Home > Songs of Autumn (Songs #1)

Songs of Autumn (Songs #1)
Author: Lauren Sevier

 


Chapter One

 

 

Knowledge, specifically grim knowledge, had the unnerving ability to plunge one’s life into chaos while simultaneously giving it purpose. Liz’s purpose had been, and continued to be, attempting to decipher the thousand-year-old prophecy depicting her fate that had been written in the form of a poetic riddle.

Her entire life, Liz had been raised for the singular function of being sacrificed in the false hope that her blood would save all the people of Aegis. She sighed deeply, sending motes of dust dancing through the shelves. She’d found yet another of a sundry dead ends. Rolling the ancient scroll carefully, Liz flinched as the stiffened papyrus crackled beneath her fingers. It had taken three weeks to decipher it, using a combination of ancient languages that had taken years to learn.

“Well?” The impatient tone startled Liz, nearly sending her crashing to the floor from her precarious perch among the faded tomes and cracked scrolls of the royal library. She clutched her chest in an attempt to contain her furiously beating heart. Liz glared over her shoulder at the grinning face of her best friend Tia.

“Well what?” she asked impertinently, the sting of her failure too fresh to admit to straight away.

“Did you find the secrets of the universe? Or the cure for my aching head the morning after a particularly wild revel?” Tia quirked one aristocratic eyebrow in her friend’s direction. Holding out a flat palm to help Liz as she scrambled down the ladder and back onto more solid footing. Liz smiled despite her sour mood. Tia had a way of coaxing a grin out of her no matter the circumstance.

“The cure to your aching head is to stop drinking so much of the palace wine,” Liz snapped playfully.

“Well, that’s no fun at all.” Tia looped her arm through Liz’s and led her away from her usual dark corner. It was a sad little table with books piled high and quills strewn broken upon its surface. “Neither is all of this study.”

Tia’s nostrils flared and her upper lip curled in disdain that amused Liz to no end. The two girls couldn’t be more different if they tried. Yet, it was a singularly grim sorrow that hung over them both; a heavy storm-like cloud colored their mutual existence in darker shades than the rest of the people of Silver City and bound them inextricably to one another.

Tia pulled her down the bright corridor, endless views of the bay sparkling bright along a wall of curved windows. The storm shutters were open wide to allow the last lingering summer breezes to filter in and ruffle long silken drapes.

The air was sweet with the smell of salt and fresh water lilies, it brought tears to Liz’s eyes. Tears she tried to blink away, but Tia saw them despite her efforts. Liz couldn’t help but feel the full weight of her helplessness squeezing her chest in a vice-like grip. If she was wrong and the prophecy hadn’t been misinterpreted then her death was the only thing that would save every beautiful thing she loved. She didn’t want to die, but she didn’t want her kingdom destroyed either.

Cradling Liz’s face in her hands, Tia leaned so close that their foreheads touched and breathed slowly and deliberately. Liz mirrored her, her lips trembling with the effort until it came naturally enough to dry her eyes.

“It was just another story about the gods.” Liz admitted, feeling the flush of failure rise in her cheeks. “Another bloody story about the bloody gods who don’t give a damn about any of us.” Tia shushed her, a wrinkle between her brows folding deep in the rich ochre of her sun-kissed face. “It was my last chance to prove the prophecy wasn’t translated properly, and I got it wrong.” Tia had been spending far too much time along the white coast, and Liz could see the blistering of her cheekbones more clearly now than in the dim light of the library.

These were the things she chose to focus on, the rare severity of Tia’s honeyed gaze turning to hardened amber. The way her willowy frame bent beneath the weight of Liz’s words. Tia kissed her temple briefly, a soft brush of warm lips against her skin that served to ground her to this moment. Tia clasped her hands tight and didn’t let go until Liz was more settled.

“You are the smartest person I know, highness. You will figure out another way. I have faith in you.” Tia said, clearing her throat unattractively to rid herself of the unwanted sentiment that crept into her normally playful voice.

“There isn’t enough time, Tia,” Liz said, sniffling despite herself. With a shaking hand, Liz motioned to the windows behind her, where they both turned to see the billowing black sails of a three-hundred-ton frigate emblazoned with the sigil of a red dragon. The long, sleek lines of the ship belied her speed in the water. Maneuvering easily into the mouth of the bay, the ominous ship appeared to have the spirit of a sea monster, slick and deadly, cutting through the water more easily than the creatures who lived there. The arrival of the ship brought with it the promise of Liz’s new husband, and the arbiter of her death.

At twenty winters, Lord Rikard LaMonte, known widely by his moniker ‘The Dragon’ was the only red-blooded man in the last thousand years to wield magick. Therefore, the Priestesses claimed he was the only person able to complete the ritual. All she knew of him were the dark rumors of his exploits across the seas in the lands to the west. Tales of his ruthlessness and cruelty carried back by crewmen with haunted eyes. Though there had been many blood moons before this one, Liz hadn’t been of marriageable age until now. She could no longer hide behind her youth. He had arrived to kill her and, in the process, would gain the throne of Aegis as his prize.

“Princess!” Tia visibly cringed at the grating tone of Priestess Elba as she caught the girls staring wistfully at the slow progress of the frigate. “You must hasten to your evening prayers. The Queen will want you to retire early tonight.”

Tia groaned loudly enough to earn a scathing glare from Priestess Elba, whose round sanctimonious face seemed even rounder in her cowl. When they were young girls, Tia used to say she looked like a pig in a dressing gown. Liz tried to put the comparison from her mind, but had to bite her inner cheek to keep from smiling at the memory. Sensing some hidden mirth and ready to stamp it out, Priestess Elba shooed the girls hurriedly down the corridor towards the water altar in the women’s bathhouse.

The late afternoon sun blazed through the stained glass above the altar and flooded the marbled bathhouse in a myriad of colors, ranging from the deepest cerulean to a blush pink so faint it was nearly white. Courtiers, Priestesses, and Noblewomen gathered here to offer prayer and thanks to Seirah, the goddess of the moon and tides. As soon as Liz stepped over the threshold, the whispers began. With hair a garish shade of fresh blood, she could never enter or leave a room without garnering attention.

“Did you see him coming off the ship?”

“Only a few more days until—”

“... an awful color. Almost a scandalous shade of red.”

“Good riddance, I say. This past winter lasted so long even the families that live on the East Bank nearly starved on her account.”

Two days. They couldn’t even wait two days for her to die? It was nothing Liz hadn’t heard before, but compounded with her recent failure and the arrival of her husband and murderer, the unkind whisperings stung more today. Tia was furious, the set of her jaw too tight to hold her angry words back for long. Liz patted her elbow gently, a soft signal to let it go.

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