Alys is of royal descent to the Rivalyn crown and has trained all her life for war. Her kingdom has been under threat for centuries, and it’s time to take a stand. To defeat her adversaries, she must find the Sword of Rivalyn, for it’s said to wield a power so great ’tis enough to diminish an army. Niall is disillusioned and weary, but when he sees Lady Alys in trouble he helps her flee from the Shieldoks. To forget his past, he remains in Rivalyn. After all, there are others who vie for Alys’s kingdom, and she may be in need of his protection.
Targeted Age Group:: Young Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I felt inspired to write an adventure featuring the 'armour of God' and how such armour was considered so precious in the days of ancient battles and warfare. I particularly wanted this book to have a strong-female-lead, and I was inspired by the warrior-princess type characters from the Viking era.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Alys, my female protagonist, encapsulates the famous 'shield-maiden' type character. All my characters develop as I write the first draft. I'm inspired by movies, the people I meet, and watching my own children's characters develop.
Alys clutched the side of the wagon as it sped across the countryside. She glanced back at the palace.
“My lady, get down!”
Her heart pounded as the left wheel jutted over a small boulder. She closed her eyes, her head spinning at the day’s turn of events. So much had changed, but there was little time to process it.
Arrows whizzed through the sky, one catching the hem of her dress. She gasped, hitting the fabric to squash out the flame.
The driver yelled to hasten the horse’s pace and pulled at the reins, veering off to the right, managing to miss the next attack aimed straight at them. He turned the cart toward the woods, leaving the road.
She swallowed, looking at the narrow depth between each tree, and hoped he had an accurate skill at steering. “Where are you taking me?”
“The nunnery—it’s not far.”
She nodded, out of habit, although she knew he did not see her. She exhaled and sat straighter as the wagon slowed its pace. They followed the woodland path which led to Knotting Abbey. Alys’s hands began to shake. Would she be safe? Even here?
The man brought the horse to a stop, jumped out, and scooped her up. She almost protested but grimaced as a shooting pain ran up her entire side.
“Open the gates,” he commanded.
The tall wooden palisade widened, and several nuns rushed to their aid.
She shut her eyes momentarily as her head spun. They took her to a small chamber, at the rear of the building. They stripped her tunic away from her body, and she screamed out as a hot iron scorched her skin. The smell of her burning flesh was too much.
She awoke again. How long had she passed out? The overcrowded room filled with ladies tending to her. She struggled to maintain consciousness, but she needed to make sense of it all. The pain to her side was immense, and she turned her head away. Alarm filled her when she spotted a tall dark figure loitering in the doorway.
He stepped backward, and the light from the fire caught his features. Crystal blue eyes stared back at her. It was the servant who brought her here. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember the day’s turn of events. He had been there, all along.
* * *
One Day Earlier
Another carrier pigeon flew into the dovecot, and Niall carefully retrieved the tiny message from around its ankle. He opened it with trepidation:
Glad you are still safe. All is well here. Some travellers from Shieldia arrived recently, and there is talk of overthrowing Eadward, so please be careful.
Niall frowned. Couldn’t his sister be a little more specific? That the Dyrahn king was in danger, was no secret. The Shieldok kingdoms to the south always looked for ways to conquer Dyrah and therefore gain control of the entire north. Still, what with the negotiations taking place this eve between Rivalyn and Dyrah, he didn’t like the sound of Teagen’s warning.
He would not write a response just yet, as he needed to do a little more investigating. Slipping the small piece of parchment into his belt, he returned to the stables. Praefect Druce had just arrived and would need his horse tended to.
Niall glanced to the modest entourage behind the praefect, comprising what he presumed to be his daughter, her attendant and several guards.
He kept his head low, glad for the long hair and beard to disguise his features. King Eadward never recognized him, thankfully, allowing Niall a chance to remain in the background and glean information of vital import. The shipwreck of many months before proved a Godsend. Niall’s mission was simple. Discover what was happening in the mainland, and take back his kingdom, Elmetia.
But Holmorra had changed. The Shieldoks from the South were tyrants compared to Eadward, and their hunger for more land and power was ever increasing.
He helped Alys down from the wagon.
“Thank you,” she said and gestured toward the chest tied securely to the cart. “Would you take our possessions to our chambers?”
She gave him a kind smile, her hazelnut eyes exuberating a deep warmth to them.
“Of course, my lady.”
Niall picked up one of the trunks and shifted it to his shoulders, keeping his head down as he bypassed King Eadward welcoming guests. After he set it down, he paused for a moment to stretch out the kink in his neck, but at the sound of voices he withdrew himself to stand quietly by the door. Queen Wynflaed promptly rounded the corner, with the praefect’s daughter at her heels.
