Authors: Carol Oates
Shades of Avalon
Shades of Avalon, Copyright © 2014 by Carol Oates
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
1901 Avenue of the Stars, 2nd Floor
Los Angeles, California 90067
First Omnific eBook edition, April 2014
First Omnific trade paperback edition, April 2014
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Shades of Avalon / Carol Oates – 1st ed
1. Romance—Fiction. 2. Ireland—Fiction. 3. Camelot—Fiction. 4. New Adult—Fiction. I. Title
Cover Design by Micha Stone and Amy Brokaw
Interior Book Design by Coreen Montagna
Evie and Abby
scattered to the air like a black cloud floating across the azure sky. Their ghostly squawking echoed over the plains of the battlefield. Fighting had long past, leaving behind a heavy stench of death in the summer heat. Smoking fires set to confuse the enemy intensified the putrid air, and the cries of those still alive—but brutally maimed—blended in a grisly melody. Weary knights, fortunate to escape the worst of the carnage, buried their fallen brothers. Once they paid their respects, the arduous journey home to Camelot would begin.
Nearby, desperate tears slipped from a young woman’s amber eyes, forming rivulets in the blood and dirt caked to her cheeks. Bedraggled clumps of hair framed her face—bronze threads from the long braid hanging down her back. She leaned over once more, soaking the cloth she had ripped from her own battle tunic in the water at the edge of the lake. She used the rag to wipe sticky perspiration and blood from the man’s pallid brow.
His chain mail armor and shield lay discarded in a heap nearby, but his sword remained within reaching distance of the woman’s hand. His head rested on her lap, and she rocked her body back and forth almost indiscernibly, as if he were merely sleeping. His harsh, shallow breathing and a gruesome wound to his belly told a different story.
The young man looked as if he’d been gutted, only the haphazard bandage barely covering the angry slash keeping his intestines in place. Crimson soaked the grungy fabric and leaked in a steady flow, absorbing into the marshy grass and turning it the color of mud. A similar stained bandage wrapped around his head.
A whoosh of water sprang upward from the lake and cascaded several feet about the surface. The funnel moved toward the couple as if it was suddenly sentient. All around it, the water remained still…clear, smooth glass shimmering in the sunlight. Startled, the woman reached for the sword with lightning speed, so fast her hand blurred. The very instant her fingers made purchase, a blinding flash shot from the metal. The dull gray blade radiated a brilliant, pure light so white and luminescent the woman squinted, shielding her eyes from the brightness.
“Who goes there?” she demanded.
The cascading water sparkled and shivered over the surface. “You already know the answer you seek. You summoned us here.” The sound was tinkling bells and music, choirs, both male and female, and harps all at once.
Carefully she moved the man’s head, laying him on the ground and drawing her fingertip across his forehead below the edge of the bandage. She inhaled a long breath and placed her hand on her thigh for balance as she stood. The woman turned to the source of the beautiful sound, with the sword held tightly in her hand, its tip directed to the ground. Her head tilted forward respectfully, keeping her eyes averted from the water.
“I beg of you to save him.”
“It is his time,” the voices replied. There was no trace of malice in the resonance.
“I was tricked. The battle was a trap. Regardless, he fought bravely for his people. He is worthy of a second chance…please.” Her voice cracked, and another tear slipped from her eye.
“And the others, young warrior, would you have us save them too?”
The woman frowned and shook her head as if ashamed and unable to speak the words out loud.
“It is his time.”
“He has been touched by magic…transformed by magic. If you will not save him, you can take him in my stead.” It was a statement, but the pleading in the woman’s voice was unmistakable. Her chest heaved beneath her armor, and each word passed trembling lips. “I entreat you. I cast myself before the graciousness of your mercy. I cannot live if I know he does not.”
The water remained silent for a moment, although the shimmering intensified. The woman’s gaze continued to flicker to the man’s chest, measuring his breathing as it slowed further.
“Do you understand the consequence of what you petition for this day?”
She raised her chin and rolled her shoulders back. “I do…and I accept it gladly.”
“As you wish.”
Dribbles of water fought gravity to climb the shallow bank. As if supported by invisible hands, the man’s body lifted and hovered inches above the ground, resting on the streams. After a moment, the water began to move back toward the lake. The woman looked on the scene before her—her eyebrows pulled down and her teeth bit firmly into her lower lip. His body crept over the shimmering liquid, floating on the cushion of air between. He briefly dangled in empty space, upright and unconscious. The cascade widened, becoming a sheer wall, distorting the vista of hills and forest on the other shore. When it closed once more, the ripples of water enveloped the unconscious man like so many arms pulling him into an embrace.
As soon as he was no longer visible, the woman let out a small gasp somewhere between agony and relief. She shielded her eyes in the explosion of light that followed. The cascade crashed into the lake, showering her in droplets of crystal blue water and taking the man with it.
Left alone, the woman collapsed to the ground and wailed.
My Beautiful Bride
, blinking against the winter sun streaming in the window and casting long shadows across the bedroom. My empty stomach gurgled. The bed shifted, followed swiftly by the back of Amanda’s limp hand landing square on my face.
“Too early,” she groaned, turning over to bury her face in the pillows.
Ah, my beautiful bride—the morning person.
She’d recently had her blond hair cut shorter than ever. It suited her fine bone structure and made her brown eyes huge. It also stuck up at odd angles from the back of her head first thing in the morning.
She turned again, snuggling into my side. She wrapped her arm around my chest and threw her leg over mine to get warm. Amanda still hadn’t figured out I turned the thermostat down every night.
A week after our wedding, I knew for sure I’d never get used to waking up with this gorgeous girl. Lucky for me we had about four hundred years of these mornings ahead of us.
I pulled her even closer and wrapped her in my arms, breathing in the bouquet that attracted me to her in the first place. Ours was an unexpected relationship for a couple of reasons. Amanda being one of my older sister’s best friends was one, and the other was my ancestry.
My recently discovered family tree carried the blood of Celtic gods known as Guardians. The family history was fundamental in the legends surrounding the fall of Atlantis. Up until a short time ago, mating with humans was strictly forbidden and punishable by death on orders of the Guardian Council. Considering everything, I didn’t qualify as traditional boy-next-door material.
Since my transition, I had discovered all Guardians recognized their soul mate by scent. Amanda smelled of vanilla and sunflowers. It didn’t even matter what perfume she sprayed on her skin or what shampoo she used. Nothing would ever mask it from me.
My stomach growled again, vibrating my abdomen with the intensity of it. Amanda moaned in protest before she did a one-eighty roll away from me to the opposite side of our king-sized bed. She pulled the pillow out from below her head and squashed it over her face. Her two small hands clenched up, holding it flat over her ears. I couldn’t help chuckling.
“God, you’re worse than a newborn,” she complained, her words muffled through feathers. “It’s like you have to be fed every two hours or your body starts consuming itself.”
I scooted over behind her, doing my very best to ignore the tip of the pale, jagged scar poking over her tank top on the otherwise flawless skin of her back. It wasn’t really a scar, more of an imprint left behind by magic, a small whitish mar on her flesh. Anyone else might think it was pigmentation. I knew different. I knew every millimeter of that mark and its slightly larger twin placed low on her chest—right where her heart beat.
Zeal, the last member of the Guardian Council who was determined to destroy my sister and me and end the royal line, had driven a sword right through Amanda’s chest when she stepped in front of me. He and his followers had been fighting to keep my sister from the Stone of Destiny, which would scream out and announce the return of the rightful royal heir to Tara. Hubris prevented Zeal from seeing the flaw in his plan to retain power—that we might have been more than a match for them.