As my Christmas Present to you, I am going to share A Battle of Past and Present’s first three chapters. That’s right, the first THREE chapters! Mark your calendars: A Battle of Past and Present releases February 2, 2024! You can pre-order the second intallment of The Chronicles of Tanithor: Age of the Oracle here.
Before you begin, if you haven’t read A Bounty of Secrets and Rebellion, book 1 in The Chronicles of Tanithor: Age of the Oracle series, I HIGHLY reccommend reading before you dive into A Battle of Past and Present so you won’t ruin any spoilers. You can purchase book 1 on amazon or read for free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription. Without further ado, here is the start to book 2!
Fynn leaned forward and signed his name with a flourish to the official alliance treaty before dipping his gold signet ring in the hot, red wax to authenticate it. The herald swiped the page and cleared his throat, reading out the promise for all to hear.
“His Royal Highness, Prince Fynnegan Corden Greenway of Gaellen, under the authority granted him by His Majesty, King Allister Lance Greenway of Gaellen, do hereby solemnly swear to align with the Kingdom of Latera as allies in times of peace and in times of war. To seal this solemn oath, Prince Fynnegan Corden Greenway of Gaellen promises to wed Her Royal Highness, Princess Alana Bell Sundry of Latera upon their return to Gaellen on the first day of the autumn equinox, forever uniting the people of Gaellen and Latera as allies.”
Fynn looked over at Alana with a grin, and she offered a small smile in return. Taking a deep breath, he reached for her hand. There was a moment of hesitation, and then her smooth, delicate fingers wrapped around his. He let out a sigh of relief. This was really happening. He was really here. She was really here. After this, they would be leaving her palace in Latera to head back to his home in Gaellen.
After King Sundry signed his name to the document and sealed it with his ring, a trumpet sounded and shouts and cheers erupted around them. They were in the Throne Room of Sands palace together with all the Lateran nobles who had been invited to the signing ceremony. The ones who were still alive that is.
After the pirate attack at Alana’s birthday celebration almost a week ago, Fynn had suggested they delay the signing ceremony to give a proper amount of time to the noble families to grieve their losses. With all the misconceptions he had discovered King Sundry had about him, Fynn had also felt it best to give the Lateran royals time to trust him.
The day after the celebration, King Sundry had received a letter from Fynn’s father explaining the small troop that they had discovered marching into Latera the day of Alana’s birthday. This letter had confirmed what Fynn had suspected all along. His father had received King Sundry’s letter that warned of a possible attack. Out of concern for Fynn and Alana’s safety on their return, his father had promptly ordered the small troop be sent to Latera to escort them back to Gaellen.
King Sundry had expressed his deepest apologies and regrets, affirming it was only ever his desire to keep the alliance. He had explained that fear for his daughter had clouded his judgement, and Fynn had graciously accepted his defense. He had not yet received word from the man he had sent to Garvik to investigate the bounty, but the past week at Sands palace had been free of sinister threats.
He was optimistic that word had spread about his investigation and was hopeful that the culprit had decided to call the whole thing off now that Fynn had arrived in Sands and the alliance treaty had been signed. Everything had settled down, and Fynn was eager to be heading back home with Alana. He squeezed her hand, remembering the past week he had gotten to spend with her in her home kingdom.
He had discovered she’d been locked up in the palace for two weeks. Out of compassion for her, he petitioned her father to let him take her to the beach. They had gone with no less than a battalion of soldiers to the hot, sandy seashore. Fynn could still picture her face that first day on the beach. Her smile had lit the whole coast, and he’d been utterly blown away by her beauty. Her hair had been blowing in the salty wind, her smile brighter than the noonday sun, and, when she first put her toes into the cool, refreshing water, she let out a squeal of pure delight as she shimmied a little dance. The experience was a memory he wouldn’t soon forget. He learned early on that Alana’s love for the beach ran deep, and he found that he would do anything to see her filled with that unadulterated joy she possessed while there. He’d made it a point to take her everyday thereafter.
The memories filled his heart with gladness. She was more than he had ever dreamed she would be, and he still couldn’t believe he was finally with her. However, out of all the times they had spent together at the beach, they hadn’t really had the chance to truly talk and get to know one another. Fynn had made multiple attempts, but there had always been something or another to call her attention away. When he had managed to coax her into conversation, she had been short and reserved.
He could tell that she was holding back from him, but he determined that this was to be expected. They were strangers after all. He was inclined to believe that she would ultimately come around just as his mother had to his father when they were newly engaged.
