Embers of the Court

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Summary

While Myria desperately seeks a way out of the Summer Courtship to be with the one her heart truly desires, a startling new revelation comes to light. The truth of her mother’s past is unveiled in the penultimate moment, and with no alternative, Myria finds herself forced into an engagement with a different man altogether. Aryn Stirling, the villainous noble who has attacked her more than once over the summer. With the threat of civil war looming and the safety of her missing grandmother in question, Myria has no choice but to accept the miserable arrangement. All hope is not yet lost. In the face of these dire circumstances, Myria is granted a new magic teacher, Duchess Stirling. Her future mother-in-law and the ominous woman she’s seen in her visions. The duchess is determined to bring Myria to her full potential as a sorceress, to fulfill her destiny. Meanwhile, Myria is appointed a certain bodyguard for her protection as she journeys to the mysterious Stirling lands. But his presence might prove more risky than rewarding, especially when Duchess Stirling enjoys pushing Myria past her limits for her own schemes. In order to protect the ones she loves and escape the impending wedding, Myria needs to dive deep into her own past and uncover the full truth about what happened to her mother.

Genre:
Romance / Fantasy
Author:
Seluna Drake
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
4
Rating:
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:
16+

1. Cinders

*This is Book 2 of The Lady of Avalion series*

After a grueling series of events that night, Myria Hawthorne stares at the reins in her hands as the horse she’s riding ambles down the road. Someone else leads her horse along, removing the need for her to pay attention to what she’s doing with her hands. This is all well since her mind cycles through everything that’s happened. Events from the past few days muddle together as she pieces them apart with exhausted confusion. The road back to Fairthorne will not last long; the precious few minutes she has now signal the last moments of freedom slipping away, if she even has that.

Her mind buzzes with fatigue, having barely slept the past two days, but she knows she must maintain her wits now. Her future depends on it.

A few short months ago, she had made a similar trek, leaving her home of Everhaven for the glittering courtly life of the highborn nobility. Her cousin, Duke Geffrey Bramble, had offered her an irresistible opportunity: represent House Bramble in the Summer Courtship, and he would save her grandmother and their financially-struggling tavern from destitution. It had required her to compete for the prince’s attention, to flirt with him, to enchant him enough to choose her as his bride. She never expected to win. She never expected to detest the idea of marrying him.

Her eyes flit ahead, tracing the outline of the man on horseback in front of her. The one leading the reins of her horse. Emiri.

Emiri had changed everything. A man of common origins like herself. The prince’s best friend and protector. The mage who had agreed to teach her magic at the start of the summer. Learning the wonders of magic, privileged only to the noble elite, was why she had entered the Summer Courtship, her personal reward for her efforts. And Emiri was why she stayed and, later, why she had desperately tried to leave. His silent, severe demeanor had captured her interest, his discreet kindness and quiet passion captured her heart. The strength of his character had weathered so much pain and suffering. She knows he has had about the same amount of sleep she has had lately, but his shoulders’ confident lines indicate no tiredness. He urges his horse onward, and when Myria thinks about everything he’s done that night for her, the familiar flame ignites in the pit of her belly.

She stifles those feelings now; she cannot afford to reveal her affections to Emiri, not while she’s surrounded by Stirlings.

The memory of her mother’s marriage contract returns to the forefront of her mind, extinguishing all the fire she feels for Emiri. Myria is engaged now, and while the thought makes her stomach wretch, she cannot reveal any weaknesses.

The Morning Glory, her grandmother’s tavern she had worked so hard to save, currently sits as a pile of cinders, and Grandmother Iris is missing. If last night taught her anything, it had been that the Stirlings are dangerous. For Emiri’s sake, she cannot give them any leverage to use against her. They have already taken Grandma Iris and burned her tavern, all to coerce a marriage between Myria and the loathsome Aryn Stirling, the noble who has hated her from the beginning. The noble who has attacked her without provocation on several occasions, only to accept the engagement without argument.

If she is going to protect Emiri and find her grandmother, she needs to find out why.

By the time they reach Fairthorne, the night sky is streaked with purple, the cold, indifferent moon shining with the sea of stars. As Myria looks up at the silver orb hovering above them, she is reminded of the surge of power that had coursed through her body. How it had burst forward as a wave of wind, completely extinguishing the flames of her grandmother’s tavern. She has no explanation for the occurrence, her mind sluggishly working through the details of everything else, so she dismisses it to the long list of mysteries the night has presented her with.

Her eyes drift down to Emiri’s back again, burning with unshed tears as the horses rumble to a stop. It takes her a delayed moment to register the distant sound of someone calling her name, and even when she does recognize it as her aunt’s voice, she does not respond at first. She focuses, instead, on not blinking, not shedding a single tear around their companions. Through a blurred haze, she watches how Emiri deftly dismounts his steed before helping her down as well, his warm hand doing little to stave off the irrepressible chill shrouding her body.

Urgent hands pull her close, wrapping a traveling cloak around her exposed shoulders. Finally, Olympe’s alarmed face sharpens into view, tears spilling of their own accord anyway.

“Are you well? What’s happened?” Olympe asks, crushing her into an embrace.

Myria does not have the energy to state the apparent state of affairs. The tears continue leaking while her face remains devoid of emotion. Over Olympe’s shoulder, she sees her cousin Geff, Duke Bramble, standing on the steps of Fairthorne. His uncertain visage is a lingering reminder of his indifferent role in her engagement. How he had sat, silent, unchallenging a decades-old marriage contract that had nothing to do with her. Suddenly, her jaw aches with the tightness of her clenched teeth.

