Promise of the Lost Gods

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A week later I was in the library re-reading the histories of the Southern Houses, including House Meliorn, when Riselle swept in.

“You actually like Lord Gareth Meliorn,” Riselle accused, plopping into the wingback chair next to mine, “Why? You never like any of them, and always manage to find some damning fault or flaw. What’s so different about Lord Gareth?” She was trying to get information.

“Are his...assets...more to your liking?” She was taunting me. Again, as she had since I made my debut. She knew I didn’t have a quarter of her experience with men, and I couldn’t help but color slightly. She crossed her legs and smoothed her grey skirts before staring at me with her icy blue eyes. I know what she saw. A reserved, scholarly mage, more useful with a blade or on horseback than in a ballroom.

“He is very tall and one might say, well endowed,” Riselle purred.

Riselle had never been a sweet child, but as she grew in age and beauty she also grew colder in spirit. I always strived to be generous and forgiving with her, but she resented me. For being the Rourke heir, for my talent with the horses, for my beauty, for the intelligence which always had made my tutors sing my praises, and especially for my elemental power. In recent years, my parade of suitors. You name it, and Riselle would resent me for it.

My mother chalked it up to friendly, sisterly rivalry, and would remind me Riselle is the middle child, prone to be jealous of her sisters, but her ill-will toward me weighed heavily on my heart. I struggled to make connections with this girl, my own sister, as she had no desire to be amiable. She saw me as competition, always had.

“So are you rejecting Lord Gareth or not? It’s been a week, normally it takes you a matter of hours to decide.”

“Riselle, this might surprise you, but actually, no,” I looked up from my book and smiled at her, speaking in a surreptitious tone, “I find Lord Gareth to be a capital man. Well educated and eloquent. Our conversations are quite engaging,” I saw her start to lose interest a bit and added, “not to mention how handsome and fit he is. I find him easy on my eyes, at least. Spending time with him is effortless,” I spoke casually.

She couldn’t mask her surprise and disappointment quickly enough. Riselle always tried to seduce the suitors I rejected, with varying levels of success. Jealousy. I had failed to get her to talk to me again, despite sharing a slice of my private opinion of Lord Gareth. I quickly changed the subject to her birthday.

“I’m practically an old maid now, forget me and my suitors, you are just about to begin your courting days! Are you excited for your debut ball?”

Riselle’s eyes lit up; she was vain and loved to speak about herself. She started to jabber away about the decorations for the great hall and the food to be served. This was her opportunity to have all the attention and she gleefully gloated to me any chance she had.

“And the bachelors? Who are you hoping will attend?” I switched gears to men, her favorite, whether they were eligible or not.

She leaned in and listed her five top choices, detailing why each of them would make a suitable husband. Then, with an exclamation, she added the pair of twins from House Niryth, to the list.

I had not yet interacted with the Lords Niryth at court, or other noble Houses’ functions, and I had only seen them from afar a few times. The entirety of House Niryth did not always attend court functions, unlike majority of the noble families.

All I had discerned until now of the twin Lords Niryth was that they were quite tall with ebony-brown hair. Briefly, I wondered how she knew what they looked like, when I knew she had only been to court a handful of times.

“How do you even know what they look like, Riselle?”

“My friend, Lady Kestria Roet, of course!” Riselle responded in a condescending tone, “hasn’t Lady Kaeda Roet mentioned them? Isn’t she your friend, or do you not have friends besides the horses?” She couldn’t help herself but casually sling a jab. “House Niryth neighbors House Roet to the north as House Roet is our northern neighbor!” Riselle sneered, “don’t your precious books have maps?”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. Patience.

Riselle continued blathering.

“Well, anyway! I certainly intend to make their acquaintance at the Meliorn wedding and make sure they received their invitations to my debut ball! Kestria says you will not soon forget their hauntingly handsome faces. You must have seen them before. Do you hide in the royal library or something? They are supposed to have the most mesmerizing grey eyes. Practically silver! And they’re tall , of course, and...”

I was no longer listening, startled by her words. My dreams of silver eyes hadn’t stopped, they had intensified.

“They are probably some of the most handsome lords Kestria has ever seen and I think she has very good taste,” Riselle needed no encouragement, “Kestria was so rotten in her last letter, I’ve just remembered! She said she thinks they are too old to have interest in girls around our age, and says she doubts they will attend my debut ball!” Riselle pouted.

My patience slipped away. I stood abruptly and slammed my book shut, her incessant chatter sharp on my ears, thoughts of the silver eyes carrying my conscious thoughts away. I turned to her.

“I am sure every eligible bachelor in the realm will attend, Riselle,” I assured her, before adding, acerbically, “your beauty is rumored to rival the ancient Godesses’.”

I swept out of the library, aware of her gaze following me.

Hiding in my mare’s stall, I sat upon a pile of sweet, fresh hay, my head in my hands, eyes closed. I just wanted peace and quiet. I tried to doze. I couldn’t sleep anymore. I hadn’t slept well again and the fatigue was catching up to me. The night Lord Gareth had spent on the floor with me had been the only decent rest I’ve had in weeks. Sage nudged me roughly, frustrated that I was sitting on her hay. I sighed and patted her cheek, hauling myself to my feet.