His parents loved each other more deeply than anyone else he knew. If an arranged marriage worked for them, it would surely work for him and Alana. His mother had advised him to give her some space, to not push her too hard. Fynn was dying to be freely in love with Alana, but he chose to take his mother’s advice and move slowly. He would let Alana determine his pace going forward and contented himself that he would have forever to be with her.
The signing ceremony came to an end, and Fynn and Alana shook hands with what seemed like the entire noble population of Latera, all of whom wanted to express their well-wishes and thanksgiving for their commitment to their kingdoms. Fynn was impressed with Alana’s flawless diplomacy. She introduced him to everyone who approached by first and last name. She really was a true princess, and he admired her ability to hold her own at such an event. Before his arrival in Sands, he’d had no clue what kind of royal she was like, and he was pleased to note that she surpassed all his expectations and more.
Fynn stood near the ornate double doors as the last of the nobles exited the Throne Room with cheery goodbyes. King Sundry then approached him in all his royal finery for the occasion. His kingly silver crown glinted in the beams of light that streamed in from the wide open doors and his Lateran blue jerkin was crisp and neat over his white shirt. The king smiled widely, and Fynn could tell where Alana got her big, bright smile. “Do you have all you need for the journey, Prince Fynnegan?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. You have been more than generous with provisions for our trip. I would have been content to leave with only my betrothed, but your gifts are greatly appreciated.”
The king inclined his head. “I can rest well tonight knowing my daughter is safely in your hands. It has been quite a stressful time for us with this bounty.”
“I promise to do everything I can to protect her, Your Majesty.”
King Sundry extended a hand. “I hope to come visit as soon as all is settled. I already miss my baby girl.”
Fynn shook his hand firmly, meeting the king’s eyes. “You’re welcome to Gaellen any time, without invitation, Your Majesty. We’d be honored to have you, and I’m sure Alana would love to see you.”
The king’s face rippled in sadness, and he hastily turned away to tend to the queen who was evidently overcome with emotion. Apparently, she had just said goodbye to Alana and the departure was too much for her to handle. Fynn cast a glance around the now empty Throne Room to find that Alana had disappeared. Slipping out a side door, he went in search of his betrothed. He had noticed she often liked to spend time in the Tea Room and decided to check there first.
He turned down a wide hallway and spotted a Lateran officer heading his way. As he neared, Fynn recognized the soldier as Officer Kai and called out, “Do you know where Alana is?”
After the attack at Alana’s birthday celebration, Fynn had learned that Koa had been given a permanent spot on Alana’s guard after he had saved her from multiple attacks and had earned the favor of the king. Captain Pike had later informed him that he had a background in piracy and was responsible for the capture of the entire Lateran pirate crew, including preventing them from trying to escape the night of Alana’s birthday. The officer had been short and gruff with Fynn since their meeting, and he assumed it was from all the mistrust that had surrounded his arrival.
“In the garden,” Koa nearly growled as he paused to give Fynn a quick, stiff bow before stomping away. Fynn headed in the direction from which Koa had come, the heels of his black boots clipping off the hard floor as he went.
Sure enough, Fynn found Alana in a small alcove of the garden, occupying a single bench at its center. Hedges grew high and green, and the smell of flowers sweetened the air. She had her mane of curls pulled over one shoulder and one leg daintily crossed over the other as she leaned forward over her lap, scribbling in a notebook with a small bit of charcoal. She was so engrossed in her drawing that she didn’t seem to hear his arrival.
Fynn put his hands in his cream-colored trouser pockets and quietly watched her while she worked. It was a beautiful morning in Sands. The sky was clear, the air was pleasant, and the birds trilled a sweet melody. Yet as he silently watched Alana work, the surroundings only served as a bland backdrop to the beauty before him. In all the years he had imagined what she would look like; he could never have dreamed up the ethereal beauty that Alana possessed. From her creamy pink cheeks to her glossy full lips, thick eyebrows and long lashes that highlighted her sapphire eyes, she had taken his breath away every single day since he’d met her and right now was no exception. He was confident he could stand there and watch her all day in perfect happiness and contentment.
Suddenly Alana let out a huff, jerking the charcoal over the page as she looked up from her art with a frown. She seemed to freeze at the sight of him, and Fynn smiled sheepishly at being caught staring. She blinked and then looked down, tearing the page she had been working on out of her book.
Fynn took a deep breath and crossed the alcove to sit beside her on the bench. “You like to draw?”
“I’ve recently picked it up.”
He leaned toward her. “May I see?”
