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Heart of Oak, Soul of Stone

By S.E. Schott All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Romance

Blurb

Everyone is fairly certain that Kivi Journeyman is keeping secrets. What is less certain, is if her secrets will drag an already beleaguered kingdom into yet another war. Incidentally, all Kivi wants is to live the rest of her life in obscurity, as a perfectly mundane master mason. || Cursed by a wound that never heals, Kælig Oakthane is hardly the hero his kin wanted. Having grown up "the spare", he's woefully unprepared for the throne he unwillingly inherits. Being told he has to find a wife before his entire kingdom rises up against him, doesn't help. || Here's story for all those who have ever wished for High Fantasy in their Romance.

Prologue

Kaydeen, Thirtieth Day of Luis, 151-5

(Wednesday, January 30th, Year 152, 5th Era)

Dol-Non, Änglia


It was a battle of the wills and Seppä was fairly certain that the stout Sí across the table from them was going to lose. Kivi’s jaw was locked and the elder Dvär knew only too well what that meant – the northern icecap would melt before she gave in.

“What do you mean, you won’t accept?” the Sí – or, as the men of Änglia would say, the Fae – sputtered in disbelief.

“You understand my meaning quite clearly, Master Delwin,” Kivi stood up so abruptly that she nearly knocked her stool out from underneath herself. “I won’t.”

“But...it’s your ancestral home,” Delwin still tried to argue the point.

Seppä felt rather sorry for the unfortunate fellow. That was precisely the wrong thing to say to the Chieftain of the North. Of course, the Sí had no idea that he was talking to the ancestral queen of Keltair’s Dvär, but that wasn’t really Llu’s fault, now was it? The old blacksmith gave his chieftain a wry side glance – identifying herself as the All-Mother would only bring ruin down on them all.

“And there, you’d be wrong.”

Sitting to the side as he was, Seppä couldn’t quite make out the entirety of Kivi’s expression, but he had been on the receiving end of one of her glacial stares to know that was precisely the look she was giving poor Delwin. The wee man jumped when Kivi slammed her open palms against the table and leaned slightly in toward him. Bringing her face even an inch closer to his, also made Delwin cringe against the back of his chair. Seppä had to hand it to the Warden’s messenger – he was at least partially made of stern stuff. Most self-preserving beings ran for the nearest exit when Kivi’s temper flared.

“The Dvär of the Low-country would do well to remember their history. Their true ’ancestral home′ is far from Durial.”

“Regardless,” the fourth member of the meeting finally interjected. “You are Dvär and as such, you are kin to the Oakthanes. Please consider the Warden’s request, if only for that.”

Seppä eyed this second messenger of the Warden King’s with interest. He was an Ellyll – a strange choice for a Dvären emissary, to say the least. He had introduced himself as Anwyl and though he hadn’t elaborated beyond that, Seppä had served on Kivi’s mother’s council long enough to recognize a man of noble birth and power. A careful examination of the white-and-purple checkered tartan draped across the Ellyll’s shoulder certainly indicated wealth, if nothing else. An unusual companion indeed for a Sí who looked far more like a miner than a king’s herald.

Kivi made a rather rude sound in the back of her throat and all but growled at the Ellyll in answer.

“The Warden King bears his ancestor’s curse, does he not?” she stood to her full height and crossed her arms over her bosom as she stared Anwyl down. “Rebuilding Durial is a fool’s errand. ‘Kin’ or not, I will not pledge my skills to a fool.”

“Oi -” this seemed to inspire bravery in Master Delwin, who did succeed in knocking over his chair when he sprang to his feet.

“Have a care, Master Kivi,” Anwyl didn’t raise his voice a decibel, but his fir-green eyes glittered in warning. “It is not wise to call kings ‘fool’.”

“I call ’em like I see ’em,” Kivi shot back and Seppä bit back a groan.

Anwyl narrowed his eyes and tilted his head slightly to the side. The silence around the table was simmering with the promise of violence and Seppä was desperately trying to figure out how to stop Kivi from digging herself into a deeper hole.

“The fame of your workmanship precedes you, Journeyman,” it was now Anwyl’s turn to stand, although he did so far more calmly than either Kivi or Delwin. “The human Gæls of Änglia and Cernough sing your praises, which is why Master Delwin and I have specifically sought you out. You will note that neither one of us are Dvären, yet we come to you as emissaries of the Dvär. Restoring Durial to its former power benefits the Elyllon, the Sí, and the Gæls of the Divide as well. Surely, not all of us are fools.”

