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The Curse of Earthias

By Kat Wells All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Blurb

Taken in by Queen Celeste of Xylantria when she was a child, Yusumi suddenly finds herself accused of murder. With the help of her friend and guard, the enormous wolf-lion, Jidan, she flees the royal city and stumbles across the path of Xanna and Kai, two Earth Healers from the great forest of Earthias. They tell her that their Wise Woman has fallen foul of a curse, and they have only a few months to find a cure. Can Yusumi and Jidan work with them to find one? Or will they be captured by the Royal Guard and taken back to the city to stand trial?

Chapter One

The wheels of the carriage stopped abruptly as Ogron pulled tight on the horses’ reigns, making him lurch forwards in his seat. Catching his breath, he cast his eyes to the man sprawled on the ground in front of Ranya and Mayna’s still hooves. He was moaning, but not the moan of a man whose bones had been shattered. It was a moan that was laced with anger and something that Ogron could not quite place. The hairs on the back of Ogron’s neck and arms began to rise up.

‘Papa, what’s the matter? Why have we stopped?’ Ogron’s young daughter asked as she poked her head out of the carriage window.

‘It’s nothing, Yusumi, stay inside,’ he called back, leaping from the driving seat to get a closer look at the man.

Wherever had he come from? They weren’t in a town, nor were they close to any villages. The weathered road he was on was well used, he knew, but even so, he would have spotted the man well before if anyone had been walking his way. Yet the stranger had sprung out at him as if he were a mole surfacing from underground. And aside from the ruins of the mill itself, there were no buildings for a good few leagues.

Ogron examined the man closely. His heart told him to rush and help, but his head told him to be wary. The man was still writhing and letting out that low, broken moan that chilled Ogron’s core. He was wearing a plain, food stained tunic and baggy, patched hose. His skin was lighter than most of the people this far west of Xya, and though he was grimacing with apparent pain, Ogron saw that the man’s eyes were completely grey, as though all the colour had been drained out of them. It was a look that Ogron didn’t like at all.

‘Get up,’ he said harshly, lending the man a hand all the same. ‘There’s no way my horses would have even touched you. Any injury you may have has been caused by yourself, not me.’

The man hissed back at him, muttering in a foreign tongue that Ogron had never heard before.

’Sorry, friend, but I only speak Xylantrian,’ Ogron said, his eyes hardening. But the man wasn’t looking at him. Instead, his gaze was focused over to the carriage, where Yusumi was climbing out of the window, impatient to know what was going on.

Ogron inhaled sharply. ‘Yusumi, stay inside!’

‘But papa, I just wanted to—’

Her words were cut off as a pair of hands grabbed her from behind. Ogron leapt forwards, but he too was set upon, forced to the ground by the man he’d helped. The man was strong, far stronger than he looked, but he was no match for Ogron, whose muscled arms and strong back were evidence that he had worked the anvil at the smithy since he was a boy. He pulled at the man’s arms, freeing himself, and heard two sickening cracks as they broke at the joints. Then he swung a fist straight at the man’s jaw. The impact pushed the man backwards into Ogron’s horse, Mayna, who reared up and kicked the man in the head with her powerful hooves, splitting his skull.

Ogron looked around for Yusumi, only to find that she had also broken free of her attacker and was now climbing the unstable ruins of the mill in an attempt to get away. The man chasing her had the same worn, soulless look about him as Ogron’s assailant, and he’d nearly caught up with her.

Spotting a heavy, loose brick on the ground, Ogron picked it up, and with one smooth movement, threw it at her attacker’s head. It hit, killing the man instantly. Ogron ran up to the mill, holding out his arms so that Yusumi could jump down into them.

She prepared herself, climbing onto a more stable ledge. Then, out of nowhere, she saw them. Ten more of the soulless men, headed straight towards Ogron. ‘Papa, watch out!’ she cried, but it was too late. The men swarmed at Ogron, tearing at his limbs and face with vice like fingers. He swung out at them, trying to throw them off. But it was no use. Within minutes, he was dead.