Before he could catch a glimpse, she crumpled the paper in her hand and snapped the book shut. “They’re just doodles and scribbles. Nothing to see.” She stood up and took a step away from him.
He let out a quiet breath, rallying himself for another attempt at conversation as he slowly rose to his feet. “The carriage is packed and ready. Have you said all your goodbyes?”
Her face was turned away from him as she looked out over the garden, but he didn’t need to see her expression to know that she was unhappy. Her posture was stiff, and she clutched the notebook to her chest so tightly that her knuckles were white. He knew it must be hard to say goodbye to everything she had ever known. He couldn’t imagine leaving his home, his kingdom, his family and friends. He felt badly that he had to be the one to take her away from her loved ones. Pushing through his nerves, he put a gentle hand on her upper arm and came to stand in front of her, ducking his head to look into her eyes as he whispered, “I know how hard it must be for you to say goodbye. I promise I’ll do everything I can to make you feel at home in Gaellen. It’s nothing like Latera, but I believe one day you’ll come to love all it has to offer.”
He wanted to say that he hoped she would come to love him too, but he was trying not to push her too hard. She slowly shrugged free of his hand and stepped around him as she said quietly, “We should go.”
The white, horse-drawn carriage bumped along as their entourage slowly made their way north to Kihu, the first stop on their journey. Fynn had taken the southern route from Gaellen and had stopped in each major town along the way in order to meet the nobles of Latera. It had only been a ten-day journey, but it had felt like a month-long venture. Eager to meet his bride, he had pushed his small party to travel as rapidly as possible.
The return trip would be an entirely different experience. This time, they were taking the northern route which took three times as long. Furthermore, with the addition of the fifty troops his father had sent plus Alana’s personal guard and twenty-five horses King Sundry had gifted him, traveling quickly was nearly impossible. With the size of the entourage and the circuitous route they were taking, he felt like they would never make it home.
Fynn had never traveled out of his own kingdom before. When he had first entered Latera, he was blown away by the vast differences between his kingdom and Alana’s. Gaellen’s landscape was craggy hills and rough terrain with steep cliffs and rocky shores whereas Latera’s lands were lush, green and vibrant. Latera was surrounded by bodies of water that provided a fertile ground for farming, fishing and everything in between. The land’s resources would be a boon for the people of Gaellen when the alliance was sealed by their marriage.
He was also surprised to discover that the climate was in stark contrast to his home kingdom. Gaellen always had a chill that swept down from the Zimerah mountain range. Because they were situated on the northwestern edge of the Boledad Sea, the clouds seemed to settle over Gaellen like an ever-present thick blanket. However, in Latera, the sun was always shining and the warmth was almost too much for him.
He had already discarded his travel cloak and was still hot under his dark blue jerkin. Glancing across the carriage to Alana, he noticed she seemed perfectly content in her purple, floral patterned day dress as she gazed out the window. He pulled at his collar, and Alana darted a look his way with a sympathetic frown. “Summers are hot in Latera. Most Laterans wear loose, light clothing to combat the heat.”
He smiled at her compassion and began unbuttoning his jerkin. “I think I can manage. Sometimes all you need to cool off is a little air.”
Discreetly, he flicked his fingers and stirred up the air in the carriage, sending Alana’s hair tossing and tumbling around her face. She giggled in response, and the sound spurred Fynn’s further display of power as he tried to impress her. Once he had finished unbuttoning his jerkin, he curled his hand into a fist, sending a gust of wind into his chest. He used the force of the gale to push the vest back and off his arms with a look of mock surprise.
He had Alana’s full attention now as she laughed out loud at his goofy trick. Taking pleasure in her attention, Fynn then pulled all the air in the carriage toward him before pushing his hands out. The air exploded around them in a roaring wind that rattled the window panes and knocked the door of the carriage wide open with the force. Alana shrieked in surprise right before the carriage lurched to a stop, sending her flying forward into his chest as the door clanged about on its hinges.
Fynn caught Alana, holding her arms to steady her as she braced her hands on his thighs. He watched as a pleasant blush crept up her cheeks before she cleared her throat and scrambled back from him at the same moment that Officer Kai yanked at the door and peered inside the carriage with a tense expression. His eyes landed on Alana first as he surveyed her closely. Seeing that she was okay, he turned a withering gaze toward Fynn as he ground out, “What happened?”
Fynn chuckled and winked at Alana who sat frozen on her side of the carriage. “My tricks got the better of me, I’m afraid. Everything’s okay, Officer Kai.” He gave Koa a confident smile and nodded at him in dismissal.
