LBAE Chapter 1

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Eliana, the adopted 3rd prince of Samecha, is faced with the difficult task of convincing her older brother, Prince Kellan to choose a wife for his engagement in two days. If he doesn't she knows
he will face punishment from the king, but if he does she's afraid she will lose him.

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Desert Dreams

Submitted: October 06, 2018

Reads: 294

Comments: 4

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Submitted: October 06, 2018

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Chapter 1: Desert Dreams

 

Some freedoms can only be found chasing the white-tiger falcon through clear blue skies across the blood-red sands of Samecha. Eliana watched Heart Screamer lonely figure dance further and further across the horizon. Heard the falcon’s clear anguished cry as she was brought to heel by her master’s whistle. Every time Heart Screamer turned back, Eliana wanted her to rebel, to fly on if for no other reason than to see where the desert met the ocean. To pursue freedom and not just dream of it. But even a prince, for all their wealth, prestige, and power is tethered to the commands of a king.

Beside her, Prince Kellan raised his hand as the falcon swooped closer. Heart Screamer fluttered down with precision and care, her sharp talons embraced Kellan’s wrist with deceptive lightness. The falcon’s onyx eyes shifted over each member of the hunting party with predatory intent, alert to every sound and movement. Only when Kellan leaned his head against hers and whispered softly did the hunter relax.

Theirs was a different kind of tether. “I own her as much as she owns me,” Kellan had once said. “The only scars I carry are hers.”

There was no denying that Prince Kellan and Heart Screamer were legends, even among the Royal falconers. They could not be beaten in any hunt, against any prey. In battle, they inspired fear. The white-tiger falcon had earned her name years ago after gouging the eyes and throat of a rebel leader, ending the battle before it even began.

Although Eliana had never seen Heart Screamer in battle, it was not hard to imagine her viciousness. The scars on Kellan’s wrist, despite the leather gloves, metal chain, and metal cover he wore, were testament enough. Even watching them now, speaking in the soft tone of lovers, Heart Screamer was awe inspiring. The handsome prince that owned her was no less impressive.

But it was her brother to which Eliana focused her gaze as she crossed a leg over the saddle. “So, why the sudden urgency to hunt today? Shouldn’t you be selecting a wife?”

His eyes regarded her over the falcon’s back, their blue-green depths edged in golden flame were guarded as usual. He turned to the retainer behind them. “What’s our body count?”

“Four hares, two foxes, and the wild boar, your Highness.”

A smirk crossed Kellan’s lips as he stroked Heart Screamers chest. “You are preparing us a small feast, my sweet Lilly.”

Heart Screamer squeaked under his touch, her eyes blinking slowly in contentment.

“You can’t marry a bird,” Eliana reminded him pointedly. But once more the prince and his predator were busy whispering to each other, leaving Eliana to awkwardly lean back on the mare and study the clouds above. She would have brought her own bow if experience with Heart Screamer hadn’t taught her how useless an endeavor that would have been.

Still, she felt no loss as she swayed with the mare’s stride and watched the endless blue sky, even if the wind did occasionally sweep grains of sand into her eyes. She was glad Kellan had invited her. After Crown Prince Jarrett’s marriage five years ago, the princes’ adventures had dwindled down to the occasional drinking party and hunting excursions. Eliana was still not permitted outside the palace without her brother’s escort. Jarrett’s avaricious wife and overwhelming responsibilities now left Kellan her sole benefactor of freedom. And in two days’ time, she would likely lose him as well.

As one of the king’s advisers had reminded her on the way to the stables, Prince Kellan still needed to select a wife for the king’s approval. The engagement was to be announced at Kellan’s birthday celebration when he turned twenty-three. The customary age for Samecha men to marry was twenty. Kellan had enjoyed his extended freedom to its fullest among the capital’s illustrious harems until King Lionel put his foot down with a royal decree. And the king, Eliana’s adopted father, was to be obeyed.

