Coming soon! The next installment of the Phoenix Province series.
Wings of Fire began our new adventure with Sterlyn and Rillion, Blades of Ember continues this Cinderella retelling set in the world of Alburnium where readers have enjoyed visiting in the White Road Chronicles, The White Road Tales, and The Lionheart Province.
Keep reading to see what our heroes Sterlyn and Rillion, along with Juniper the Okbold, will be up to next.
The two provinces have been as close as Rillion and Sterlyn’s life-long friendship. However, loyalties grow cold when evil knocks at the gates, threatening to destroy everything the Kaim Regent has worked so hard to build.
Some sacrifices must be made.
A plan is hatched that might satisfy the emerging ruler who hungers for control and power in his desire to overthrow both provinces.
During a brief visit to beautiful Kaim, Rillion’s father is introduced to a widow, with twin daughters, who manages to steal his heart. When Father surprises Rillion with a new step-mother and two mean-spirited sisters, her world spirals into a pit of despair and loss that she may never rise out of.
Wings of Flame is the first in a series of three books set in the enchanting world of Alburnium. Start your next adventure with this new epic retelling of the legendary Cinderella fairytale. Click Read More to find out what's next....
Blades Of Ember - Book 2
Has Sterlyn been given an impossible task?
Sterlyn is working hard to become a Prior, so he can start a new life. A life without his lifetime friend Rillion, who snagged his heart before she passed into Everlasting. He hopes for a new start, in a new place. One far away from the painful memories of his past that plague his dreams.
Except, before he can earn the title of Priorship, Sterlyn must undergo challenges that will test his dedication and try his last shred of patience. He is sent into the deepest forest ruled by warring clans of dwarfs, centaurs, and other creatures. All of them at odds with each other. How will he ever make headway when the only thing the clans hate more than each other is the presence of a human encroaching upon their territory?
Is there hope of getting them to listen?
Sterlyn has a plan, but will it be enough to turn their hearts back to King Shaydon?
Rillion isn't dead but wishes the cruel Magpie family would go ahead and send her to Everlasting. At least she would be reunited with the family that once loved her. What remains of her beloved province is full of greedy merchants, unruly outcasts, and a step-family that will do anything to gain more power and prestige.
Once Rillion's mind clears from the potion the twin sisters use to keep her under their control, things change. Rillion can finally see clearly what she missed before when her life was comfortable. The despair of her situation wars with the desire to escape and seek help for the devastated province.
Is it too late to fight back?
Rillion has the desire, but will that be enough to save what’s left of her province?
Avera, once of the Magpie House, wasn’t too sure she wished to keep her new name. What was the point? Her short-lived marriage to Regent Kenrich of Phoenix House was over. She had inherited Karm after his parting from this world. But it was nothing more than a rat hole of a town, not to mention that Lord Darnel planned to have complete control over the land the depleted province sat upon.
She bit on her lower lip in worry, knowing there remained a few more obstacles that kept him from completely taking over. Her smart daughters had found a way to contain Rillion. As long as a few Tree People remained alive, and living in the province, Darnel would never be able to gain complete control.
What Avera feared, was that the cunning man would soon figure out what hindered him and punish her disobedience. She’d suffered enough already if anyone was to ask her.
“Mother,” Lerola whined, as she dashed down the stairs from the room she shared with her twin sister. The second-born twin would need to toughen up if she hoped to manage in this cruel world. Avera had hoped her stronger daughter would be a good influence, but Lerola’s heart was too tender for her own good.
Avera turned from her task of arranging the flowers that would adorn the dining table for tonight’s dinner. Her brother had sent word that they needed to meet so he could fill her in on his latest council with Lord Darnel. A cold shiver snaked down her back at the thought of the dark-haired ruler with those inhuman icy blue eyes.
“Mother!” Lerola said in a louder tone. The scowl on her usually composed child’s face had caused her cheeks to redden. “Garudi is hogging all the closet space again. She insists that her gowns need room to breathe. Why can’t I move into another room? You do not need to earn money making dresses anymore. Can I not have that room as my own?”
Avera set a white rose into the bouquet. One of its thorns snagged her black lace glovelette.
Lerola sighed and gently helped her mother to free herself. “Why are you wearing these here at home, Mother? I understand that you must dress in black for appearances when we go out, I suppose. After all, it is only us here.” She began pulling the glove sleeve down Avera’s arm.
Lerola gasped at the dark brown spots covering Avera’s wrist. Their eyes met as her daughter studied her features more closely. “Oh, Mother, but you said that you wouldn’t be affected by the curse. You didn’t kill him. That mindless pixie-brained girl of his did when she fed him the soup.”