Koa looked at Alana, his face softening in concern as he said gently, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Fynn drew his brows together as Alana nodded without a word. “Of course, she’s okay,” Fynn remarked tightly. He had already proven his good intentions and didn’t care for the officer insinuating otherwise, even if it was indirectly. “Thank you for checking.” Koa slowly turned back to face him as he spoke. Fynn added pointedly, “You can tell the driver we can continue on now.”
A muscle in Koa’s jaw ticked as he withdrew his head from the carriage and closed the door with a clanking snap. Fynn had clearly ruined the hinge on which it sat. Alana pulled out her little notebook and a piece of charcoal and began scribbling away as Fynn contemplated how he could get his betrothed’s attention back.
A cool, strong hand slipped over hers, and Alana couldn’t stop her thoughts from turning to Koa. She knew she shouldn’t compare Prince Fynnegan to him but it was hard not to. Koa had strong hands too, but his were rough, callused from his time at sea with the pirates. The prince had long, deft fingers that curled around hers gently as they greeted Lord and Lady Hale of Kihu. His hand didn’t feel wrong, just different.
Kihu had only been a full day’s journey, but the time spent in the carriage had seemed like a lot longer. Alana didn’t know how to interact with the prince. They had spent a fair amount of time together the past week, but she’d always felt uncomfortable around him, especially when she caught sight of Koa nearby. She never knew when Koa would show up and found herself trying to avoid him so as not to feel so awkward around the prince.
It worked out that Koa had been consumed with settling into his new role as a member of her guard. During his time as her undercover bodyguard he had still been just a commoner, but with his official acceptance into the King’s Army, there were certain protocols and procedures he was required to learn. The extra week they had stayed after the celebration provided him the time he needed to learn the condensed version that his fellow soldiers had spent months learning in Latera’s Military Academy.
Alana hadn’t been ready to talk to Koa about her decision. There had been so many factors that were involved and some of them she just couldn’t verbalize such as her mother’s affair, her big brother still alive, and her father’s rightful hatred of the Hokens. Not to mention the fact that as the Princess of Latera it was her duty to submit to this arranged marriage for the sake of her kingdom—something she doubted Koa, as a commoner, would understand.
He had cornered her in the garden after the signing ceremony, demanding she say something, anything to him, but she couldn’t find the words. All she could do was sit there in silence. She had been thankful that a servant had interrupted them to tell Koa he was needed by the captain.
She knew it hurt him to have to endure her silence after all they had shared together. She truly felt badly for the way she was treating him, but how could she say what needed to be said when her world was in such a storm right now? She didn’t know when she would be ready to talk to him. She couldn’t even answer his simple question when he’d checked on her in the carriage. It was all just too much. With her move to a foreign kingdom, her betrothal to a foreign prince, and her current family issues, she had far too much on her plate. Koa would just have to deal with her silence until she was ready.
Plus there was the prince.
It was clear that he was totally and completely in love with her, and she didn’t know how to receive it. She was his betrothed. His feelings for her were right and good. She should have the same feelings for him. Perhaps not as instant as his had been for her, but she should be on her way to that end. However, she found it hard to let Koa go and make room in her heart for the prince.
Since she had decided to carry out her duty and commit to the alliance, commit to the prince, she knew she had to open her heart to him. Koa had made her feel so many things for which she had always longed, but it hadn’t been his place to do that for her. It had been Prince Fynnegan’s. The one to whom she had been promised since her birth. Had she only waited for him and refused to look at any other man—at Koa—she wouldn’t be in the predicament she was currently in.
However, she recognized that was a consequence that she had to face. Her mother had faced far greater consequences for her indiscretions and those consequences had reached to the next generation. She was determined it would stop with her. That determination however, didn’t make letting Koa go any easier to accomplish.
She let out an exasperated breath at her predicament. Prince Fynnegan, and Lord and Lady Hale turned to look at her.
“I’m so sorry for the inconvenience this presents, Your Highness. I can assure you, we will do everything we can to make you as comfortable here as we possibly can, but if it’s not acceptable we understand,” Lady Hale said regrettably as she nervously fiddled with a thin golden chain around her neck.
The prince squeezed Alana’s hand, and she looked up at him as he raised a questioning brow. In all her inward thoughts, she had completely stopped listening to what they had been discussing in the foyer of the Hale’s estate.
“Would you like to find another place to stay for the night?” he asked quietly in his lilting, Gaellen accent.