And, if that is not enough to boil the simmering blood beneath her face, a new voice interrupts, answering her aunt’s question in Myria’s stead. “It appears as if the Hawthorne family has suffered a terrible loss with their... inn. Tavern? Lady Myria here is lucky we rode by when we did. I doubt her grandmother would have survived had we not intervened.”

Myria pulls away to glare as Arynia Stirling approaches them. The white-blonde woman with dark lips is her future mother-in-law. The king’s Spymaster. The foreboding woman from Myria’s visions.

The tact and diplomacy Myria’s gleaned from her precious few months at court are completely forsaken at this moment. She knows the Stirlings are responsible for the tavern’s fire, and the Spymaster’s thin lie is nothing but gloating condescension of their accomplishments. Myria’s voice is low, like a growl. ”Where. Is. My. Grandmother.”

The demand is accompanied by the stench of acrid smoke, and Myria feels all eyes go to her, wide with fear. Except Arynia’s. The Stirling Duchess returns her accusing glare with a smirk. “Iris Hawthorne is safe, rest assured.”

"Answer the question.” Myria’s hands sear with sudden heat, and a distant memory urges her to keep her temper lest she loses control of this newfound magical power. A light tug on her elbow reminds her how close Olympe is standing. Myria pulls her arm away, taking a few deliberate steps closer to Arynia, keeping her aunt out of range of her wrath with no intentions of heeding such warnings.

The duchess does not shrink back from the challenge, her smile twisting with amusement. “And if I don’t?”

“Answer the question!" Myria screeches, her voice echoing off the walls of Fairthorne.

Orange light flashes across Arynia’s face. It takes Myria a moment too long to realize it’s from a spray of flames erupting from her own palms. The fire catches on the skirts of her dress, but Myria ignores them as the heat dangerously licks at her legs. She keeps her furious gaze trained on the woman before her.

"Myria!”

Her name is a collective gasp from those around her. Olympe, Geff. Emiri, standing by the horses, drops the bridles and moves towards her just as the pain of fresh burns blooms across her legs. Myria ignores it, hoping the fire will consume the witch in front of her.

Arynia tilts her head in mild interest, and, with a casual wave of her hand, the flames extinguish, leaving them all with the smell of burnt flesh in the early morning darkness. “You have much to learn, little one. No matter. Take comfort in the knowledge that your grandmother is on her way to the home of House Stirling, Elmground. After all, we will soon be calling her family as well.”

Myria’s throat is dry and cracked. The heat of the previous fire has dried the tears on her face. The words she forces out are painful and derisive. “Shouldn’t she be with her family, then? Here, at Fairthorne?”

Arynia’s scoff is light and airy. “I think not.”

Myria’s shoulders tense as a new, uncontrollable wave of heat and rage overcomes her. She feels the fire begging to be summoned, awaiting her command at her fingertips. She nearly draws upon it, too, until movement just over Arynia’s shoulder catches her eye.

Emiri. His eyes are as wide as the others. But she can sense he is not afraid of her, only for her. His hand is outstretched, as if reaching for her, but he slowly lowers it to his side, offering a minute, almost imperceptible shake of his head.

She reads his meaning easily. Don’t challenge the Stirlings right now. His previous words return to her. Take comfort in the fact that Grandma Iris is alive. They have no need to harm her. Yet.

In the ensuing silence, Olympe nervously pulls at Myria again, and this time, Myria lets her. Soon, she finds herself almost tucked into the crook of her aunt’s arm as the woman hurriedly makes excuses for her. “It’s been a long day and night for Lady Myria. She needs to rest.”

They head up the stairs to make their way inside, passing by Geffrey, who inclines his head towards Arynia Stirling. “We can begin engagement negotiations in the morning,” he promises stiffly.

Myria’s feet plant themselves on the ground, unmoving. She turns to her cousin, some lingering heat flushing her cheeks with anger. Geffrey refuses to meet her gaze, but movement in the distance catches Myria’s eye instead. She sees Emiri hurrying to the stables, passing off her horse, Stefan, to a stable boy. The heat disappears from her face as she watches Emiri quickly mount his own steed and hurry down the road.

The sight is enough to extinguish every last fight in her, and feeling desperately alone, she wordlessly allows her aunt to drag her inside. Before reaching her room, they pass the open doors leading into the ballroom, now completely empty of nobles. Only servants flit about, cleaning up dishes and decorations.

“Where is the court?” Myria asks. The prince’s decision, the momentous occasion of the summer, was supposed to have happened in that room, only a few short hours ago. Now it feels like a lifetime.

Olympe whispers to her, casting anxious glances behind them. “They’re in their rooms for the night. After Prince Leor made his announcement, the room cleared out pretty quickly. A rather underwhelming end to the social season in light of...”

Her aunt trails off, eyes widening as she glances at Myria, who understands the rest of the unspoken sentence. The remaining dregs of her energy harden the festering ache in her chest. Metallic bile coats her tongue as Myria breathes life into the horrible truth she knows she cannot avoid. “In light of my engagement to Aryn Stirling.”

There is a distant stirring in the back of her mind, urging her to ask Olympe who the prince finally chose for his bride. However, the curiosity is dismissed to the bottom of her concerns. Instead, she swallows past the bile on her tongue, follows her aunt’s prodding to her gilded room, and falls heavily onto the mattress. Sleep consumes her greedily enough, unconcerned with the singed, beautiful ball gown, the sharp burn on her legs, and the thick, Bramble cloak still hanging off her shoulders. And Myria welcomes that numb darkness, even if the escape is only a momentary reprieve to her nightmarish new reality.

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