Avera jerked the sleeve back in place. Yes, she’d been wearing them to hide the age spots, but nothing hid the deep lines forming at the edges of her eyes and mouth, nor the dark patches that had begun to cover her face, as well.
“Curses are fickle things. One never knows how they affect those involved.” Avera had been more involved in her husband’s demise than she cared to admit. From the moment she accepted the poison from the Dark Lord’s hand, she had set in motion the events leading up to his death, even if she hadn’t been the one to feed it to him. Now she realized her fallacy.
There was no turning back now. Darnel had seen her. He’d probed her mind, searching for her secrets and desires. Her head still ached at times from the pain of his invasion.
Lerola grasped her mother’s hands in her own. “Let’s go away from here. We were fine in Conde, don’t you think? None of us like it here in Karm.”
“Call it Keist, its new name. New name, a new beginning, my dear.”
“But…mother…is it truly worth all this?”
“Of course it is, you ninny!” screeched her sister Garudi from the doorway into the dining room. She must have overheard her sister’s complaints.
Fists clenched, Garudi marched in, her hand upraised as if ready to smack her sister on the head. “You little weasel. Of course, we must stay here. Mother now rules the province, does she not?”
Avera quickly positioned herself between the bickering girls. They tried her nerves at times, but they were hers and she would do anything for them.
“Listen, both of you. Yes, we must remain.” Avera lowered her voice so the servants wouldn’t overhear. “Our work is not done. I refuse to walk away now. Not when I was promised so much. Your uncle said I could rule at his side. Think of what advantages that will open for both of you.” She patted Lerola’s cheek. “Do not worry, child. Everything will work out and all of this will be worth it in the end. You’ll see.”
Lerola did not seem convinced. Her hands cupped her mother’s. “I worry about you, that is all.” Her face brightened. “I can go into town and see if the shaman has anything that will help. He makes a concealing lotion that the girls at the tavern wear to make their complexions look perfect.”
Garudi managed to reach around their mother to shove her sister. “You’ll have her looking like one of those harlots? You’re such a—”
“Enough girls!” Avera roared, hating when she had to raise her voice with them. She reached into her change pouch and pulled out a few coins which she dropped into Lerola’s palm.
“Yes, please visit him and see what he has that might help, my dearest. In the meanwhile, I’ll ask the servants to start moving my sewing things to the library. There is plenty of extra space now that all the shelves have been cleared of those dusty old books. I still wish to make dresses for my precious girls. It gives me something pleasurable to do and helps to ease my weary mind at times.”
Garudi opened her mouth to say something, but Avera cut her off. “It is time the two of you had separate rooms. You are both young women now, and Garudi, you have the servant girl to contend with. It’s not fair for all three of you to all be squeezed into one small space, even if she does sleep on the ground.
A smile replaced Garudi’s annoyed scowl. “She sleeps so close to the fire, the embers end up burning her arms and face and she is always covered in soot. I call her Cinder now. I don’t think she knows the difference.”
Avera pointed at her conniving daughter who had a heart of stone. “You must keep Rillion, or Cinder, in line. Especially while your uncle is here tonight. Do you understand?”
Garudi folded her arms over her chest. “Did you ask Uncle to bring more potion? I’m running low.”
Avera feared that Baulder would suspect something if she asked, but the potion was necessary for keeping the girl under their control. Baulder had been so preoccupied when they’d met in Conde after the funeral to settle their businesses. His next stop was Lord Darnel’s fortress where he’d have to report on their progress. Baulder had agreed then to get more potion without question.
Hopefully, he wouldn’t forget. Nor would he question why she needed more.
“Lerola, ask for a sleeping tonic when you visit the shaman. We do not want to risk her wandering downstairs again in one of her stupors, do we? She might be under Garudi’s control, but she hasn’t seemed to have forgotten who she is, either. We must keep her out of sight.”
The younger twin squeezed Avera’s wrists. “We will. It’s better this way, even if my trollish sister doesn’t care about the risks of killing her.” Lerola looked at her sister pointedly and jerked her head at Avera’s covered arms.
Garudi’s breath caught as she seemed to finally notice the deep lines covering her mother’s face.
Avera reached for the lace veil she often wore when out in town and placed it over her head. She knew that it looked as if she’d aged twenty years in a matter of weeks. A tear slipped down her cheek and she cursed herself for showing weakness.