She glanced at Lord and Lady Hale who seemed anxious and apologetic and then back to the prince who was waiting expectantly for her answer. It was well past midnight and she didn’t understand why they would need to find another place to stay. They had already been traveling all day and it sounded like Lord and Lady Hale were ready to accommodate them. She turned back to Lord Hale, smiling widely as though she hadn’t missed a thing and said, “Oh no! That’s quite all right. We sincerely appreciate your hospitality, my lord.”
Alana peered into the bedroom Lord and Lady Hale had set up for their royal guests. Decorated in dark woods and warm burgundies, she was confident the room typically served as the Hale’s home library as opposed to a guest bedroom. Every wall was covered with shelves of books. It kind of reminded Alana of her father’s office back in Sands palace. In the right hand corner next to a large window draped in wine-colored curtains was a long, padded chaise. To the left, there sat a grand, four-post bed pushed up against the bookshelves. The bed was obviously very out of place here.
Apparently, Alana had failed to hear the part about how the rooms Lord and Lady Hale had prepared for their arrival had been destroyed in a fire that had consumed much of their house just two days ago when a nearby brush fire had gotten out of hand. The noble hosts had scrambled to prepare another set of rooms for them but, with so little time, only one room had been furnished.
Prince Fynnegan stepped into the room, surveying the space before turning to Alana. “Well, I’ve slept in worse conditions,” he explained brightly, putting his hands on his hips. “I’ll sleep on the chaise and you can have the bed, of course. There’s some bed hangings at least, to allow you some privacy.”
Alana raised her eyebrows and took a tentative step into the room. “You’ve slept in worse conditions?”
He shrugged. “I was in the Gaellen military for a time.”
Her brows rose higher. She hadn’t known that. Just then a maid stepped in behind her with a quick curtsy and a stack of pillows and blankets piled in her arms. Alana stepped aside as Prince Fynnegan came forward to relieve the maid of the bedding before she silently backed out of the room, shutting the door as she went.
Alana swallowed and made her way over to the bed. She wished Katalina were here to help her, it would have made the silence in the room less awkward. All of their entourage except for Captain Pike and Prince Fynnegan’s personal guard, Officer Murtaugh, had left to make camp just on the outskirts of town since the Hale’s could only host a small number of their party due to the fire. Alana wished she had been paying attention before she agreed to stay. They could have joined everyone at the camp. Then again, she probably would have looked ungrateful to their hosts had she suggested such a thing.
Prince Fynnegan quietly set to work setting up his bed on the chaise with the blankets the maid had brought. He seemed to be paying especially close attention to his task. Alana hopped into the bed and closed the thick white curtains around her before she hurriedly slipped out of her day dress down to her shift. She heard the prince clear his throat before he said, “Do you have everything you need?”
Alana peeked out of a sliver in the curtains to see Prince Fynnegan turned toward one of the bookshelves. The defined lines of his broad back beneath the white fabric of his shirt didn’t escape her notice. “Yes, I do. Thank you, Prince Fynnegan.”
“You know, you can call me Fynn,” he said quietly, turning around to face the bed. Alana jerked the curtain closed and backed away to the center of the bed as he continued, “Prince Fynnegan seems too formal and all my family and friends just call me Fynn.”
There was silence for a moment and then Alana said, “Thank you… Fynn.” She heard the sound of boots thudding on the wood floor as he walked over to the chaise and took a seat. Chancing another peek through the curtain, Alana watched Fynn pull off his boots and then reach up behind his neck and pull his shirt off over his head. She eyed his creamy skin pulled tight over a chiseled chest and rippling stomach as he set the shirt and boots in a neat pile on the floor. His gaze lifted and deep blue eyes rimmed in thick lashes caught her staring through the slit in the curtains as he glanced toward the bed.
She hastily snapped the curtains shut with a blush, but not before she saw a smug smile dance across his face. Settling down into the soft pillows, Alana’s thoughts drifted to Koa and how he might be faring at the camp. She huffed a quiet breath in an attempt to redirect her thoughts. If she was going to make this work with Fynn, she needed to put Koa out of her mind and focus on her betrothed.
“How long were you in the Gaellen military?” she asked as she gazed up at the ceiling.
Fynn’s reply came from the direction of the chaise and she guessed he had made himself comfortable for the night. “Technically, I’m still in the military. All Gaellen boys are required to serve two years from the time they turn sixteen until they’re eighteen.”
“You’re not yet eighteen?”
“I turn eighteen on the first day of the autumn equinox.”