‘No!’ Yusumi shrieked, the colour draining from her face as a pool of blood spilled out from the remains of Ogron’s body.

As one, the soulless men turned to look at her. Realising her mistake, she began climbing again, hoping that the holes in the worn outer stone of the mill were too small for them to grip on.

She was wrong. The soulless men leapt up onto the loose, crumbling stone as though it was a specially built climbing tower. She climbed faster, reaching the top. Now where could she go?

Next to her, the windmill sails hung motionless. If she jumped onto one, her weight would start them moving again and she could get the ground and run. She looked back at the men, almost upon her. That was it, she had no other choice. She would jump.

Gathering up as much courage as she could, she leapt at the nearest sail, clutching tightly to the latticed wood under the torn cloth. The sail starting moving; she was going to make it!

A loud snap tore through the air as the sail broke in two and fell hard to the ground, Yusumi along with it. There was no pain, nor any feeling at all. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t see, and she could barely breathe.

The footsteps of the soulless men sounded around her. She felt their putrid breath on her face as they examined her, deciding if she was still alive. For some reason, she found herself holding what little breath she’d drawn. She wasn’t sure why; surely it was all over now anyway.

Yet the soulless men seemed satisfied and moved away, leaving her for dead.

How much time passed as her mind slipped in and out of consciousness, she had no idea, but the sound of a carriage approaching did not escape her ears.

It stopped just as abruptly as her father had done, and she heard the horrified voice of a woman, taking in the sight of the two soulless men’s bodies...and Ogron’s as well.

‘Gracious me! What...what in Xylantria has happened here?’ the woman asked, her voice weak.

‘Who knows, Your Majesty? Bandits, perhaps, or maybe even a family quarrel,’ a man replied. His voice sounded hollow, as though it was coming from somewhere else entirely.

‘Bandits I might agree with, were it not for the fact that this carriage and its horses remain untouched, but I think a family quarrel even less likely,’ the queen replied. ‘They don’t look like family to me. Look at the two pale men, look at their clothes. They’re patched and worn, and obviously haven’t been washed in months. Yet... this man,’ she said, hesitating. Yusumi went cold as she realised the queen was talking about her father. ‘This man’s clothes are basic but new, and what... remains of his muscles reveal him to be a tradesman of some sort. If you look closer, there even appear to be burn marks on his leather jerkin. I would presume he was a blacksmith.’

‘You’re very observant, Your Majesty, and surely have a much stronger stomach than I. My eyes would never have picked up such detail from so grotesque a sight. Perhaps you should take to investigation in your spare time, then perhaps we would find out who stole all the fine wines from the palace cellar last week,’ the man said. His words were met with laughter from a large group close behind him.

‘Do you really think that this is the time for jests, Lord Razay?’ the queen said icily. ‘Something terrible has happened here. Three lives have been lost, yet you wish to make light of it?’

‘My sincerest apologies, Your Majesty,’ Lord Razay replied, though there was no trace of it in his voice. ‘You are correct, as always. I shall have the soldiers dig suitable graves to bury these people, and then we shall be on our way again.’

‘One moment, Lord Razay,’ another man asked, sounding younger.

‘What is it, soldier?’ Lord Razay snapped.

There was silence for a moment, as though the younger man was hesitating. ‘There appears to be signs of a child about. I looked in the carriage and found this.’

‘A doll?’ the queen said. ‘Lord Razay, have the men search these ruins for a child. If there’s any possibility that she’s still here, then we need to find her.’

‘As you wish, Your Majesty,’ Lord Razay said, a note of irritation in his voice. ‘Men, do as your queen instructs. Search the ruins and the surrounding area for a child. If you find any sign of her, report back immediately.’