Her oldest daughter’s arms went around her in a stiff hug. “Oh, Mother, don’t worry. We’ll find something that will help.” Garudi stepped back, her smile wavering as she lifted her chin and said with determination, “I have Rillion under complete control. You were right about not killing her. I see that now. Besides, so long as she lives…”
Lerola finished her sister’s thought, “Then the Dark One can never completely claim our town. But we must protect our secret, especially from uncle. So, yes, I’ll ask about the sleeping draught, as well. Better to knock her out, than to risk her panicked screams when we lock her in the closet again.”
Garudi rolled her eyes. “Indeed. What a racket that girl can make. Would you like for me to go with you, sissy?”
Avera resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Now they were playing nice with each other. At least she knew when the noose grew tight, they would hang onto each other, despite their differences. “Garudi, my heart. Let your sister take care of this task for us. While she is away, I’d like for you to be in charge of clearing my sewing room. I must oversee dinner and have everything ready by the time Baulder arrives.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Garudi kissed her cheek, then hurried to the kitchen while Lerola slipped on her wrap and tucked the coins into the small bag she kept tied to her skirts. A moment later, three lads raced up the stairs ahead of Garudi who marched up after them.
“You boys take care to not smudge Mother’s fabric this time, hear me? Or I’ll have Dominic give you each ten lashes for your carelessness.”
“Such a slave master,” Lerola chuckled. She also kissed Avera’s cheek before opening the door to leave. Her youngest froze on the threshold and slowly looked back over her shoulder. “Mother, it appears that uncle is here early.”
Avera’s heart sank. She still needed to get the downstairs room ready for him.
“Don’t worry,” Lerola said. “I’ll deter him. He’ll not refuse to accompany his favorite niece into town.”
Avera blew her daughter a kiss, then hurried to finish her work.
* * * *
“Thank you, Uncle, for the ride. Are you sure that you do not wish to come in with me?” Lerola patted his thick arm with her delicate hand and turned on her most charming smile. Her wildly red hair and unusually colored eyes had always enchanted Baulder. He knew there was a bit of elven blood in both girls, though Avera denied ever having such an affair.
His half-sister could deny their true father’s identity all she wanted. The girls’ unusual beauty spoke the truth of their heritage and Avera’s indiscretion. The girls were not fully human, which made them even more enchanting, and relatable, to him. He never could refuse one of their requests.
Lerola climbed from the carriage, then skipped up the steps to the wizard’s shop. What could the girl possibly want from a shaman like Mitchus? Probably a potion to catch some whelp’s attentions, not that she needed any help. He observed with a wry grin as several boys nearly broke their necks to watch Lerola breeze past.
He chuckled and took a better look around the growing town. Avera didn’t care for the kinds of merchants that arrived every week, but these were his kind of people. Keist now reminded him of Rima. At least, the Rima that Master Darnel built.
Baulder could be happy here. Tall pines towered over the stone and clapboard buildings lining the main thoroughfare. He slid open the window on his side and breathed in deeply of the woodsy scents mixed with people, cut wood, and hearth fires that filled the crisp, spring air. Yes, he could be very happy here.
However, he now had to set his aspirations toward the twin province of Kaim. Somehow, he needed to convince his sister that it would be in her daughters’ best interest to help him find a way into the city. He knew she didn’t like it here. Perhaps convincing her wouldn’t be as difficult as he feared.
Lerola soon returned with a bag of goodies. Her cheek protruded around a sweet candy she must have wriggled from the shaman. When she climbed in, she asked around the hard ball, “Would you like to stop by the tavern, Uncle? You know, before we return to the manor. Dinner will not be ready for a few hours yet, so we have plenty of time.”
Baulder shook his head. “No lass. I need to speak with your mother. I do not intend to impose on you any longer than necessary. I have much to do, young lady.”
She gave him a lopsided grin and batted her lashes. “Uncle Always-busy, that’s what I should call you.”
Her twin was never as friendly. He enjoyed Lerola’s presence, and couldn’t help but hope that someday, he’d have his own daughters to spoil. Someday, he’d be able to settle down and build a family. Hopefully, before he was too elderly to enjoy them.
Baulder knocked his cane on the roof and shouted out the window for the driver to head back home. Though the manor did not feel like his home. Avera’s tastes and fashion sense permeated every room, even the library, which only held a few titles now. Master Darnel insisted that all books be sent to him so he could take proper care of them.
Avera had hidden a few, he was sure of it. She refused to completely bow to anyone’s wishes.
Once they were inside the manor, Lerola raced up the stairs, saying she needed to see her sister. Baulder hung his cloak in the foyer, then set off toward the library where he enjoyed sitting beside the fire in the comfortable leather chairs Kenrich had been so fond of.