Alana clasped her hands together over her stomach. She was surprised to hear he was younger than Koa, but as soon as she thought it, she shook her head, trying to stay focused on Fynn. “Have you enjoyed your time in the military?”
“It’s had its merits.”
“That’s a diplomatic answer.”
Fynn chuckled. “I suppose you’re right.” He paused for a moment as if thinking through his answer. “I like being in the military. I get to serve alongside my people, protecting our lands by working together. That’s not something I have gotten to experience often from inside the castle.”
“Have you not spent a lot of time outside the castle?”
Fynn sighed. “As the crown prince, my duties have been to follow my father, learning from him how to rule a kingdom. I’ve spent the majority of my life inside the walls of Holden castle, taking part in meetings and events with the nobles at court. Joining the military was my first chance to get out and see more of the kingdom I am to one day rule. However, my father stationed me in the Holden City Guard so I wouldn’t be far.”
“So you haven’t seen all of Gaellen?”
“No. Latera is the most I’ve seen of any kingdom actually.”
Alana’s brows jumped up in surprise. Her father had been adamant about regularly visiting the large cities and small towns around Latera. He believed that if the people saw him frequently they would feel more a part of his life and therefore trust him to be responsible for theirs. “Do your people not see much of your family then?”
“Not of me or my parents, unless they come to Holden to petition the king. My sister has been tasked with being the Royal Presence throughout Gaellen. Since we turned twelve, I’ve rarely seen her for any length of time. She’s always in one Gaellen town or another.”
Alana quietly observed the change in his tone when he mentioned his sister’s absence. “What do you mean by ‘we’ turned twelve?”
“Oh yeah, that’s probably an important detail you should know about me. My sister and I are twins.”
Now Alana was intrigued. She had never seen twins before, even in all her travels around Latera. Twins just weren’t a common thing among her people. She knew there were twins that were identical and twins that simply shared a womb like Fynn and his sister, but she had never personally known anyone who was a twin.
She sat up, turning her head to the closed curtain where she knew Fynn sat on the other side. “What’s it like to be a twin?”
“Well, for me and my sister, we were once very close. We did everything together. She was my best friend, my other half.” He let out a breath and Alana couldn’t help but take another peek out the curtain. Fynn was the picture of masculine grace as he reclined on the chaise, a thin blanket covering his lower half and arms folded behind his head as he looked up at the ceiling. His auburn hair, which was swooped to the side, was such a contrast to the milky skin of his muscular torso. Alana had a hard time picturing a female version of him.
“As we got older and especially after we received our All God gift, we grew more and more apart,” he continued, oblivious to his audience of one. “I think because she started traveling more and we saw less of each other as a result, we just grew further apart. As twins, we happen to share the same birthday, but now I feel as if we’re just like any other brother and sister.”
Alana settled back into her pillows. “I don’t know what it’s like to have a brother,” she admitted quietly. “I never got the chance to know mine.”
“The lost Lateran Prince?”
“Yes. Wait, how do you know?”
“I know a lot about our neighboring kingdoms. My father believes it’s wisdom to know the goings on of our surroundings, especially politically. Losing the future King of Latera effects how our alliance might play out.”
Alana twisted a curl around her finger. “How do you mean?”
“Well, who will rule if your father dies before your brother can be found? Lateran law doesn’t allow a queen to rule. Your father has no brothers and as far as we know, he hasn’t selected anyone to take his place. As allies, we would help maintain the kingdom but would the people accept it? If he did choose another successor, would that person honor our alliance? My father and I had countless discussions on what we would do if something like that were to happen.”
There was so much for Alana to unpack in Fynn’s explanation. Obviously, King Greenway ruled Gaellen a lot differently than her father ruled Latera. Then something he said made her freeze. “Wait a minute, you know my brother is alive?”
“Yes,” Fynn replied slowly. “He was taken by the Hokens, right?”
Alana bolted up and yanked back the curtains in shock. Fynn shot up with lightning speed, swinging his legs off the chaise as he turned to her with concern. “What’s wrong?”
“How long have you known the truth about my brother?” she demanded hotly.
Fynn’s face screwed up in confusion before he said, “Since always. It’s why your father came to us suggesting the alliance.”
Alana sat back on her knees near the edge of the bed stunned. The biggest secret in all Latera wasn’t as big a secret as Alana had thought, at least not to Fynn. She crossed her arms over her chest, fixing him with intensity. “Tell me all you know.”
