Coming soon, the next trilogy in the Chronicles of Alburnium series.
The first book, Wings of Flame starts off this enchanting story of Rillion and Sterlyn which is loosely based on the fairy tale, Cinderella.
There might not be a glass slipper, but there is a glass dagger.
There might not be a fairy godmother, but there will be a warrior Logorian who will help Rillion find her true love and face her enemies.
There might not be a Prince Charming, however, there is Sterlyn who is noble of heart and in complete and utter love with Rillion, even when he believes that he's lost her forever.
Oh, there will be a grand ball... absolutely!
This is the Phoenix Province trilogy.
Want to find out more? Keep reading for a sneak peek at what's to come. Oh, and let me know what you think about the first cover of this three-book series.
Rillion jolted forward in the saddle when her horse came to a sudden stop. The eerily quiet woods distracted her from watching the narrow dirt road before her.
Two guardsmen rode ahead of Rillion and her father, Regent Kenrich of the Phoenix House. They’d been traveling toward Kaim from their province of Karm since the sun had turned the sky gray.
One of the guards, a burly older man covered in battle scars named Marcus, turned his mount sideways. She tried to peer around him to see what had halted their progress.
“Stop right there, folks,” a stranger said, his voice slurred as if he’d had too much drink. And so early in the day! “There’s a toll to pass through these here woods.”
“Since when?” Rillion retorted.
Her father shot her a warning glance to keep quiet, then turned back to the stranger. “This wood belongs to the Karm Province. Under King Shaydon’s authority, I order you to step aside.” Sadly, Father’s voice trembled too much for his words to hold any authority over others.
Another man, taller than the first, stepped out of the cluster of trees, his loaded bow aimed for Father’s chest. He laughed and shook his head. “Ha! Lookie how he shakes in his boots.” The man’s shorter companion laughed along with him. Both appeared thin and haggard as if they’d not eaten, or bathed, in several days. The stench of mead told her that they had no trouble finding a drink, though.
Gerald, their second guard slowly drew his dagger. “Let that arrow loose, brigand, and you’ll not have a chance to load it a second time, I promise you.” He jerked his head to the side, “Now do as you’re told. This isn’t worth losing your lives over.”
Rilion had insisted they bring extra guardsmen. Rumors of vagrants and brigands plaguing the forest between the twin provinces, Karm and Kaim, had grown in frequency over the past season. Father would only agree to bring two guards, and he’d done so begrudgingly.
“Easy there,” said the taller man. He wore a black shirt with a strange emblem that looked like a full moon surrounded by a ring of stars. “No need to get nasty here, soldier. We’ve kept this road safe for travelers, we ‘ave. A few of your coins will guarantee nobody else will bother you. Least along this stretch of road.”
Marcus’ hand drifted toward the hilt of his sword. Everyone’s back was toward her and the thieves were partially hidden inside the cover of the trees and brush.
Rillion had beaten Gerald and Marcus many times in sword practice. They were practically useless if anyone asked her. But they did keep their mouths closed about her little hobby. She paid them in extra coins to keep her illicit practicing quiet.
Their tight lips were one of the reasons why father had chosen them to come on this little trip. He didn’t wish for today’s excursion to be made public, if possible.
Keeping secrets in their province was never an easy task, if truth be told.
“Move aside, vermin,” Kenrich ordered. “We are in a hurry and have no time to waste on scoundrels like yourselves.”
Rillion eased her red mare closer to the nearest oak growing off the side of the path. While all eyes were on the trespassers, and the trespasser’s eyes on the guards, she put her plan into action. First, she needed to rid herself of the blasted skirt she wore over her pants. Father hated for her to dress like the men. Next, she untied her cloak that she’d worn to hide her bow and quiver. She peered around the tree trunk to make sure nobody was watching.
The lead man chuckled. “We’ll not waste another moment of your time, Regent sir, if you’ll just hand over that fat leather bag hanging from your belt. I’m sure you can spare a toll tax for the promise of a safe journey.”
They must have been watching their little travel group for a while. Father was dressed in his finest regent attire with a band of silver resting on his head. Unfortunately, he’d not bothered to have it polished.
“Easy,” Rillion whispered to her mare. “Steady.” She reached up and grabbed the nearest limb, then pulled herself off the saddle. Her dark green shirt and brown trousers helped her blend into the woods, which was why she’d picked this particular traveling outfit.
With quiet movements, Rillion climbed into the boughs of the oak. Through the thick greenery, she saw that the second man’s arrow remained trained on her father. The tip trembled. Rillion bit back her smile.