Yet, when he entered the cozy room, he halted at the sight of disarray. Bolts of fabric covered every shelf where there had once been rows of books. The sofa and chairs had been removed and in its place was Avera’s worktable and sewing equipment. The strange machine she used to make dresses had been constructed by Curians. How she had managed to get her claws on it, was anyone’s guess. But she refused to part with it and insisted that it went wherever she did.
Such indulgences were hard to come by, especially for people who did not belong to one of those kingdom provinces.
“Oh, Baulder, there you are. You arrived earlier than expected,” Avera said, sounding out of breath.
Why was she dressed as if in mourning in her own home? The black lacy dress covered her from the top of her neck, all the way down to her leather boots. Perhaps she had also been out around town. That would explain the gloves and lacy face-covering.
He offered a slight bow. “I apologize, sister. Do not trouble yourself too much on my account. I cannot stay long. Perhaps we can break open one of those aged bottles of wine that Kenrich kept in his cellar.”
“You will stay for dinner? I ordered for your room to be prepared—”
“No need for the room. I shouldn’t even stay for dinner. I have a way to travel, yet.”
Her gloved hands fluttered around the base of her neck nervously. “What has happened? I know you’ve been to see Master Darnel. Is he…? I mean, did he…seem unsettled?”
“Unsettled?” Baulder repeated, wondering at his sister’s actions. She seemed quite jittery today. “Are you well, Avera?”
She nodded, then hurried to the mantle where she rang a small bell to summon her help. After a few seconds, a young girl dressed in a gray uniform appeared in the doorway. Avera asked for a bottle of wine and an appetizer tray to be brought to the sitting room.
Waving for Baulder to follow her, she said over her shoulder, “The girls have been bickering too much. I believe it’s time for them to have their own spaces, so I’m giving my old room to Lerola. You showed up right in the middle of all our moving. It’s caused a bit of an uproar, I’m afraid. Running such a large house, not to mention a whole town, is difficult. Especially with you away on your business travels, Brother.”
She was baiting him.
“Well, if managing the town is too much, sister… then I—”
“No. It is not too much. The mayor takes care of most problems that arise.” She stopped in the narrow hallway and looked down at him, arms folded over her chest. “I thought you were to rule this… town… and I was supposed to help when needed.”
She said the word town as if it were a bitter medicine she had to swallow.
Baulder walked past her into the cozy sitting room where she usually held her little parties with the town’s more influential residents. There were several chairs and settees positioned in each corner and a more intimate setting beside the fireplace.
That’s what she enjoyed. Parties, mingling with important people, and always looking to make advantageous connections that would help benefit her daughters were what Avera excelled at most.
She wanted the privilege and leisure without all the hard work to attain them.
Well, she would have to earn such luxuries from now on, as far as he was concerned. He needed to convince her it was necessary to comply with Lord Darnel’s expectations if she hoped to maintain her lavish lifestyle.
Someone had already brought the wine and a tray of cheese, fruits in season, and slices of freshly baked bread.
Baulder sat in the lowest chair and sighed as he sank into the comfortable cushions. The bumpy carriage ride had taken its toll. He sorely missed the comforts of home while on his travels. How he wished that he could remain here. He’d build himself a little cottage deep in the woods, yet still in walking distance of town. Maybe eventually he could coax some of the creatures that lingered in the forest to join his township and be a part of building something grand.
Avera poured them each a goblet of wine, then took one of a chair opposite him. “I must apologize, Baulder. Today has been trying. The girls need more to occupy their time. I do not like for them to go into town more than necessary. Normally, I send one of the helpers to accompany them, but they are all so busy with their chores. I do not understand how Kenrich managed all this with such a small staff of employees.”
Those who staffed the manor were working off debts owed to Master Darnel. The people who were allowed to set up residence or a business in town also had to pay for that privilege. And pay well. Baulder wasn’t sure if he could tax the people any more. Avera needed to learn to settle for what she had and not expect the world to fall at her feet.
Baulder’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “That pathetic regent didn’t manage anything, truth be told. I’m sure that’s why it was so easy for us to take over.” He sipped his wine, then decided to jump right into his reason for needing to speak with her. “Master is pleased with all we’ve accomplished, but he still feels hindered. Something stops him from his work.”
Avera’s brows rose in question. Her face had gone pale. She’d removed the lace veil covering her face after they’d taken their seats. Now Baulder could see why she wore it, even indoors. She’d aged considerably since the last time he’d seen her. His heart stumbled over a few beats. Were the added wrinkles and spots a result of the curse she so feared? He knew a thing to two about curses, after being struck with a nasty one that caused complete baldness. For a dwarf to not have a beard was a disgrace. He’d been shunned from his kind, even those of his mother’s clan.