The sound of a hundred feet moved off in search, vibrating across the ground. Yusumi waited. Surely with this many men looking for her, she would be found? Her heart beat harder in her chest at the thought, and she tried to move her lips into the shape of words. They wouldn’t respond, and only a wheeze left her throat, masked by the breeze. Water formed in the creases of her eyes, but the muscles in her face would not let her cry.

Then the remains of the wooden sail around her creaked and snapped, and heavy footsteps approached. They paused momentarily, and then gingerly came closer. She felt cold metal on her skin, hearing it clink as the soldier gently checked her for injuries. Chain mail, and by the pungent smell of it, freshly oiled as well.

‘Your Majesty, I’ve found her!’ the soldier called. It was the same one who’d found her doll in the carriage.

Yusumi heard rushing footsteps and the rustling of a skirt. ‘Is she injured?’ the queen asked. The sweet scent of orange mixed with a touch of vanilla entered Yusumi’s nostrils as she felt the queen kneel down to inspect her too.

‘A few broken bones, I think,’ the soldier replied. ‘But she seems to be in severe shock. I don’t think she can even open her eyes.’

‘Very well. Pick her up and put her in the carriage. We’re taking her back to Xya with us,’ she said.

‘Understood, Your Majesty,’ the soldier said, and Yusumi felt herself being lifted gently into the air.

‘Are you sure this is a good idea, Your Majesty?’ Lord Razay interjected. ‘What I mean to say is, we have no idea who this girl is or what happened here. How do we know it’s safe to bring her along?’

‘She’s a child, Lord Razay. Not a thief or a bandit, but a child, who has also suffered a great ordeal,’ the queen said.

‘Not all children are innocent, my queen. I have seen children younger than she running about the city picking pockets and carrying out various crimes for the so called “lords of the underground”.’

‘That may be so, but I can’t leave her alone like this. She’ll die. We must take her with us so that I can get the healers working on her immediately. Oh, and bring her carriage and the horses along with us. They may help her find some security while she rests.’

Yusumi’s eyes flickered open. It had been years since she’d dreamt of that day, yet in the past few weeks leading up to her eighteenth birthday, nothing had haunted her more. She sat up in her plain bed that looked decidedly out of place against the grand decoration of her room in the palace. But that was how she liked it. The plainer things were, the better. Even after all these years, the grandeur of the place was still overwhelming for her.

She got up and pulled on her dressing gown, made of light silk and decorated sparsely with patterns of green leaves circling the sleeves. On the glass shelf in front of her was the doll she’d had with her that day, as new as when her father had given it to her before they’d set out. Picking it up, she held it close and inhaled, smelling the smoked aroma that brought memories of his smithy sharply into her mind.

‘You cannot not bring back the dead, princess.’

She turned, seeing the enormous wolf-lion, Jidan, strolling in through the doors. She hadn’t even heard him opening them.

He nudged against her and gently took the doll from her grasp, rearing up on his hind legs in order to place it neatly back on the shelf. ‘I know that, Jidan,’ she replied, stroking the fur around his ears. His head, shoulders and front legs were like that of a giant wolf, but the rest of his body, down to the dark tuft on his sleek, tan coloured tail, was all lion.

He had been ordered to protect her shortly after she’d healed enough to live in the palace with Queen Celeste, the ruler of Xylantria, but as well as her bodyguard, he was one of the only friends she had.

It wasn’t that life at the palace was particularly lonely, and she certainly wasn’t unhappy living there, but no one quite seemed to know how to treat her. Queen Celeste hadn’t adopted her, despite how much she’d wanted to. Lord Razay had seen to that, citing that Xylantrian law dictates that only royals not in line for the throne may do so, to avoid ‘tainting’ the bloodline.

Lord Razay. He was the one person that Yusumi disliked so much that she wished Celeste would banish him from court. But that wouldn’t happen. Lord Razay had been advisor to Celeste’s father, and had helped to organise a mounted division of soldiers to protect Xya from the two tribes who lived in the wilds of Xylantria, the Heima tribe and the Mei-xan warriors. Even though Celeste herself disliked him (to Yusumi’s amusement), the queen couldn’t deny that his service was valuable.

