I promised you all the second chapter of Book Two today. Remember, it's rough and unedited (professionally). It will give you a good idea of where I'm headed in the trilogy. Enjoy!
Do not continue if you have not read THE BROKEN or Chapter One in a previous post.
When everyone had left, my house rambled with too much quiet, even though Ouriel and Briathos remained with us. It seemed they didn’t want to leave, to face life without Ishmael, either. I didn’t blame them. From my parents’ deaths, I had learned that the immediate aftermath of a funeral was filled with silence—silence where the dead’s voice resonated more loudly than it had in life. I also knew that terror would follow quickly behind and thrive in my dread of going back to living.
How can I live without Ish?
The question vibrated through my body, and no answers came with it. Something in the back of my mind that sounded awfully like the dead Warrior himself echoed back to me—You will live because you must.
But I didn’t want to.
Even so, I forced myself into the shower after everyone else had gone to bed. At least in there I could finally let out the sobs I’d held back all day. No one would see and worry about me with eyes full of pity. The pounding of the water would drown out the sound of my cries and maybe, just maybe, wash away some of my sorrow with it.
I stepped out of the tub and dried my body viciously, pausing only to slap on some lotion and pajamas before exhaustion swamped me. Combing my hair and brushing my teeth seemed suddenly too difficult, so I headed for my room. At least most of me is clean. Nobody can say I didn’t try.
I nearly passed out when I opened my bedroom door and found Ouriel sitting in my desk chair.
“Holy crap!” I screeched like a little girl. “What are you doing here? You scared the crap out of me!”
Ouriel leapt to his feet. “I am sorry. I…er…it is simply that I—”
“You what?” I wasn’t done feeling sorry for myself. And I preferred doing so in solitude.
“I am sorry. I should not have intruded. If you will excuse me.” Ouriel gave me a slight bow.
A stab of guilt hit squarely in my midsection. As Ouriel brushed past me on his way to the hall, I caught his hand.
“I’m sorry, Ouri.” His nickname had felt heavy on my tongue since our confrontation at the Pool, but my hand still tingled where it touched his. We haven’t been alone in here since—I tried to shake my mind clear of the memory but couldn’t—since I broke up with him. “I didn’t mean to be so short with you. What do you need?”
I didn’t even reach a hand up to smooth my wet, tangled hair. Guess there was nothing like mourning to take the vanity out of a girl.
“I am in need of nothing. I came here out of concern. I heard you crying.”
“You…what? How?” I felt my face flush with embarrassment and anger. Not even in the shower could I find privacy. “You were listening to me in there?”
“I was not lurking outside, if that is what you are implying. I had already retired to the guesthouse when I heard—felt—you crying.” Ouriel ran a shaky hand through his long hair. “I sensed a spike in your pain and ran in to see that you were all right.”
“You felt my pain?”
“Yes.” Ouriel looked agitated and…nervous?
“You can feel my pain? From that far away?” I knew Ouriel had the power to become a Healer, if he’d chosen to. Even without training, he could feel others’ pain to some extent, but his talent remained latent and untapped because he’d never wanted to hone it. “But I thought you couldn’t—”
“I cannot. With others.” Ouriel threw himself down into the chair he’d just left. “I have spent hundreds of years learning to block out the sensations of everyone around me. But I always feel you, Rose. I do not know why. I have tried to shut you out for years.”
“Years?” Finding out that Ouriel had known me since my early childhood and never told me—and hearing it from St. Michael the Archangel himself—had rocked me to the core. It was one of the reasons I’d broken up with him, and I still hadn’t dealt with it. Hearing him admit the truth now, so casually, was just as jolting.
“Yes, Rose, years. I have told you that I will never lie to you again, and I meant it. I have felt you since before I knew you. That is how I found you the day you ran away from home. It is how I found you in that vacant lot a few months ago, lying in the sand with a demon trying to steal your soul.”
I sank onto my bed. “Why?”
“I do not know. My father has said that he believes that it was ordained by the Creator to be so, but…” Ouriel shrugged.
“I think you may also be a powerful Projector.”
“Projector? You think that’s part of my Sight? That I can blast my thoughts into other people’s minds?” I grabbed hold of both sides of my head. Like that’ll keep your thoughts in! Idiot.