“You dare to threaten a Regent of the King? You have a lot of nerve.” Kenrich’s tone overflowed with annoyance. He was already in a foul mood for having to make another trip to Rodonal, anyway.
She kept the men in her sights. Both were too focused on the guardsmen and her father to pay her any attention. She was used to that.
The Karm hunters back home grumbled about being forced to share their kills or being robbed of everything they owned. Father wouldn’t, or couldn’t, seem to do anything to stop the thievery. The people of Karm grew increasingly disheartened, which made it hard for their township to thrive.
Rillion settled onto a thick limb where she had a clear view of the men.
Marcus’ brown eyes flickered towards her for the briefest moment. His lips pressed tightly together to hide his smile. He’d seen her. But not the brigands. Not yet.
Praise Shaydon. Help my aim be true, King. I do not wish to take a life, but I must protect my father.
Rillion loaded her bow. She only had three arrows left in her worn quiver. Maybe if she saved him, he’d offer to purchase a new set once they reached their destination.
She missed what the brigands said to father, but he was truly bristling now.
“I’ll only warn you one more time,” Kenrich growled. “By the authority of King Shaydon, I order you to leave my land. Be gone this instant, you leeches.” At least he said it with more conviction this time. Sometimes she had to wonder if he even still cared to serve the King as he used to before the terrible day that shattered both of their lives.
The archer let loose his arrow. It whizzed inches past Kenrich’s head and embedded in the trunk a foot below where Rillion hid. Anger clouded her vision. Without thinking, she released her arrow. It plunged into the archer’s neck.
“No!” Father yelled.
Rillion loaded another arrow and shot it at the feet of the leader. “Listen up, Intruder,” She shouted. “My next shot will not miss, I assure you.”
Her father stupidly turned his horse toward her as he searched for where she hid. “Come down, this instant, child!”
The leader drew a knife.
“Father, move!” Rillion yelled, unable to take proper aim.
Gerald’s dagger flew, landing in the leader’s chest. The blade plunged into the very center of the moon design on his tunic.
“Bullseye!” Gerald boasted.
Marcus hopped off his horse and ran to the thieves. “I’ve not seen this emblem before, sir. They are not Brethren Wizards.”
Gerald retrieved his dagger and cleaned it off. “Tole you, Prince Issah got rid of all them conjurers, he did.”
“There’s always a chance a few remain, Ger. We can never be too careful.”
Rillion leaped from the tree, landing deftly in front of her father who also got off his horse. He snatched the bow from her and to her horror, snapped it in half. She cried out in dismay.
“What have I told you about carrying weapons?” He shouted, his face turning red as a strawberry. “It’s not becoming of a lady.”
“Father, he was going to kill you!” Rillion defended. “My bow! I made that one myself.” Her best friend Sterlyn from Kaim had shown her how to make them. He’d taught her a lot about how to protect herself.
They’d been playfully battling each other since they were young children.
“Regent, sir,” Marcus rested his hand on Rillion’s shoulder. “Don’t be hard on Rill. She is a protector at heart, my liege. Do not be angry with her, she did stop them from harming you.”
“I can protect myself,” Kenrich retorted, glaring at her.
He couldn’t. Her father could barely wield a sword. He was a leader. Some said he wasn’t even good at that. But she knew that wasn’t true. Back before her mother died, when his heart wasn’t broken into shards, he’d been a fine leader and their province had thrived.
“Rillion, you’ve now caused a death. You have blood on your hands, young lady. Do you even understand—?”
“E’ not dead yet, Regent.” Gerald thrust his sword into the man’s chest. “Is now. Bloods on me, sir.” He winked at Rillion. “But Regent Kenrich, Ol’ Marcus is right. Our Rillion has a warrior’s gift. Sooner you accept—”
“Do not proceed to tell me what I should or should not accept. Rillion is a Regent’s daughter and must behave as such. You are a woman, young lady. You are not a warrior and never will be.”
Rillion gaped at her father. He’d become so cross over the last ten years. She was sure he blamed her for Mother’s death.
And as far as Rillion was concerned, she had always had blood on her hands.
“Father! Why wasn’t I told that Rillion and her father were traveling through?” Sterlyn of Raven House hurried to keep up with Regent Orval. Even though he towered over his father by nearly a foot, the differences stopped there. He had his father’s golden-hued hair and soft brown eyes, but his height and trim build came from his mother who had gone on to Everlasting when he was a young boy.