Kellan had accepted the decree and the thirty noble daughters that had flooded his quarters over the last two months, with all the grace of his position. Nonetheless, it didn’t take a seer to divine he wasn’t in the least bit pleased with his guests or the king’s command.

Eliana rolled upright, adjusted the short sword at her side, and studied her brother silently. Heart Screamer paced to the edge of Kellan’s fist and challenged Eliana with her own piercing stare.

“It seems our huntress is not yet satisfied,” Kellan announced before he launched the falcon back into the sky.

“Is a hunter’s heart ever satisfied?” Eliana queried, slipping her feet back into the stirrups.

“If the prey is worthy,” Kellan answered confidently as he rode past her.

She urged her mare to follow, leaving the attendant, and the twelve royal guards that flanked them to catch up on their own. She was used to being shadowed. The armed men in red-gold uniforms were as familiar to her as the pillars of the inner palace. After seventeen years of royal decorum and restrictions, she had grown numb to the constant supervision.

The body count went up by two more hares, one of which, regretfully, proved to be pregnant. Heart Screamer showed no remorse as she dropped the fresh corpse at the attendant’s feet. Eliana tried not to imagine the terror the expectant mother must have known in her last moments. She guided her mare past the bulging gray corpse without slowing.

Kellan caught up to her quickly, Heart Screamer was not with him. “I’m sorry. I hope you were not distressed.”

She shook the sand from her headscarf and shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m sure Heart Screamer thought she was only fat.”

He nodded but studied her silently as they rode aimlessly forward. “Does it bother you?”

“What?” Eliana glanced at him, distracted by a scarf ornament that had tangled into her hair. “The dead rabbit?”

He was silent for a long moment before he reached out and helped her untangle the mess she was making. “No…perhaps…” He withdrew his hands.

Eliana tilted her head and gave him a smile he could not see. “No, it doesn’t bother me. When have you ever seen me as delicate?”

Eliana was still an infant when the king made her his third son and named her Prince Eli; despite the fact that he had been a widow for six years and had never remarried. By the time she had grown old enough to understand the whispers, the servants grew wary of telling them in her presence. She was educated alongside the princes in politics, economics, and diplomacy even though she would never rule. She learned to fight with bow and arrow, sword and shield, knives and whips, but she was never permitted to go into battle. She was a prince in name and appearance only. Born without a drop of the royal Medina family bloodline. She had only to look in the mirror to realize the truth of it.

As she watched her brothers grow into their birthright that truth began to smother her. Jarret would be king one day. Kellan was already a respected general. But what future waited for her? Why had she been raised as a prince if she was to be locked behind the palace walls and guarded like a forbidden treasure? She had tried to discover the reason before. King Lionel was unyielding, the servants and advisers kept their lips sealed, and even the royal librarian became unusually silent when pressed on the matter.

It was only in moments like these when the people around her worried about her reaction to death that she wondered. Who else knew her past and why was it a secret?

“We’re almost there,” Kellan spoke up, jostling Eliana from her thoughts as he pointed towards the dark streak on the horizon.

Eliana recognized the landscape. “The Blood River? Are we going for a swim?”

“Something better,” he answered with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Eliana grinned and urged the mare into a gallop, challenging Kellan to a race they had performed a dozen times before.

They slowed down before they reached the irrigation pipes, not wanting to inflict damage on the agricultural water ducts that kept the capital granaries filled year round. Water was a sacred resource. The only divinity the Samechans valued more was their goddess of light, Padora. They also celebrated the god of war, Marcos, but even he ranked lower than water.

The cool breeze swept up from the river tempted Eliana to remove her headdress, but she resisted. Farmers, water guards, and traveling merchants often stopped here to rest and resupply. Three of the royal guard proceeded them into the trees to clear out any stragglers that might be resting there. Kellan and Eliana waited for the guard captain’s nod of approval before they rode behind the desert trees branches.

A water trough had been prepared and filled to the brim. Eliana dismounted and led the mare towards it, her black leather boots stained a darker red with every step she took through the damp sand. “So what’s the surprise?” She asked casually. “Please tell me you’re not planning to swim across the river and escape to the Golden City?”