‘Come, princess,’ Jidan said, stretching. ‘Her Majesty has asked to speak with you in the throne room. Perhaps you should dress.’

’Alright, but please stop calling me princess. You know that’s not true,’ she said, going behind the changing screen to wash and put on a light gown.

‘I suppose it is not, but I am your servant. Think of it merely as a term of endearment.’

’My servant? Jidan, you know I don’t think of you like that. You’re my friend. My only friend,’ she said.

‘In that case, you may see it as a nickname,’ the wolf-lion said, somewhat stubbornly.

Yusumi stifled a laugh, and, now dressed, followed Jidan out into the hall that stretched down towards the throne room.

The air in the palace was cold, so cold that she could see her breath mist out in front of her. It wasn’t so surprising really; the palace was old and made of stone, and the year had only just turned. Winter was still set in hard.

‘What’s this about, anyway?’ she asked Jidan, as his large paws padded along beside her.

‘I am unsure. Her Majesty would not tell me, only that it was very important,’ he replied.

‘Maybe it’s a surprise for my birthday,’ she wondered. ‘But it can’t be, that’s not until tomorrow.’

They reached the great double doors of the throne room; heavy marble etched with flowers and wildlife. The guards standing either side heaved them open for her, and she and Jidan went inside.

As expected, Queen Celeste wasn’t sitting on the throne, but was standing near the fireplace warming her fingers. She smiled as Yusumi and Jidan walked in, turning to face them so that her long, curly hair swished about her. ‘You must have been awake already, to get here so quickly,’ she said, embracing Yusumi and rubbing Jidan’s head. Then she looked into Yusumi’s eyes, and knew straight away why that was. ‘You were dreaming about your father again, weren’t you?’

Yusumi nodded and Celeste pulled her close. ‘The pain that you carry will never leave you, but it won’t do you any good to dwell on the past. You cannot bring back the dead.’

Yusumi pulled a face. ‘That’s what he said,’ she replied, casting a look of disgust at Jidan.

As much as his wolfish features allowed, he grinned smugly back. ‘It is good advice, would you not agree, Your Majesty?’ he replied, cocking his head to the side.

‘I think it’s sound, yes,’ Celeste laughed. Then her expression changed, altogether more serious. ‘It does, however, bring me to what I need to tell you,’ she said. ‘As much as you mustn’t dwell on the past, you should look to the future. And the future that I see...is for you to become princess of Xylantria.’

Yusumi stared at her, open mouthed. ‘But...what about Lord Razay? To make me princess, you would have to officially adopt me, and the law states that—’

‘I have decided that now is the time for our laws to be updated. There are no suitors that I intend on marrying, so it is unlikely that I will ever have children of my own, and without an heir to the throne, the monarchy will cease to exist.’

‘What about your cousin Etchos? Is he not entitled to the throne?’ Yusumi asked.

Celeste frowned. ‘Well, I suppose he is, but all of Xya; no, I’m sure all of Xylantria; knows how useless he is. I don’t think he could rule his own teacup, let alone a country. But you, Yusumi, you have shown so much promise in dealings of court and politics. You care about the people, and the country. There’s no one I can think of more suited to take the throne after me than you. What do you think?’ she asked, suddenly anxious.

‘If I accept and become princess, that would officially make me your daughter, wouldn’t it?’ Yusumi said.

‘Yes, it would,’ Celeste said, fighting to keep her voice even despite the swell of emotion in her chest.

‘Then,’ Yusumi said, her voice breaking as tears misted up her eyes, ‘that’s what I want. You’ve taken care of me and taught me so much since I’ve been here, how can I possibly refuse?’

Celeste wiped a tear from her own eye. ‘Then it’s settled. Tomorrow, on your birthday, I will announce our intentions to the court. And if Lord Razay complains, I’ll simply overrule him, like I should have done all those years ago,’ she said, embracing Yusumi once more.

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