“I would have remained here to greet her instead of going on that pointless hunting trip.” He had also inherited his father’s hurried, almost edgy disposition. Neither of them exhibited an abundance of patience for ineptitude.
Father didn’t bother to answer as he rushed along the hall toward the council chambers. He didn’t even seem to hear Sterlyn’s question.
Undaunted, Sterlyn asked, “When will they return? You did invite them to stay the night, correct? The roads between Kaim and Karm are dangerous to travel during the day, let alone at night.”
Orval finally stopped before the entrance to the council room of the courthouse. Panting, he nodded and managed, “Of course.”
A raven emblem emblazoned on a golden seal hung over the archway. Several people were already gathered inside, including his older brother Bartram who sat to the right of the Regent’s seat upon the raised platform. Bartram was to be the next Regent of Kaim.
When Sterlyn had learned that he’d missed his childhood friend’s visit, his world tilted off-kilter. It had been months since he’d last seen her. If not for their frequent letters, his days trapped here in Kaim would have been unbearable.
Finally catching his breath, Orval added, “I’m not sure if Kenrich will accept the invitation. He was in quite a sour mood when he arrived and insisted they be allowed to pass through the portal immediately. He said they had no time to waste on chit-chat. Quite rude of him, if you ask me.”
Sterlyn sighed. Poor Rillion. Many of her letters spoke of her father’s growing sullenness.
Father placed a hand on Sterlyn’s arm. “Now, be a good lad, and please do not cause a fuss. I’m sure you will see your little friend before she returns. And I’m sure that after spending time in Rodonal, Kenrich will be in a better mood. He usually is after a visit there.” Orval glanced into the bustling courtroom. “I must go inside and get things started. It looks as if we will be here a good while.”
Sterlyn waited at the entrance. He was still too young to be given a position on Father’s administration committee. This was one of the few times he didn’t envy his brother being firstborn. Sterlyn had no interest in being chained to any one place or position for the rest of his life.
Regent Orval pulled his youngest son aside, away from the crowds entering the room. In a low voice, he said in that serious, lecturing tone he hated so much, “Sterlyn, I know Cinderillion is your friend. However, it is time for you to set aside your childhood fancies. She will soon come of age and should not be enticed into romping around the halls like you two are prone to do.”
Sterlyn had heard this time and again. He understood. And even agreed that they were too old for childhood games. But Rill was still his best friend and he cared for her. Deeply. Though he’d never tell another soul his real feelings, he did hope to speak with Rillion and see if she might feel the same.
First, he needed to get her to take him seriously.
“When will they return?” He asked again.
Father’s eyes narrowed.
Sterlyn added, “I hear you. And I completely agree.”
For a long moment, Orval studied him until his brows twitched. Sterlyn knew that look. Father saw right through his pretenses and his widening smile confirmed it. “Kenrich estimated returning by sunset, or shortly thereafter. He does not wish to remain in Rodonal any longer than necessary. Though I’m sure Regent Leonard and the Matron Regent will insist that they stay for dinner.”
“Thank you, Father.” Sterlyn gave a nod. He would have time to get ready for her. She’d not mentioned in the last letter that they had plans to visit Rodonal. The only way to get there in less than three weeks of travel over mountainous land was to use Kaim’s portal.
Kenrich’s struggling province was unable to keep the Meeting Halls filled and the White Tree alive. When there wasn’t a thriving healing tree that usually meant the people weren’t thriving, either.
Orval continued, “I will insist that Kenrich remain here tonight. Will you have the staff prepare their usual rooms? And ask Cook to plan a large breakfast for all of us in the morning.” He patted Sterlyn’s back.
“That’s a good lad. Now, I need to get this meeting underway.”
Sterlyn gave a slight bow before Father entered the circular room. Excitement bubbled in his chest. He would see Rillion tonight! Their correspondence letters never covered what truly went on in their separate lives. By next year, though, they would both be attending the Academy in Aloblase. He could not wait.
The crowd inside grew quiet. Sterlyn leaned against the arched doorway, arms folded over his chest. He had plenty of time to return home and make the arrangements for Rillion and Regent Kenrich.
Prior Tyran sat on Father’s left. He was there as an advisor since he dealt with the people on a more personal level than Father did.
What disputes were on the docket this month? More bickering over land boundaries? Or another complaint about wandering livestock that got into a farmer’s field of barley? Sterlyn found the disputes amusing. The petty arguments were another reason he did not wish to follow Father’s expectations that he’d be the next Prior of Kaim. He wanted a life that meant something. Not merely arbitrate small disputes and manage the Meeting Hall.