“I know you can. Usually, the other person has to be open to it.” Ouriel gave me a small smile. “Unless, of course, you are really trying.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you chose to, you could put thoughts, images, desires, into another person’s mind. You could even drive a person mad, with enough practice.” He paused. “You could invade his or her mind and make it your own.”
“I’ve heard of Projectors. They’re kind of the opposite of Shad and his whole Receiver thing, but I didn’t know they could do that.” I shivered. Putting stuff in other people’s minds seemed downright evil.
“Very few can do those things. Joan of Arc was the last Guardian that powerful.” The Warrior looked at me expectantly. “Do you understand?”
“Understand what? She was my great-grandmother times something like 200. It figures I’d get something like that from—holy cow! Do you mean that she was the last one like…the one that was before me?”
Ouriel grinned at me. “Yes. In times of great need, a female of your line is always born to fulfill the prophecy—to bring balance to the Endless War. It was said that one of you may actually end it.”
“How many of us have there been?”
“She was the second.”
“So, I’m the third.”
“Yes.” He sighed. “I must ask my father and grandfather, but I believe the time has come for you to read the Sacred Books.”
“Sacred Books? The Sacred Books?” I couldn’t breathe. I’d dreamed of reading the ancient tomes all my life. “But I thought only Warriors could read them.”
“Warriors and the females of your bloodline, once they have come into their Sight.”
“My family can read them? I can really read them?”
“Of course. Your—how did you word it?—great-grandmother times 2,000 wrote them.”
“My ancestor wrote them? Which one?” Excitement ran through my body with a shiver. I’d always thought the Books were of Warrior origin. The idea that one of my ancestors had written them was beyond comprehension.
“The original Guardian? Wow. What are they about?” It felt good to think about something other than death and destruction, if only for a moment. Both had consumed me for too long already.
Ouriel laughed. My heart lurched at the sound—one I hadn’t heard in weeks and hadn’t realized I’d missed so much. A few months ago, I didn’t even know if he could laugh. Now, it sounds natural from him. The aloof, cranky Warrior had all but disappeared. Okay, well maybe not the cranky part.
“Always curious, always my little pepa, aren’t you?” Ouriel leaned back in his chair. “I cannot tell you what is in the Books. You must read them for yourself.”
“So, when are you going to ask your bosses?”
“I will go now. My grandfather does not sleep, and my father will be restless after—” he swallowed hard “—after today.”
A spurt of anger burned away any kind feelings that had started to resurface in me. Ishmael had been Ouriel’s uncle, his father’s brother, and he’d never told me. He lied. Because he’d had to, but still. I wondered if I’d ever be able to forgive him. It wasn’t fair to hold a grudge, but I felt betrayed.
Probably sensing the turn in my mood, Ouriel stood. “I should take my leave now.”
“That’s probably a good idea.” I had no desire to show him mercy, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking one more question before he walked out of my room. “Ouriel, wait!”
He turned back just enough for me to study his profile.
“What other gifts do you think I might have? I can sort of See spirits, and I can Project. What else do you think might be coming for me?”
“I cannot tell you what else is coming. You must wait and see for yourself. Good night.”
I managed a feeble “good night” of my own before the Warrior slipped out of the room.
* * *
Tossing for what seemed like hours, I counted interminably backwards from a hundred to one before sleep finally dragged me into peaceful nothingness, only to have nightmares of Ausen and my dead parents fling me back into consciousness every few hours. Each time I awoke, drenched in sweat and terrified, Ishmael dominated my thoughts once again and the cycle began anew. Only around five in the morning did my body finally succumb to exhaustion and allow me to truly sleep. Two very short hours later, a loud banging on my bedroom door shattered any hope I had left of resting.
“It is time, Rose!” Ouriel called from the hallway.
“Time for what?” I grumbled back.
That one simple word nearly pushed me over the edge. Fatigue swamped my body before I could even pull it out of bed.
“I’m too tired. Go away!” Pulling the covers over my head, I tried to wish myself back to sleep.
“I am afraid I cannot.” The Warrior swung my door open.
Has it always squeaked that loudly? Gah!
“I am on patrol later today.” Ouriel smiled at me when I peeked an eye out from under warm sheets. “It is now or never.”
“I’m good with never.”
“I am not.”