Kellan dropped down beside her with an abrupt laugh. “And have the Alchemist slam the door in my face?” He shook his head.

Eliana did a quick scan of the river before pulling down her scarf and unwinding it from her head. She kept the small gold ornaments wrapped inside the fabric to prevent any further tangles as she shook it gently. Kellan waited for her to finish before offering her a small jug of wine from his travel bag. “Is wine the surprise?” she asked, mildly disappointed. She did not share her brother’s appreciation for the drink.

“No,” he replied and pulled off his scarf, revealing his long jet-black braid of hair. “I thought you might be tired of water by now.”

She lifted her almost empty pouch from the mare’s saddle and shrugged. “I’ll need to find a bush before we head back. The wine will only make it worse.” She tossed the bottle back and watched him pop the cork before he tipped it back. “Please tell me we didn’t come all the way out here so you could get drunk.”

“Haven’t you heard,” he chuckled between drinks. “I’m getting engaged in two days.”

“I get it, it’s not what you want,” Eliana fumbled for the right words. “None of them…appeal to you?”

“Women are like horses,” Kellan answered with a casual shrug. “They have their figure, their unique qualities, and their uses—”

“Their intelligence…charming personalities,” Eliana cut in dryly.

“I suppose.” He wandered over to a small boulder by the river, sat down, and took another drink.

“Are they really that terrible?” Eliana asked joining him with her water pouch.

“I’d rather go to war than return to my own home,” he replied gravely. She scoffed.

“Your mother was a woman.”

“I know.”

“And, on occasion—” she leaned closer to him and whispered, “—it’s rumored that Prince Eli is a woman as well.”

He turned towards her with an expression that caught her off guard.

“What?” she asked softly.

“You—no it’s nothing,” he turned away and lifted his bottle.

She pushed his hand down firmly. “No, tell me. What’s been eating you all day? If you have no interest in having a relationship any woman than just marry one for her beauty or her family, and then give her quarters of her own so you only have to see her when necessary. I’ve heard separation does wonders for a marriage.” She took the bottle from his hand and took a drink, grimacing as the bitter fluid burned down her throat. “Maybe you should try looking at this from the woman’s point of view. As excited as your future wife might be about marrying a prince, look at what’s she saddled with. A war hero in love with a predatory bird, who is afraid to go home and face her.”

Kellan reached for the bottle but she held it away from him as she stood.

“If you can’t live with the thought of being married then tell father you’re not ready. That forcing you to do this would only ensure you were miserable for the rest of your life.” She dodged the hand that reached for the bottle and missed the other which grabbed her belt and yanked her down into his lap.

“You know that won’t work on him,” Kellan grumbled, untangling her grip from the wine.

“Then pick one, get married, and move on,” she growled back. She shoved the wine into his chest and removed herself from his lap.

A throat cleared from beyond the trees where their guards waited. Eliana snatched up her headdress and hurriedly covered her face.

“Captain?” Kellan asked sharply.

“Highness, your guest has arrived,” the captain answered.

“Ah, give us a moment then send him in.” Kellan stood and helped Eliana set the scarf properly in place.

“You’re meeting someone here?” Eliana asked breathlessly.

“You’ll understand in a moment.” Though he spoke softly she didn’t miss the excitement in his tone. Her curiosity aroused she followed him up from the rock to wait for this surprise.

A stranger entered their sanctuary but all Eliana saw was the small white-tiger falcon on his wrist. The man bowed his head, unsettling the falcon, who flapped her wings in agitation. “Greetings, Prince Kellan and Prince Eli.”

“Prince Eli,” Kellan smirked for her benefit. “This is Master Alic, a falconer.”

“She’s a beautiful bird,” Eliana breathed. “I mean—” she offered a respectful nod, “—Greetings, Master Alic.”

“Oh, she is a beauty,” Alic replied with a chuckle. “Prince Kellan picked her out himself.”