“You and your father are in your usual chambers—I hope they will suffice. You have a little time to freshen up before we sup. If there is anything you need, just ask one of the servants.” Wynflaed took hold of Alys’s hand and hesitated.
She frowned. “Aye?”
The queen shook her head. “‘It’s naught. My nerves, ‘tis all. I suppose I am not accustomed to entertaining.” She forced a smile and exited the chamber without so much as casting Niall a glance. Upon her exit, Niall seized the opportunity to slip out and get the other chests on the cart, taking a further two to her ladyship’s quarters, and another to her father’s.
As he put down the baggage, the praefect addressed him. “Please, take this note to Lady Alys at once, and then, be so kind as to fetch us some wine.”
Niall bowed his head and took the letter, curiosity piquing his interest. As he left the praefect’s presence, he opened the paper. It was written in Old Wealdic, not the common Holmorran language.
I fear we are in danger. Meet me in my chamber immediately.
Niall refolded the message, slightly alarmed. He scoured his surroundings to look for something out of the ordinary, but everything seemed to be in its place. The guards patrolled the wall and the four towers, as usual.
The gate opened once more, to Shieldoks from the south, judging by their distinguishing fur cloaks which adorned their shoulders. He hadn’t been aware they were coming today. Had they been invited?
Niall hastily returned to Alys’s chamber and handed the note to the handmaiden. He then headed to the kitchen for refreshment. An odd request, considering they were due to sup shortly, but, after such a long journey, they may indeed need some wine.
The kitchen was a bustle of chaos. “What is going on?” he asked one of the hands.
“Haven’t you heard? We are to host the three kings of Shieldia, and all that goes with them. Cook’s out of her mind. They’ll likely go through a winter’s worth of provisions if their reputations of feasting are anything to go by.
“All of them? What of Cwenland?”
“That, I don’t know,” shrugged the girl. “Just got a lot more chopping to do. Now I’d best get on.”
Niall thanked her and went into the cellar to fetch Druce his wine. Did the praefect know about this? It would be reason enough to cause him trepidation. The South coveted Rivalyn’s territories—they had for centuries.
He knocked on the praefect’s door before entry. Alys and her father sat on chairs by the fire. Druce gestured toward him, and Niall poured them both drinks. He was just about to leave when they started speaking in Wealdic. Did they think he could not understand them?
Druce leaned closer to Alys, and in a hushed tone said, “On our journey here, you asked me again about your real parents.”
Her eyes widened, and she nodded stiffly.
“I fear I must tell you, for our circumstances have changed, and I can keep it from you no longer.”
She hesitated and placed a trembling hand on top of the other. “My mother and father…they were important people?”
Druce wrinkled his brow. “How do you…?”
“I suppose, I’ve always sensed that I was different, somehow.”
Niall busied himself in the corner of the chamber, decanting the wine into a jug.
“You are the daughter of King Lamorak and Queen Aloedia.”
Alys blinked, and her voice became strained. “They had no child.”
“That is where you are wrong. Aloedia carried you in her belly but secluded herself to Castraholm. The kingdom was in a fragile state, and knowledge that Lamorak and Aloedia would have an heir put considerable risk to you.”
“I thought they died in battle!”
“They came under siege, but not before Aloedia gave birth to you. To ensure the kingdom’s longevity, and your safety, she placed you in my charge, and should she die, I was to raise you as my own.”
Alys’s face paled, and her mouth dropped open. “You are saying, I am a princess?”
“Not only that, but the rightful heir.”
“We have no throne.”
“No one sits in it, you are correct. But its throne awaits you, and I believe we are nearing the time for you to arise.”
Alys stood abruptly and circled the room. She crossed her arms to still the shaking. “None of this makes sense. Why now? Why keep this a secret from me all these years?” The confusion and anger did not escape her tone.
“Because I fear, if we wait any longer, the Kingdom of Rivalyn will be entirely taken over by the Shieldoks. We must meet with King Eadward and renegotiate.”
“But why didn’t you tell me? I can keep secrets, as well you know.”
Druce pulled her into his embrace. “For purely selfish reasons, child. I cannot bear anything happening to you.”
A sob escaped from Alys. “Then, why this very moment? What is the urgency?”
“The kings of Shieldia are here, and I fear they are up to no good. We must strike now before it be too late. Make yourself ready, daughter, for we go to Eadward.”
* * *
Before the opportunity came to converse privately with Eadward, the king summoned them to the hall. It was majestic on all accounts. Alys sat around the grand trestle table in the centre of the room, away from her father, and instead, between the two brothers, Wilhelm, the king of West Shieldia, and, Osgar, king of the South. Then, looming over her and far too close for her own comfort, was Bordan, their father, high king of all Shieldia. Their presence was foreboding, and Alys steadied a trembling hand as she reached for her drinking horn.