Prior Tyran was the oldest dwarf Sterlyn had ever seen. A long scar ran down the right side of his face, leaving him blind in that eye. However, he was good at his job, despite his little drinking habit. Still, Tyran knew the King’s Book of Letters front and back and was dedicated to teaching Kingdom ways.
Father insisted that they’d soon need to find a replacement. Normally, it was Prince Issah who assigned Regents and Priors, but Father said they could manage this little task on their own. He felt that Bartram would have been picked, anyway, so why bother to bring Prince Issah to their province when it wasn’t necessary?
Prior Tyran’s age and staunch adherence to rules had become a thorn in Regent Orval’s backside. His father seemed to feel that they needed to be more lenient and keep the people happy. Prior Tyran didn’t seem to care about people’s happiness.
Sterlyn hoped the next Prior would find some kind of middle ground. Keep to Kingdom ways so people remained safe. Not because of traditions and high standards that nobody could ever meet. Yet, not be one who turned the other cheek and allowed lawbreakers to go unpunished as Father sometimes did.
When Tyran spotted Sterlyn standing in the doorway, he sent him a friendly wink. They all believed that he was destined to be the next Prior of this Province, but Sterlyn had no interest in staying in Kaim or becoming a stodgy ol’ prior.
He’d grown up in the shadow of his brother, always being compared and falling short. Once he obtained his own medallion from King Shaydon, he wanted to explore the land and hoped to get Rillion to join him in his adventures. She had often expressed a desire to see the world beyond their borders. He wished to be the one to make that wish a reality.
The first man to be heard by the court climbed onto the petitioner’s platform. His hands trembled as if he were being judged, instead of being the one to bring a charge against another.
“State your name,” Prior Tyran said, his clarion voice carrying across the vast room. Rows of seats rose along the smooth stone walls where the witnesses looked on and those also wanting to bring a problem to the Regent waited for their turns.
Bartram yawned. Sterlyn didn’t blame him, this was the most boring part of being a Regent. He tried not to chuckle over the position falling into his brother’s lap. But then, Bartram loved bossing others around, especially him.
He was wasting his time here. Sterlyn turned to leave when he almost tripped over a short man who was trying to enter the court. “Excuse me, uh, Sir Baulder, correct?”
The hairless dwarf looked him over, his pale face pinched as if Sterlyn hadn’t bathed in three months. “Master Sterlyn, you should pay better attention to those around you. Pardon me.” He made a wide berth around him, then found an empty seat on one of the back rows.
What was he doing here? Baulder was an outsider and shouldn’t be allowed in a court session. Sterlyn wished the strange dwarf, who always left him with a bad taste in his mouth, wasn’t allowed in their province at all. But that wasn’t his call.
Father spotted Baulder and quickly looked to his oldest son. Bartram shifted in his seat but gave no hint of being upset over the intruder’s presence there.
With a roll of his eyes, Sterlyn left for home. He had things to do. The court was not his concern, as Bartram had often reminded him. As far as Sterlyn was concerned, it never would be.
* * * *
After stopping by the Portal station and letting the guard know to tell Kenrich he was expected at the Manor, Sterlyn hurried home. The two-story house was located near the center of the city, sitting upon a rise so they had a perfect view that overlooked the main part of town down to the lake.
Kaim sat atop a hill and was surrounded by miles of ten-foot stone walls. Outside of the walls were acres of dense forest where creatures dwelt along with a few logging families and those who simply preferred the isolation the woods offered them.
Sterlyn found their house steward in the garden and passed on Father’s message. “Father asked that you prepare a large breakfast in the morning. Kenrich and his daughter, Rillion will be visiting this evening. Be sure their rooms are ready, Stalwart.”
Stalwart reminded him of a mighty pine, tall, thin, yet dignified and stately. “I’ll be sure to put up the breakables, Sterlyn. Thank you for the warning.”
He also had a sharp wit that Sterlyn enjoyed. “My pleasure. Is there any of yesterday’s roast left? I’m starving.”
The steward plucked several ripe zucchini from the vine and placed them in his basket. He didn’t mind getting his hands dirty and believed that everyone should pitch in to accomplish whatever jobs needed to be done. “Yes. Please be sure to put everything away, young man. We are here to keep the house in order, not pick up after you.”
“I know, and I apologize for yesterday. I got distracted by something Juni wanted to show me.”