Anwyl’s point was well made, Seppä thought. Even if his chieftain thought the Warden King an idiot for trying to reclaim a blighted land, surely she wouldn’t, in good grace, extend the same opinion to three other races. The Ellyll had also pointed out, however subtly, that she had spent years building Gælish cities; surely she wouldn’t spite the very folk she had aided for so long.

Apparently, she would. Her response to Anwyl was sharp and succinct.

“Find another mason.”


“No, no, no, I will not,” Kivi stomped resolutely around the corner base of the all-but-finished tower that rose above them; her heavy-toed boots kicked up the chips of ice and mortar that littered the grassy knoll.

“But, Äiti -”

No!” Kivi didn’t even bother glancing over her shoulder at her determined companion.

She threw up her right hand and shook her head; her thick, shoulder-length hair glinted a coppery blonde in the setting sun. She stopped next to one of the many scaffolds that clung to the side of Dol-Non’s newest pride: the imaginatively named White Tower. Kivi pursed her lips in irritation as she turned her gaze up at the keep and considered the saffron streaks thrown by the setting sun against the bleached granite.

“The Tower will be finished in a matter of weeks,” her companion crossed his bulging arms over his equally bulging chest and dug his heels stubbornly into the winter slush beneath his boots. “And then what will you do? Between the Tower, the city walls, and the Great Cathedral, you’ve practically turned Dol-Non into an architectural jewel!”

“Work always comes, Seppä,” Kivi finally graced her fellow Dvär with a dour, side-long glance.

“Work has come now,” Seppä insisted, his voice starting to heat ever so slightly in anger.

“No,” Kivi’s frost-blue eyes turned quickly away, but Seppä saw the calculated look that flashed briefly across her broad and winsome face.

The black-haired smith took a deep, steadying breath.

She’s as stubborn as her mother ever was, he thought.

“Äiti,” Seppä addressed Kivi again and this time, his tone was one of persuasion. “It is a great honor that is being offered. You heard the Warden’s messengers - there are only two master masons among the Range’s Dvär. Even with help from the Elyllon, the Sí, the Gæls, there is not enough talent, or skill, to rebuild Durial.”

“I have only been at my craft for eighteen years,” Kivi remained seemingly unmoved, but Seppä could see enough of her profile to notice the way her eyes narrowed, as she often did when turning over a plan in her mind.

“You first picked up your mother’s mason’s mallet when you were but ten years years old. You’re a young and thriving lass of fifty now. Remove your three years in captivity and you have been at your craft for thirty-seven years.”

“My mother was Stone-Master and it took her a hundred and ten years to claim that title.”

“And you have your mother’s skill. Better, even, I would say.”

“Flattery does not become you, Seppä,” Kivi finally lowered her gaze from the dying sun above them and turned to stalk toward one of the Tower’s service doors, forty or so paces away.

“’Tis mere fact, Äiti, and you know it,” Seppä followed with dogged patience.

“You shouldn’t call me ′Äiti’.”

Kivi had fought with Seppä about her hereditary title - which meant “Mother” in the Northern tongue - for almost seventeen years, so the argument was well-worn. She knew by now that she wasn’t going to win. That didn’t stop her from reminding her Dvären elder ever so often, however, that she was still uncomfortable with the fate that her mother had left to her.

“Your mother did not Twice-Name you for the idle satisfaction of her own hopes and fears,” the sturdy smith followed his red-blonde chieftain across the newly growing grass. “The line of Harmaa the All-Mother survives in you, Chieftain. You are Äiti if you wish it or not.”

“Are you done nagging me, you gray-bearded hag?” Kivi pushed the heavy oak door in front of them open; her expression was sour, but she still held the door open dutifully for her elder.

“As a matter of point, no I am not,” Seppä smiled winningly at her as he passed her by; he had wider shoulders than most of Änglia’s human men and he had to turn to the side slightly in order to fit through the width of the door frame.

Kivi followed with far greater ease.

“You cannot lie to me and say that you do not long for home, or for justice,” Seppä continued as he waited for Kivi to pass him; the two then made their way up a steep flight of stairs. “To rebuild the Warding Range would forge an alliance between the Dvär of Durial and Kivi Torni that would be unparalleled. Their new Warden, heir of the Oakthanes, now holds the allegiance of the Bronzeblades, Emberfists, and Silverhelms - such a force could easily help you reclaim our homeland.”

“And what would this new, unwed Warden King want in exchange for such a campaign, I wonder?” Kivi retorted dryly; Seppä saw her eyes flash in the light of a passing torch and he suddenly realized that he had lost his argument.