It was impossible to stifle the growl that rolled up from my gut. “I really don’t like you right now. Only jerks wake people up this early on a weekend.”
“But do jerks come bearing gifts such as these?” He walked over to my desk, set down the backpack I hadn’t noticed with a heavy clunk, and pulled two canvas-wrapped bundles from its depths.
“Gifts such as what?” I sat upright, only to gasp as he pulled two ancient-looking leatherbound books out of the coverings. “The Books? You brought them?”
Ouriel answered me with a smile, and I jumped out of bed.
“Hold on, okay? I’ve got to do some stuff.” I dashed down the hall and into the bathroom to brush my teeth and run a comb through my hair before sprinting back to Ouri and the Books.
“Are you now ready?” He’d already laid the canvas across my desk and turned to fish two pairs of cotton gloves out of his pack. He handed one set to me. “Put these on.”
I sat heavily in my chair and slowly pulled on the gloves, finger by finger. My hand shook as I reached out to open the ancient tome before me. The gust of air stirred up by cracking the cover fanned a combination of sacred smells—leather, paper, and knowledge—into my nostrils. I breathed deeply, savoring the moment of sweet anticipation. My gloved fingertip traced across the thick paper and indecipherable script lovingly.
“It’s beautiful.” The words whispered out of my mouth of their own accord, just before a tiny ray of disappointment pierced my delight. “But how will I ever be able to read it?”
Ouriel smiled. “Look closer.”
I bent to the page, squinted at the glyphs, and groaned.
“Use your Sight, Rose.”
Fighting the urge to roll my eyes, I turned back to the book. Using my Sight—on purpose and not by accident—wasn’t something I was able to do just yet. When I was distracted, my powers manifested easily. So easily you don’t even know you’re using them, dummy. Just like last night in the shower. But when you concentrate… My powers were slippery, hard to grasp, like sand falling through my fingers at the beach. I wanted to bang my head on the desk in frustration. Years spent denying my Sight had rendered it an ephemeral, fickle beast.
“I suck at this!” Giving in to the self-pity, I let my head drop down to clunk on old wood.
“Focus.” Ouriel pulled me up rather roughly to face my newest foe. “Is this not something you have dreamt of the entirety of your young life?”
“I do not care to hear excuses. It is difficult to learn to control your gifts at this point in your life, Rose, but it is possible.” Ouriel squatted by my side. “You cannot give up so easily. You have hardly attempted it.”
Fighting the urge to push him off balance and onto his butt, I resolved to try again. Or maybe I can punch that pretty little nose of his. I stifled a giggle and forced myself to concentrate on drilling a hole in the paper with my eyes. I waited. My mind began to drift, but I mercilessly dragged it back on task. After what seemed like hours, the meaningless squiggles before me began to twist and reshape themselves into words. Actual English words.
“I See it!” I screeched. And the words abruptly reverted to obscurity. “Crap. I lost them.”
“Now do you understand why you were never allowed to read the Books before?” The Warrior shot me another grin. “Try once more. And concentrate this time.”
Again, I wanted to sock him in the face, but the appeal of reading the words of my ancestor won out. I went back to work. It felt counterintuitive, but I had to let go of my conscious mind and allow the subconscious to take over. That was a lesson Ouriel had been trying to teach me since the battle that took Ishmael.
My concentration slipped with a wince.
Stop it, Rose. You have to put him aside. Just for now. His memory will still be here to haunt you when you’re done. A shiver ran down my spine. I closed my eyes and felt my mind slip into the detached state necessary to control my Sight. I was awake and aware of everything around me, but it all seemed just a step removed from the present. Like I was living something and watching it at the same time. Both inside and out of my body. I breathed out slowly and opened my eyes to the words in front of me. They reverberated through my head, like voices from beyond the dead—
I was born on the thirteenth day of the eighth moon. I do not know the year, but rest assured that many thousands of them will have passed before you read this.
I was the last child to bless the union between two of the greatest royal houses of my time. My mother was a princess of Edom, the last in her royal line. Upon the death of her father, she would inherit his entire kingdom. She was the most eligible bride of the day, and many men sought the hand of Princess Maliki the Edomite. However, one stood out amongst the others—his handsome visage, his courtesy, his courage, and his daring—all of his charms rendered impotent those of his fellow suitors. And so, my beautiful, gentle mother fell in love with Molek, King of Tyre.
