya’s hair. Emariya forced her face to remain still as one of the pearls caught and pulled at a rebellious strand. In its place, the queen secured a tiny silver tiara. With a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, she then retreated to her place behind her husband.

Taking her hand again, Torian addressed his father. “Your Majesty, Lady Emariya and I formally request your permission to delay our marriage ceremony. Her father, Lord Oren Warren, is believed to be in the prison of our enemy, Sheas. We would deign to secure his freedom, thus he may present his blessing on the day we wed.” A heavy weight settled in Emariya’s stomach as she thought of her father as a prisoner. Had he held on to any hope that someone might come for him?

At the sound of Torian’s request, an audible wave of surprise rolled through the crowd in attendance. The overall mood seemed to be agreement that the young couple should be given the chance to see to her father at once. Emariya caught a few pitying glances. Still, some sounded disappointed. The citizens from Thalmas had traveled several days through winter snows to witness the official proclamations. Surely some hoped to attend a royal wedding, as well. Of course, as long as they were able to celebrate with hearty food and royal wine at the planned feast, Emariya was relatively sure they wouldn’t mind terribly.

Dellas raised his hand for silence; the room quieted at once. “I consider that a reasonable and honorable request, my son. Let it be so.”

––––––––

Emariya slipped down a quiet corridor, finding a moment’s reprieve from roving eyes. Most of the guests had moved to the feast hall, where she was soon expected herself. Torian had gone to check on the last preparations for their journey; he would find her later in the feast hall. Grateful for the lack of company, Emariya stopped to rest her head back against the wall, letting the worn stone support her.

As footsteps reached her ears, Emariya straightened, taking a deep breath. Instead of exhausting but kind well-wishers, Jessa and Garith appeared around the corner.

“Riya! Are you well?” Garith rushed forward.

Emariya must have been doing a worse job hiding her weariness than she thought. She managed half a smile. “I’m just ready to be on our way. Not that I am not appreciative of their support—I am. This just feels like a waste of time. I cannot fathom why they have traveled so far just to see Torian name his bride. Every moment we delay is another moment my father has to wait.”

Jessa touched her shoulder sympathetically. “They’ve come to celebrate you, as well as the new alliance.” A pair of laughing, joyful guests slipped down an adjoining corridor, and Jessa looked toward them with a smile.

“That’s just it,” Emariya said. “We don’t know for sure they have anything to celebrate now either.” Emariya frowned. She thought of all these people who had come so far for the royal announcement. They’d been so pleased their prince had chosen a bride. How disappointed would they be if she and Torian chose not to wed? Torian needed the support of his kingdom if he were to use the Royal Forces to attempt to rescue Emariya’s father. The best way they had figured to do that was an announcement of betrothal with a delayed wedding. She couldn’t be sure the alliance they intended to create would come to fruition either. It all hinged upon her brother, Reeve. “Do you think Reeve will keep his word and send the wagons of food in the spring?” Emariya asked, waves of trouble darkening her sea-blue eyes.

Garith looked at Jessa before answering, insecurity etched on his impish face. “I really don’t know. I wish I did.” He looked at her solemnly. “But regardless of what he does, you cannot fault yourself. You’ve done everything you can.”

“Of course I can. We’ve imprisoned Khane, alerted the Separatists to my brother’s and my existence, refused to send the reinforcements for the fjord, and Torian and I have not yet wed. Any one of those might have driven my brother to anger. All together…well, I cannot even fathom his wrath.” She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to force away the thoughts of her brother’s fury.

Jessa looked at her, her strawberry colored brows furrowed in concern. “But Riya, you had to do what you knew was right. As a leader, Reeve should understand that.” Fortunately for Jessa, she was short and pixie-like, with pale skin and long red hair, and most found her innocence endearing.

“What Reeve will understand will be what he understood when we were children, fighting over a wooden toy. He isn’t getting his way, and he will not be happy about it. He despises being told no. The people of Thalmas, they need this food more than I imagined. Reeve will withhold it out of spite.”

“Then the sooner we release Lord Oren and return him to his seat at the head of the Council, the better,” Garith said. “I know your brother’s deception hurts, Riya. Just try and hold faith that he had his reasons.” Garith was more practical than Jessa. Their journey had been hard, but while it had darkened his view of the world, his loyalty to Emariya never faltered.

Swallowing hard, Emariya nodded. Garith was right. She’d been wounded deeply by her brother’s betrayal, but she did believe he’d been doing what he thought was right for Eltar.

The three friends glanced down the corridor. As the doors to the hall opened, the rowdy sounds of celebration spilled out. Torian came through the doorway with purposeful strides and a searching expression.

When their eyes met, Emariya smiled despite herself. Her prince was dapper in his royal vest trimmed with the silver wolf emblem of the Ahlens. He swept his slightly curled dark hair away from his face before pulling Emariya against his chest. His lips brushed her forehead. Emariya closed her eyes and leaned into his embrace. Even as thoughts of Reeve threatened to chill her, Torian’s closeness warmed her. The ache of his absence, borne of the pull of the Stones, subsided immediately once he was by her side.

“You did well,” he whispered. “As soon as the feast is complete, we’ll be on our way.” Torian turned to Garith and ordered, “I need you to oversee the horses. Make sure they are ready and waiting in the courtyard.”

“Absolutely,” Garith said. Emariya had been pleased to see that Garith’s loyalty to her had easily spread to a loyalty and respect for Torian. In fact, Garith had trusted Torian before she had.

“My Lady, we’re awaited in the hall.” He offered her his arm with a dashing—albeit forced—smile.

Emariya suspected he shared her anxiety to be on their way. “We’ll meet you and Garith as soon as we can get away.” She bid Jessa goodbye as she let her prince lead her to the hall where his people—the people who were entrusting their futures to her—were anxiously waiting.

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