“I’m freezing,” Griff said grumpily as he huddled by the small fire Halyn had built, pushing a light brown curl out of his eyes. They were in a small, rocky cave on the edge of Lake Sentralis, and, while it provided them shelter from direct wind, the temperatures were still lower than Griff preferred. Especially when he wasn’t properly dressed.
Halyn sighed a stuttering breath. “I’m sorry, Griff. I’m doing what I can.”
He looked up from the flames and peered over at Halyn. There were shadows under her eyes, and her usually cinnamon-brown skin looked pale even in the glow of firelight. He frowned at the sight. It was because of Halyn that he was even alive right now. She was the one that had pulled him up out of the lake and had swam them both to shore all while he had been unconscious dead weight. He still didn’t know how she had managed to do it. Those first few days, they were both weak and fighting hypothermia from their forced plunge into Lake Sentralis. Add to that the bashing to the head from which he’d had to heal and he had been pretty much useless. At some point, he’d regained consciousness to find he’d been relocated to the cave that they were currently holed up in.
Halyn had discovered the little rocky sanctuary and had built them a fire to dry their clothes and protect them from the frigid wind. Being sheltered, dry and warm, the danger of dying of starvation then set in. They both hadn’t eaten in far too long and the lack of sustenance had weakened their natural defenses. Griff had managed to go out in search of food earlier in the day. He’d stumbled upon some hard berries that still didn’t sit right with him, but it provided enough nutrients to temper the ache in his stomach—just not his attitude.
He got up and moved around the fire to sit by Halyn, putting an arm around her shoulders. “I know, Halyn. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. You’ve done amazingly. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
She sniffed, bringing her small hands closer to the fire. “We’ve got to get out of here. I just don’t know what we should do. We’re in a foreign kingdom, we have no coin, nothing to barter with, we’re hardly dressed for the weather, and we have no way to get back to Hoken.”
Griff squeezed her more tightly as an uncontrollable shiver ripped through him. She was right. If they wanted to survive, they had to get out of here and fast. He watched the flames flicker and dance as he thought. On his search for food, he’d noticed what looked like a forgotten path that seemed to lead north. Their captor, Jack, had planned to take them to Garvik, but Griff had thwarted that plan thanks to the recent discovery of his All God gift. He still didn’t understand that about himself. How was it possible that he could manipulate the water?
He jerked his head, displacing the curl that dropped back into his eyes. He’d have to work that mystery out later. Right now, he needed a plan of action. “Here’s what we’re going to do.” He turned his head to face Halyn. “We’re going to head for Garvik. I’m pretty sure we never got far enough north when you brought us here, and I saw a path that looks like it might lead us in that direction. We’ll do what we can to get what we need to get home. Okay?”
Halyn met his eyes and he saw how weary and weak she was. It broke his heart that she was in this situation. He’d rather it had just been him. Then again, he’d probably be dead already if it had. “Hey, we’re going to be all right. I’m going to get us home, okay?”
She nodded silently, and he reached forward to tuck the black curtain of her hair behind her ear. He wasn’t used to seeing her hair free falling instead of in a braid. She was beautiful either way, but Griff thought he preferred it back out of her face so as to see her deep brown eyes better. She leaned in to his touch, her cold cheek pressing in to his palm, and he willed what little warmth he could provide in to her. He would get Halyn home no matter what, even if it killed him.
The wind whipped at their faces and sent Griff’s too large shirt he’d been given during his time in the Mosly prison, flapping wildly about him. He wrapped his arms tightly around himself as they stumbled along the path he had found not far from their cave. They had only been walking for about an hour when they came across a strange type of shelter. It was built into a hill and if it weren’t for the wooden door at its side, he would have missed it entirely. In fact, if they had been passing in the opposite direction, Griff was sure he wouldn’t have seen it at all with all the mossy hills they had already passed.
Just then, the door creaked open and a round, red-headed woman stepped out. She immediately caught sight of the two of them and narrowed her eyes suspiciously, stepping back to shut the door again.
“Wait!” Griff shouted, raising his hands up in a peaceful gesture. “Please! We need your help.”
The woman hesitated in the doorway, watching them warily as they came closer. A little boy—Griff pegged him to be about four or five years old—came up to the doorway and peeked around the folds of his mother’s long dress. Griff offered the boy a small smile as they stopped a few feet from the strangers. Halyn, standing next to Griff, put up her trembling hands in supplication. “Please. Help us.”
The woman looked closely at her, taking in her black hair and flat features. The corners of her mouth turned down as she said in a thick Gaellen accent, “You’re a Hoken?”