“He’s being modest,” Kellan said as he placed a steady hand on Eliana’s shoulder. “He brought her to me because she’s the last of Heart Screamer’s siblings.”

“Her sibling?” Eliana could see the resemblance, but Heart Screamer’s white feathers were tipped with red, this falcon’s feather tips were unusually silver.

“Do you like her?” Kellan asked, breaking Eliana’s admiring examination.

“I—,” she couldn’t form the words to do this miniature Heart Screamer justice so she just nodded.

“Good, she’s yours.”

“What?” Eliana ripped her eyes from the beautiful bird to search Kellan’s. “You…How…You mean it?”

“I was planning to wait for your eighteenth birthday, but when Alic showed her to me—”

“She’s mine!” Eliana’s voice squeaked as Alic brought the falcon closer.

“She will be when you name her,” Kellan replied with a chuckle. He patted her back encouragingly. “Go on, get to know her.”

The falcon’s head turned sharply between their voices, blinded by the hunting hood, she tried climbing her way up Alic’s arm. He held her firm by the tether and stroked her back.

“She’s nervous, she’s only been around me before,” Alic explained. “Make your movements slow and keep your voice calm if you can. I’ll let you know if you need to back down.”

“Okay.” Eliana took a few steadying breaths and walked closer. “Hello?” Her eyes trailed the pearl white chest down to the sharp ebony claws, up and across the falcon’s silver specked wings. “You are…magnificent.” She raised her hand slowly, listening for Alic cue but completely focused on the young predator before her. With the greatest care, she pressed her fingertips down the falcon’s feathers, the way she had seen Kellan stroke Heart Screamer a thousand times before. Slowly the falcon stopped trembling. “That’s right, no one here is going to hurt you.” She maintained her steady motion with trembling patience. Her chest almost burst when the falcon leaned into her touch.

“Doing well, your highness,” Alic whispered encouragingly.

“Then why do I feel so terrified?” Eliana whispered.

“Because she’s a killer, just like Heart Screamer,” Alic responded calmly. “Treat her with respect, show her no fear and she will respect you. Once a white-tiger imprints on a human they imprint for life. That’s why I keep her hooded or keep my face covered when I work with her.”

“I wish I could hold her,” Eliana murmured.

“We’ll try that next time,” Alic promised. “This is enough for now.”

“Thought of a name yet?” Kellan asked quietly, maintaining his distance. “It helps with the imprinting.”

Alic scoffed but Eliana nodded. “Eshani, because I have wished for her for so long.”

Kellan did not reply but Alic looked pleased by the name. When the falconer cleared his throat and signaled for Eliana to step back she did so with heavy heart. Kellan patted her back sympathetically as Alic and her Eshani disappeared beyond the trees.

“Are you pleased?” Kellan asked.

“I think I’m in love,” Eliana whispered. She stared at her fingers, remembering the feel of Eshani’s heartbeat.

“It was the same for me with Heart Screamer.” He sighed.

Eliana smiled triumphantly. “Perhaps that’s what you’re waiting for.” She spun around to face him and pulled her scarf down. “You should meet these women one by one and see if you feel a connection. Dealing with them in droves isn’t working.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards their horses. “If we hurry back now we still have a full day left. You can use my quarters to meet them individually—”

“It’s not necessary, I don’t need to meet them.” Kellan pulled her back firmly.

“You can’t not try! This is the rest of your life we’re talking about here…unless you plan on killing her which would be horribly unfair—”

“It’s not necessary because I’ve already chosen a wife.”

“You-” Her mouth dropped open. She turned around to face him, wondering why he had kept this from her. “You did?”

“I already asked Father, and he approved my request.”

“I see, that’s—” she couldn’t keep the disappointment from her voice. No, it wouldn’t be the same as Jarrett, Kellan wouldn’t disappear just because he got married. “That’s wonderful.” She offered him the brightest smile she could manage and quickly raised the scarf.

Kellan caught her hand and pulled it back, then he stepped closer and said, “I asked for you, Eliana.”

 

 


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