“It’s still a bit early to get ready, but what do you think about getting all tacked up and ready to go for our ride with Lord Gareth and Obsidian?” A ride with my handsome suitor would hopefully take my mind off the dreams as it had each day the past week.

Almost an hour later, I sat on a bench in the stable courtyard dozing in the sun, both horses tied to the hitching post in front of me.

“Well hello there, Lady Rourke.”

I cracked an eyelid to see Lord Gareth towering over me, dressed in shades of blue as always, extending a hand.

“Good afternoon, Lord Meliorn,” I smiled as he kissed my hand, “are you ready for our excursion?”

“Ready if you are,” he joked, eyeing the packed saddlebags attached to Sage’s saddle which concealed a picnic lunch.

Stretching, I caught many eyes upon us and promptly suggested we set out.

After a playful race of a gallop into the forest, we headed toward the westerly peaks of the Austris Mountains that stood guard over my home, and the narrow forested pass to the sea. Our conversation was light, but thoughtful, Lord Gareth drawing laughter from me with every other sentence. My heart smiled and I felt my stress melt away. Lord Gareth was so different from all the other suitors I had been paraded before for the past three years. He was humble and gentle-natured, instead of the usual pompous and domineering.

The forest thickened and we rode in comfortable silence, our horses’ footfalls and birdsong the only sounds. I guided Sage off the main path, down what appeared to be a game trail, toward towering rock outcroppings, with Lord Gareth following behind.

After some time the brush appeared almost too dense to navigate, but I cut through a cleft in the rock on our left, through a curved crevice and we emerged into a small, sunny clearing, dotted by copses of birch trees. If you looked up, beyond the trees, you could see the gray, craggy face of the mountain peak. I dismounted, jumping down onto soft grass and wildflowers. The quiet rushing of a small stream greeted our ears as we made our way toward a large, flat rock in the middle of the secret meadow.

“This is my favorite place to come think. I believe it is known only to me, as no one has ever disturbed me here.”

“Thank you for sharing this with me, Serena, it is lovely,” Gareth turned to me, taking my hand and kissing it.

Once we were seated on the rock, our picnic unpacked on the blanket underneath us, Gareth again took my hand.

“You’re becoming quite fond of this hand, Lord Gareth, and it is becoming quite an inconvenience to me!” I laughed.

“Serena,” Gareth’s voice deepened as I looked into the ocean of his eyes, “it is my hope that you will allow me a dance at my brother’s wedding.”

“Nothing would make me happier,” I beamed.

“Maybe more than one dance, then?” he grinned.

I laid back on the rock, throwing my arms above my head, feigning duress.

“Two dances? My poor feet will simply fall off!” I giggled playfully as he attempted to tickle my sides. Ha. I wasn’t ticklish.

What have I become? I mused gaily to myself as I relished the thought of Gareth as my escort.

He leaned over me, placing his hands over mine, and I melted into his azure eyes once again.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have an interest in men, as I’m sure Riselle and my parents thought, I simply focused my energy on more important matters, such as training the horses, reading, honing my skills with blade and bow, meditating and practicing casting my magic. Besides, there hadn’t been anyone who had been able to capture my attention, or truly deserve it, until now. All of the other suitors simply saw fat coffers and a beautiful face.

“We haven’t had such a heated moment since the morning after I stayed the night in your chambers, Lady Serena.”

“Good thing too, considering we have hardly been alone! ”

“Ah, yes, but I did enjoy that we were able to take a ride together each day, despite the fact that we were accidentally, or perhaps intentionally, chaperoned during every excursion.”

“I’m terribly sorry, Gareth. The first day, Master Ekial had needed to discuss a few particulars of the training program so I invited him to ride with us, which turned into Ekial tricking me into riding that rearing horse and training it as we rode. Typical. Yet I wish you hadn’t watched! A rearing horse will always leave you a sweaty mess, you know, it's quite tough work to ride an animal behaving in such a--”

My ramble was suddenly, yet deliciously, interrupted by his kiss. My eyes fluttered closed. His warm lips, gentle, yet ardent, crushed upon and caressed my own until I was speechless.

Gareth pulled away, and a sky matching his eyes filled my field of view.

I sat up, facing Gareth, beaming.

“You are a wonder to me, Serena, and your beauty could never be distracted from,” Gareth reached out to touch my curls, which I could feel floating with sparks, “it was a joy to watch you with that mare. I’ve never met someone with such a gift with animals.”

“Thank you,” I replied, “I just try to listen and understand.”

He kissed me again and I slipped into the feeling, into the warmth of him.

I was then acutely aware of a flame of desire in the lower half of my body, and then my magic flowing around - through - me. Gareth distracted me in such a way that I lost some control over my magic. . I needed more practice and to let out the extra energy. I cleared my mind and focused on Gareth.

I felt my curls dancing with flames as I brimmed with pride, magic, and newfound feelings of romance. I chose to be happy in this moment with Gareth.

“Your hair it’s-”

“I know,” I smiled sheepishly, “I cannot help it, it occurs when I experience strong emotions. Like happiness.”

He pulled me in closer, kissing me again, and we both laid back on the rock, my head resting on his shoulder. I let out a contented sigh when the wind carried a whisper to my ear that made my blood run cold.

"Serena... oh yes, Serena... I see you...”

It was the voice from my dreams.

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