For many years, my parents were blissfully happy. My mother was allowed to continue her worship of the one, true God and even spread her faith to his people. My father foreswore the idea of bringing to his court any other wives or concubines, even to ensure that his royal seed continued. In reward, Elohim blessed my father’s act of faith by granting my parents many sons. My brothers grew as strong and handsome in body as their souls were pure and courageous. My father doted on his eight sons, the youngest of whom was eight years old at my birth.
I was the jewel in my parents’ crown. Not only did they have many sons to inherit what would become their united kingdoms, but now they had a daughter as well. I would showcase the graces of their court and grow, someday, to be a queen in my own right, that I might bring greater prestige and connections to my family. Through me, my father could sire yet another nation.
As was expected of a princess my age, I was sent to be fostered among the court of the young prince to whom I’d been betrothed—the son of my father’s greatest partner in trade. At the tender age of nine, I arrived with a full entourage in the Kingdom of Shebah. The king and queen there took me as their own, and I was loved and cherished. Unfortunately, I missed my mother and our beautiful palace on the Mediterranean Sea. I missed our long visits with the King and Queen of Edom and our celebrations of Elohim that took place there. Most of all, I missed the whispered voices of my ancestors calling out to me across the harbors of Canaan and through the wadis of the deserts of Moab.
The young prince I was to marry, Sebah, was the epitome of his name—he was a lion in all he did. As a child, he teased me incessantly. I was forever finding spiders and other insects among my clothing, my favorite possessions, and in my bed. He once pushed me into a muddy pond, from which I hadn’t the strength to extract myself. Barely able to keep my balance, Sebah’s father fished me out of the sucking clay that held my feet prisoner in the shallow bed of water. Sebah was just as passionate, as fierce, in his contrition after he wronged me, always bringing me favors so that I might forgive him—but only if he had been caught in those trespasses by his parents.
As we grew, however, I seldom saw Sebah. At age eleven, he began training with his father’s soldiers. Over the next four years, I saw the baby fat of the boy melt into the hard body of a man.
I received training in combat as well, though not in public. Sebah’s father was determined that I be able to defend myself should the need ever arise, so I studied under the private tutelage of his greatest warriors.
Sebah saw his first battle the winter he turned fifteen. He, his father, and their army campaigned long and hard. It was a sad time among the people of Shebah, but their lands were rich with the spices and incense that other kingdoms coveted.
The night before Sebah left for his first battle, I conspired to take him aside during our nightly feast. I’d hidden my hair under a veil, so that no one could see what I’d done—what I intended for Sebah.
I still remember the snap, the cut of his voice as he testily asked me, “What is it you want, Verdah? I have no time for your childish games. I am a man now. I have a man’s tasks to which I must attend.”
“You are not the only one who has grown up! I am a woman now myself. I only wanted to give you a small token, a favor, to bless you and keep you safe on your journey.” My last words trailed off into a whisper as I reached under my tunic for the braid of hair I’d cut from my head only an hour before. Embarrassed now by my actions, I could not look at the man in front of me, even though he’d been the boy with whom I’d been raised. I held my offering out to him, my hands shivering and open in fear of his rejection.
“Verdah,” he hissed. “Your beautiful hair! What have you done?”
“I wished only to show you a small portion of what I would sacrifice for your safe return.”
“But your hair?” he asked, reaching for the long silken bundle of reddish gold I held out to him. “As a boy, I always thought that you needed no decoration, no symbols of your royal status because of your hair. It was glorious, a crown you wore naturally from birth.” When I couldn’t respond, Sebah continued, “I would watch you play for hours, wanting only to touch this hair of yours. Because I couldn’t, I always resolved instead to punish you for it.” He laughed. “I would search out some pest to hide in your things.”
“Is that why you tortured me?” I shouted and clenched my hands into fists so that I couldn’t rip my hair from his. “You gave me nightmares for years! I still check my bed every night before I’ll get in it—”
Sebah broke off my tirade by sweeping me up into a heated kiss. I’d never been kissed before that night, and, in that moment, I swore I’d never be kissed again by anyone but him. His lips ignited a fire in me that I couldn’t understand or control. I clutched him to me as if his very presence provided the sustenance for my life.