He decided not to mention her condition for now.
“The point is, Sister… we are not done with our assignment.”
She set down her goblet so hard on the side table, wine splashed over the edge and dampened her lacy gloves. “What do you mean, Baulder?”
Tilting the glass upward, he drained his wine. Better to get everything out on the table for her. “How long did you spend in Kaim, Avera? I saw how Regent Orval favored you and the girls. He was kind to you.”
“Because he was trying to get rid of you, I dare say. As soon as you and Kenrich left, he told us that we needed to depart as well. He did gift us with that little carriage so we could move to the hamlet outside of Karm. That’s where I was able to get to know Kenrich better during his visits there. But I would never say there was any goodwill between myself and the Kaim Regent.”
“However, you did enjoy your time in Kaim, did you not? How would you like to set up residence there instead of in this…what do you call Karm? A mud-pit full of rats and vermin?”
She sighed and waved her hand dismissively. “It will eventually grow on me. The status of the newer residents has improved considerably.”
Baulder continued to watch her, waiting for her to admit the truth.
After several long minutes, she finally scowled and said, “Yes, I would love to live somewhere like Kaim. But I do not possess the requirements one needs to live in such places. You know how I feel about those silly medallions and other trinkets, such as you now wear to appease your master. I do not care for anyone to master me.” She nodded toward the emblem of the moon and stars he wore sewn to the sleeve of his coat.
Master burned the emblem into the backs or arms of his slaves. So far, the patch seemed to appease Darnel. Baulder didn’t like the idea of being branded like livestock.
“Yes, I’ve been made aware, Sister. If you help me with the next phase of my assignment, I will give you even greater rewards than you have been given so far.”
She looked at him skeptically.
“Avera.” He chastised. “Have I yet to mislead you? In Conde, did I not set you up in a nice shop where you could make a living of your own? And did I not promise you a position of prestige if you helped me win over Karm?”
“We call it Keist now, Brother. You were the one who suggested the change, did you not?”
“Yes, yes.” He waved away her correction. “But Kaim… Avera. It’s everything I know that you’ve always wanted and more. And you will not have to take a marking, I swear it. Not from anyone. If you’ll do as I say, I will protect you from that imposition.” He leaned forward in his seat. “I’ve kept every promise I’ve made to you, haven’t I? You are now the most powerful woman in town. But you can have more. Lord Darnel only desires that all the Tree People are removed from the valley. He will not care what is done with the city once we succeed.”
Avera also leaned forward. Her gaze moved toward the door to make sure no servants were lingering outside. “What exactly will I need to do?”
Yes, now he had her attention.
“Regent Orval wishes to find mates for his two sons. The oldest one will soon become the next Regent. He thinks that marrying off his boys will keep them out of Darnel’s hands. The fool.”
“They are handsome young men.” She tapped her chin with her finger.
Baulder could practically see her mind fitting all the pieces together.
She smiled. “Two powerful young men will need two beautiful, enchanting wives, I assume.”
“Exactly. You wished for advantageous arrangements for your girls. They will rule the whole valley with you overseeing every decision.”
She leaned back into her chair. “But only the oldest will rule. What will the younger one do? He seems a little emotional and off-kilter if you ask me.”
Baulder shrugged. “He is away at school. Do not worry about the younger. He’s weak, like his father. Nobody listens to him, I’ve seen it myself. However, he is still a Regent’s son. That will make him the second most powerful man in the province. If your girls can gain control of both Raven brothers, we will be able to topple Kaim, destroy the portal to Aloblase, and secure the valley from that other king’s intrusion. Just as we’ve done here. Except,” he raised his finger when Avera opened her mouth to speak. “Except, I will give you charge over who is allowed entrance inside those fortified walls. You can keep the beauty of the city, without all the rigorous conditions. Once we take over, the Tree People will flee, just as they’ve done here. Those who don’t… well, we will take care of them as did the Karm rebels.”
Avera looked down at her gloved hands. Worry pinched her thin brows.
“Do not trouble yourself with how, Sister. Leave that to me, this time. I just need you to help me get back into Kaim and to get your girls ready for the grandest ball this valley has ever witnessed. The twins must glow like two fallen stars at this event. I know you can help them both be irresistible. It’s one of your greatest gifts, my sister.”
Avera gave a satisfied smile, then nodded. “Yes, I have a way of weaving my own enchantments when necessary.”
Look for Blade of Embers to be released late June or early July of 2021.
Leave a comment on who your favorite character is so far in the story.
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.
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