“Yes. I’m just trying to get home. We mean you no harm,” Halyn replied quietly, desperately.
The woman turned to Griff and looked him over curiously. “What are you?”
Griff canted his head in thought. In this foreign kingdom, was it so obvious that he didn’t look Hoken? He immediately shoved thoughts of his unknown origins aside for the more pressing matter. He wasn’t sure how the Gaellens perceived the Hokens but if the woman’s suspicious eye toward Halyn was any indication then he didn’t think they held a very high regard for his people. Additionally, relations between Hoken and Latera had never been great; however, he did know that Gaellen was aligning with Latera through a royal marriage. In a quick decision, he replied with the answer he thought would benefit them the most.
“I’m Lateran,” he declared. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Halyn glance at him, but he kept his eyes on the Gaellen woman. He hoped she would feel more comfortable to help a Lateran as opposed to two Hokens.
The woman scanned his face and then darted a look to Halyn before she said to him, “What are you doing with her?”
Griff thought carefully through his answer. If she had a prejudice against the Hokens like the Laterans had, then she would expect the same from him. He lifted his chin and said firmly, “I’m taking her back to where she belongs.”
The woman eyed them both with clear reservation as she took her time deciding what to do. Griff prayed she would find it in her heart to offer them help.
Finally, she stepped back, waving her arm to allow entry into her home as she said gruffly, “You can’t stay long.”
Griff and Halyn wasted no time entering her home for fear she would change her mind. They thanked her profusely for her help as the warmth enveloped them and the smell of hot, fresh bread swathed them in comfort. The house was unlike anything Griff had ever seen. Carved out of a hillside, the floor, walls and ceiling were all smoothed dirt. A stone fireplace sat on one side of the space with a tube that, Griff guessed, came out on top of the hill. Toward the back, a curtain hung as a doorway to what he assumed was a bedroom. He wondered if all Gaellens lived in this type of house or if it was just one of many different kinds of dwellings in the strange kingdom.
The woman shut the door and pointed her chin to a small wooden table. “Help yourself to some bread. There’s some cheese and milk there as well.”
“Thank you so much.” Griff grabbed a slice of hot bread. He didn’t even feel the heat as his hands were numb from the cold. “Do you happen to have anything warm for us to wear?”
The woman gave a curt nod and disappeared behind the curtain at the back while her son watched them quietly from the corner. He scrutinized Griff intently before he said in a sweet little voice, “You’re a Lateran.”
Griff nodded, stuffing cheese into his mouth.
The boy smiled widely, his fiery red locks falling into honey-colored eyes. “Do you know Princess Alana?”
“No, unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity,” Griff replied around a mouthful of food.
“She’s coming here to live with us in Gaellen,” the boy exclaimed excitedly. He reached into a wooden chest next to him and pulled out a little blue ribbon connected to a stick and waved it around with a big smile. “We just celebrated her birthday.”
Griff’s eyes widened in surprise. The Gaellen people were already celebrating the Lateran Princess? He smiled and gulped down a glass of milk, not sure how to respond.
The woman returned with a soft flap of the curtain and handed Griff two fur-lined cloaks bordered in the green of Gaellen. She also had a pair of black boots and a smaller pair of close-toed shoes he guessed were for Halyn. He swiftly swallowed down his food. “Thank you. Thank you so very much.”
“You should go now,” she said stiffly, glancing to her son in the corner.
Griff nodded as he handed one of the cloaks and the small pair of shoes to Halyn and then replaced the sandals he wore for the large boots he had just received. Of all the clothes he had been given, the boots were the one thing that actually fit him well, and he was so grateful.
“Thank you,” Griff repeated. “You can keep these shoes in return.” He grabbed the slippers Halyn had removed and handed them, together with his shoes, to the Gaellen woman. She took the offered items and shot a pointed look at the door, ready for them to leave.
“May the All God bless you,” Halyn intoned as she followed Griff to the door.
“Long live Prince Fynnegan and Princess Alana!” the boy cheered, waving his little blue flag jubilantly. His mother shushed him with irritation, and Griff waved goodbye to him over his shoulder.
As they crossed the threshold, Griff pulled up his hood, thankful for the warm shield from the cold wind as they continued on their journey.
A Battle of Past and Present releases February 2, 2024. Remember, you can pre-order your copy today here. I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of A Battle of Past and Present. Be sure to follow me on Instagram for regular updates as well as sing up for my newsletter. Subscribers get first access to all the goodies (like reading this post before everyone else!) Sign up formy monthly newsletter here.