Muttering a soft curse, Sebah broke away from me. “Verdah, stop! You do not know what you do to me. You are not ready. We are not yet married, and I cannot touch you like this until the day we are.”
Embarrassed by my wanton behavior, I whispered, “I’m sorry,” and ran from Sebah. I sprinted for my private garden within the palace grounds. I heard him calling for me, but I didn’t dare turn to see how close he might be. Suddenly, the breath was crushed from my body when Sebah tackled me from behind.
“Verdah!” he gasped, “I yelled for you to wait. Why didn’t you?”
Roughly, I rolled over in the spongy grass and shoved him away from me.
“I am embarrassed, Sebah! Can’t you see? You made it perfectly clear how disgusted you were by my behavior just now. I did not want to force my presence upon you further.”
“You in no way disgusted me. Far from it! You did just the opposite, as you are now, looking at me the way you are. Your eyes—they are the only ones of green I’ve ever seen—” Sebah paused for only a second, and I couldn’t resist seeking out his soft lips once more.
He pushed me away harshly. “I told you not to do that!”
“Yes, you did. But now that I know why—that I can make you feel the way I do, this deep heat within me—I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop…” I peppered him with kisses across his face and down his neck, desperate now to inhale his scent and taste the saltiness of his skin.
“Verdah…” his voice caressed my name. “You must stop. You know not where this will lead, and we aren’t to be married for another year yet.”
“I don’t care where it leads. I love you, Sebah. I always have—even the day you pushed me into that accursed marsh!”
He responded with a chuckle. “I’d forgotten that. You wailed like a wild child that day, and I received the thrashing of my life from Father, cursing all the while about how I could have drowned you.” Sebah’s eyes drifted off to a place mine could not follow.
“Sebah?” I murmured, the darkness lending me courage to finally speak my fears. “I do not like the idea of you going into battle. It frightens me. What—what if you don’t return?”
“Ah, that is and will always be a possibility, but I will return. How can I not, with you waiting for me? I hope to finish then what we have started tonight.”
“Then I will pray. Every day. And I will have my priests offer an extra sacrifice to Elohim daily as well, that you might come back safely to me.”
With a final kiss to my forehead, Sebah was gone, and I was left staring up at the soft, dark night with the stars as my only companions.
I could not bear to meet Sebah and his father in the courtyard for our farewells the next morning. Instead, I watched them from the cutout window of my room, high in the palace. I stood, frozen, for hours after they departed. The only movements of my body were borne of heaving breaths and tears streaming down my cheeks. Finally, my lady in waiting sent for the Queen, and the two of them conspired to wrest me into my bed.
Many days passed before I found myself again. Even so, my life was a mere shadow of what it had once been. There was no joy in my life without Sebah and the King. At the very least, Sebah’s mother and I were able to share the burden of our worry and our sorrow. We sat many afternoons in her gardens reading, sewing, or weaving cloth. Weeks passed for us in this manner, with no news from our men.
One morning, as the Queen and I collected fruit in the garden for our midday snack, a great commotion arose in the courtyard. Believing it was news from the battle, she and I dropped our food and ran across the palace grounds, praying all the while for good tidings. We arrived, breathless, only to find a single man, amber of complexion, still astride his horse. I had been born to royalty, but this man wore the most regal countenance I had ever come across.
“Your majesty,” the auburn haired man bowed to my mother Queen. “I must speak with you at once. I have information most serious in nature."
“Oh, no!” she grabbed for her heart. “It is not my son or my husband? They are not—not—”
I clutched her to me as the Queen sank to the ground. In a move that seemed impossibly fast, the man stood next to me, lifting her up.
“Forgive me, your Majesty, but this has nothing to do with the battle, and I can assure you that both men are quite healthy at the moment. However, I must speak to you immediately.” The strange man caught my gaze above the head of Sebah’s mother. “And you as well, young Verdah.”
I couldn’t help but notice how beautifully green his eyes were. In them seemed reflected all the kindness in the world, and my heart swelled with unabashed joy.
I jerked back to the present with a jolt. My hand drifted up to find tears streaming down my face.
“I can See them.” The crack in my voice sounded louder than my words themselves. “I Saw him. He—he was so young. God help me!”
Without a word, Ouriel folded me into a hug.
And I sobbed on his shoulder for what felt like hours.
©2015 Julia Joseph