He hadn’t missed her emphasis on the word ‘unwed’, either. There was a long, expectant pause before the smithy replied reluctantly:

“If he is indeed unwed and heirless...he would probably ask for a betrothal. Even if he’s betrothed now, it is not at all unlikely that he would break the contract and pursue you instead. An alliance by marriage between the Iron Helm and the Horned Crown would triple the wealth of both Kin, and unite the Dvär under one rule for the first time in seven hundred years.”

“I can hear it in your voice, Seppä - all of this sounds quite wonderful. A princess’ dream and a pragmatic solution to the ills of our Kin,” Kivi stopped briefly on a landing and turned her body squarely toward Seppä. “But you forget - the Warden knows nothing of our culture or our ways. If I were to create an allegiance to him through through marriage, I would never truly rule Kivi Torni as my mothers before me. I would either be voiceless as his queen, locked safely away in Durial, or I would be his regent, powerless to rule my Kin as my own.”

Seppä’s old heart broke a little at the look of fear, defiance, and horror that flickered across Kivi’s face like the flames on the wall beside them.

“You don’t know for certain that he would ask for a betrothal,” the blacksmith insisted reasonably. “It is entirely possible that in exchange for helping you win back Kivi Torni, he asks for something else. A tithe, perhaps; or a political allegiance of some sort.”

“Then I will be his vassal,” the look on Kivi’s face clearly translated her disgust for such a thought. “I will not free my people from the grasp of one greedy lord, to place it in the hands of another.”

“The Wardens have always been honorable -” Seppä tried to rally his last final hope, but Kivi dismissed it with a contemptuous snort.

“That’s what was said about the Ironforges once, too,” her blue eyes flashed as cold as a northern glacier before she whirled on the heel of her boot and stormed angrily up the next flight of stairs. “And their betrayal made slaves of us all.”

Seppä sighed heavily - there was no reasoning with Kivi when she was like this. His heart sank at the thought that the best chance his conquered people had was slowly burning to ash in the fire of their chief’s bitterness. The two traveled in silence up the winding stairwell, through a maze-like stretch of spiraling hallways, and up toward the half-finished Tower roof. Kivi had left her tools on the keep’s top floor and was apparently planning to collect them, before heading toward home.

Dol-Non had been Seppä’s home for ten years - it was here that Kivi had finally settled, in the hopes of making a stable life for her brother’s orphaned twins, who she had taken under her care. Ten years, Seppä had worked as a master smith among the humans of Keltair’s southern-most nation. But, he had been ever restless, ever hopeful that Kivi would turn her face toward the North again.

He could not imagine - nor did he want to - what she had endured at the hands of Synkkä, lord of the treacherous Ironforge Kin. Yet, it was in times like this - when he tried to reason with her and tried to persuade her to see the necessity of forging an alliance with any of the Low-country Dvär - that he secretly feared that her courage had been forever erased by Synkkä’s lusts.

All Kivi ever heard when Seppä tried to talk of an alliance, was that such thing would destroy any hope of truly claiming her birthright. Seppä knew that for all the time that had passed, for all of Katrikki’s Ellyllian healing, Kivi deeply feared Dvären men and the power that they could wield over her. She was right - an alliance with the Warden King, with any son of the Dvär, would most likely result in the subservience of her ancestral authority. Seppä had heard the Low-country version of Dvären history and it did not favor the heirs of Harmaa as the high queens they were. In fact, the Stonesmiths - as Harmaa’s Kin were called - had been left largely forgotten by their Low-country cousins. A Stonesmith chieftain in their midst would hold no more power than any other Dvären lord – quite possibly, less. The ways of the North contrasted sharply with the culture common to the rest of the Dvär, where it was practically unheard of a woman holding the same unchallenged power of a king.

The Stonesmiths had always protected the balance of their society, to the point where one of their chieftains hadn’t stepped foot in - much less lived in - any of the kingdoms south of theirs. They were a quiet Kin, who had made a history of keeping to themselves. Even as her subject, Seppä could wholly understand why Kivi would be reluctant to sacrifice her birthright a Low-country king. If she sacrificed the power of her crown, then she sacrificed the very culture of her people.

Seppä was proud of his people and he was proud to swear fealty to his young, bright-haired Äiti. But, he was beginning to wonder if the world was changing too rapidly for the Stonesmiths to survive. The choices facing Kivi were unforgiving and Seppä was beginning to wonder, far too frequently, if the line of the All-Mother would die with her last heir, uncrowned and unavenged.

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