He shook his head. “She knows better, as well.”
Sterlyn hurried on inside before Stalwart found something else to lecture him about.
In the kitchen, he worked with great care to stack his plate with several slices of roast, a bit of tomato, and several cuts of cheeses he found in a larder. Finally, he broke off a chunk of the pumpkin loaf. Perfect.
“Sterry, Sterry, you must come see. You must.” Twig-like fingers grasped the table where Sterlyn sat and shoved a large piece of meat and tomato into his mouth. Soon a bark-like face, topped with a cluster of green branches, peeked over the edge before the lithe okbold climbed up and sat close to him.
When he first met Juni, they were practically eye-to-eye. He was five at the time and barely stood four feet tall. Now the top of her head reached his hip. Her body resembled the trunk of a juniper tree and if she remained still while outside, people often mistook her as part of the landscape.
He swallowed. “Not until I’ve had my lunch, Juni. Guess who came through to use our portal this morning?”
“Yup, yup, I saw silly Rilly. She didn’t look happy. Neither did her stuffy father. But Master Orval has plans, he does. A plan to turn his sour face into a happy one.”
Sterlyn bit into the strong-tasting cheese, then said around his mouthful, “Whadda you glooping on aboud?”
Juni folded her thin arms and stared at him in disgust. “Sterry, swallow please?”
“Sobry.” He finished chewing, then asked his question again. “What have you overheard this time, you little eavesdropper?”
“Iffin I don’t eaves, then how will I catch the secrets when they get dropped? You’ve eaves, too. Many times.” She snatched a couple slices of tomatoes and gobbled them down. “Good. Nice juicy tommys ol’ Stalwart grows. Juni helps, she does.”
Yes, the okbold loved helping to make things grow. This was why the front of the manor was covered in vines and trailing roses. And why his room looked like a faerie wood.
Juni had her own little house that Father had built for her when it was evident the okbold had adopted Sterlyn as her very own human boy. He was like her pet if truth be told, though he didn’t mind. Juni had become one of his dearest friends over the years. Next to Rillion.
She kept him from feeling so alone when Father and Bertram were busy with Province stuff and he couldn’t be included because they didn’t consider him old enough. She also helped him to keep up with the news Father tried to hide from him. Like when mother took sick and they didn’t want him to know there was no cure. Juni made sure Sterlyn understood that his mother was on her way to Everlasting, and to not be afraid.
Sterlyn was so hungry, he devoured the meal in only a few bites.
“What did you hear, Juni?” He asked after swallowing down the last bit of crust. Taking the plate and utensils to the sink, he found a bit of cloth to wipe off the counter.
Juni gathered the plate of meat and returned it to the larder. “Orval has someone to make Kenrich smile. Not sure who. Haven’t seen her, though he was talking to Almost-Regent Bartram about her.”
Bartram didn’t appreciate Juni’s new name for him. Sterlyn found it funny, though. “I saw that Baulder fellow show up at our court today. Why are they allowing him to attend? He doesn’t even have a medallion.”
Juni shook her head, causing her branches to wave. “Don’t suspect he ever will have one. He doesn’t serve our King. I suspects he serves another.”
“Another king? Here? In Alburnium? There’s only one King and you know that!” The idea was preposterous to him.
They walked together up the narrow stairs to his room on the northwestern end of the manor. His balcony overlooked the lake to the north, surrounded by tall pines and cedars.
Several plants, vines, and flowers cluttered his room and balcony. Juni liked being surrounded by greenery.
He didn’t mind all her alterations, though Rillion laughed at the flowers. It made him feel like he was sleeping outdoors, and the flowers covered up the smell of his musty shoes and clothing he forgot to put in the laundry-chute.
The okbold hurried out the balcony doors that always remained open, except during the middle of winter. Sterlyn sighed. He should probably change his clothes and wash up before Rillion returned with her father. How long would they stay in Rodonal? It was her favorite Province, not that she had a chance to visit very many.
“Sterry,” Juni called. “Come see what I found.” She climbed over the railing of the balcony and up the stone wall.
Oh no, not again. He’d promised Father to behave and stop climbing the Manor walls. Honestly, he was getting too old for this.
“Sterlyn!” Juni’s tone grew firm. “Tis important. Now come on!”
Troll’s breath! Sterlyn sighed and headed out onto the balcony, despite his reservations.
Jackie Castle is an author, artist and dreamer. She lives in Texas with her husband, two grown children and her dog, Banjo. She looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary in everything she experiences.