What was her father thinking, allowing her to eat amongst these wolves? She’d listened to stories of the three kings slaughtering anyone who displeased them. They had obtained their power through fear alone.
“‘Tis wonderful that your daughter can join us this eventide,” began Eadward, “although I am curious why you brought her to our meeting. What concern is she with matters of Rivalyn?”
Alys swung her gaze toward her father, and firmly but subtly shook her head. Please, Lord, let him not announce anything now.
Druce stared back at her with hesitation. “This…is not my daughter.”
Eadward lay down his knife and leaned back. “I beg your pardon?”
“That is to say…the reason I asked her here to sup with us this eve, was to introduce Rivalyn’s h—”
Alys pushed back her chair and grabbed the jug. “Shall we have more wine?” She shot her father a pleading stare. Couldn’t he tell this was dangerous? She moved over to Eadward and Wynflaed to pour them a drink. “Please, allow me to serve you.” She passed the king his goblet. “What my father means to say, is that I wish to discuss with you how I might assist Rivalyn better, in your stead. I have some ideas, on how we might reunite the Wealdfolk…” She paused as the king started to choke. He dropped the cup to the ground, deep red wine spilling. The king looked up at her, confusion displayed in his eyes. He collapsed to the floor. The queen screamed for help, as the king’s life drained from his body. Alys glanced from Eadward to Wynflaed, and the vessel in her hands.
“She did this!” growled Bordan. “She’s tried to kill us all!”
She shook her head and staggered backward—the wine falling from her grasp. She turned to her father, whose stare moved from the dead king to the fearsome Shieldoks.
He withdrew his sword. “Run, child. Now.”
It was a matter of seconds but seemed like a lifetime. She hesitated. She had been sword-trained, but she was no match for the three kings. No one was. Not even her father. But she trusted him, so escape she must. She picked up her skirts and headed for the door.
“Seize that girl,” shrieked the queen, as she cradled Eadward in her arms.
Alys grabbed the spear from the soldier standing at the door and pushed him away. The other guard was not so easily fooled and swung his weapon at her. She vaguely felt the slice to her side but didn’t have time to nurse her wound. She sped out of the hall and staggered toward the stables. “Help me,” she pleaded with the stable hand. Without a word, the man picked her up and flung her in a wagon. He jumped up on the wooden seat and took the reins. Voices behind them grew louder.
“Yah!” shouted the driver, and the contraption jolted to an immediate start.
The warning bell sounded, and the gates began to close. Her man struck the whip, and the horse picked up its pace.
Alys held her breath as they drove through the gate with mere feet to spare. Arrows started flying from the towers. God help them. She would die for a murder she did not commit. And what about her father? What would they do to him?
She was completely helpless.
* * *
Niall paced up and down the stables as Alys and her father feasted with the Shieldoks. Was Druce going to inform them of Alys’s bloodline? If so, then he was more fool-hardy than originally thought. He’d been thinking about Alys all night. He couldn’t very well sit back and watch her fall into the wrong hands, even if it meant he delayed his personal mission.
He saddled up the horse and wagon to prepare for a quick departure. Like it or not—he would take Lady Alys back to Ryvilla this night.
Shouts sounded from the hall, and Niall’s pulse quickened. He brought the wagon out into the courtyard. Should he go in?
Out of the darkness came Alys, her eyes wide open with fear. She clutched her side, blood seeping through her fingers. Without further thought, Niall scooped her up and slung her in the back. He didn’t have time to ask what she wanted, nor the whereabouts of her father. When the warning bell sounded, they would need to depart with haste. He urged the animal to run faster. Things had changed. Alys would not make it to Rivalyn bleeding out. If memory served, there was an abbey located deep in the woods. The nuns were duty-bound to help anyone in need, even if they were from Rivalyn.
As the flaming arrows started falling Niall whipped the horse once more. He hated being cruel to an animal and hoped God would forgive him for it, in this circumstance.
They reached the abbey, and as the women came to their aid, Niall scoured their surroundings to ensure they’d not been followed.
“We are being chased,” he explained to the abbess. “Please, if soldiers come to your gates, do not disclose that we are here?”
She raised an eyebrow in question, “I pray the Lord gives me the words to say so I am not forced to lie in your favour.”
So did he. He followed the abbess to a small chamber toward the back of the building.
They tended to her wound and Alys’s screams pierced through to his soul. He stood at the door, as it was open ajar. Alys turned and stared. Her face streaked with blood and dirt, and her eyes were red and swollen, but there was a flicker of hope that remained in her features. He just prayed she was now safe.
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