The White Forest (Mages and Kingdoms Book 2)

BOOK: The White Forest (Mages and Kingdoms Book 2)
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The White Forest

Copyright © 2015 by U. Mandy Carrico

 

BKC Publishing

First Edition

 

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the above author of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Prologue

 

Trinity

 

The forest was the
way she liked it. Rich green, soft breeze, blanketed in heat even in this still hour by the moonlight. It didn't always suit her this well. There was only so much mages could control. They were not the blessed Angels above and heaven forbid they sought to be lest they were struck down by bolts for such bold ambitions.

However, her gatekeepers had some influence and many nights were like this. Just as she liked it. Tonight, however, she almost wished for torrents of rain or the sludge of a dying winter to match her mood. Cramps wracked her body as if nature responded to her thoughts and she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to purge out the pain with gritted grunts. Henna clutched her hand.

"Breathe through it, Your Majesty," she coached. The queen's wide dress billowed in the wind. Her birthing bed was makeshift blankets on the forest floor. The onset was quick and this was what could be managed in order to proceed in secret as she had with her entire pregnancy.

Another cramp. Another squeeze. Trinity tried to breathe. Her heart prevented it. It beat so wildly it took command of her body and her lungs had trouble drawing air. She was scared. Not as other women were in childbirth. Of the blood loss. Of complications for the infant.

No. She was scared of the infant. Many times as her pregnancy progressed, she caught Henna frowning slightly when she didn't know eyes were upon her. Trinity felt uneasy. She was glad of her wide gowns cinched below her bust. What all in the White Court took to mean a new fashion they eagerly adopted, Trinity reveled in its camouflaging properties.

She was pushing. Her knees widened and her body clenched on itself involuntarily. Nature took over and she was pushing out the child. Henna caught it in a blanket and made it cry. Her squeeze on the child was unnerving.

"Tell me," Trinity commanded between exhausted breaths.

Henna hesitated. Trinity always had two readers. She glanced at the other. Gershan was a trusted mage, short, brusque, and without the instinctive maternal tendencies. Dwelling in comfort, given power over several lands, and one of her lovers, she had his loyalties secured in many ways.

"It's a boy," Gershan reported. He stood by a tall oak, away from the women. He need not touch the infant, so strong was his reading ability. He paused as he sussed it out. "His main power is gatekeeping."

Henna nodded in agreement. "Always needed, Your Majesty." Her eyes were pleading. "You have but three gatekeepers left."

Gershan wasn't finished. "His secondary power is not readable."

Trinity closed her eyes. Not again. A second child with the same outcome.

"It could develop later, or perhaps he will just have the one power." Henna's tone became desperate. She was no fool. A queen hiding her pregnancy and giving birth in the trees. There was but one reason for it.

"Let me see my child," Trinity demanded. Henna was slow to turn over the infant but Gershan had his sword by the hilt and a guard further out besides. No one defied the White Queen.

Trinity stroked the child's head. It was full of brown curls. He had ceased his crying and his mouth kept opening and closing softly like he was tasting this new air. Tears pooled in the queen's eyes.

"Henna, I need herbs for my recovery. You will return to the palace and retrieve them."

"Let me take him with me while I do," Henna said. "You lay here. Rest. And I'll be back shortly."

The queen stared at her coldly and Henna stared back in fear. The sound of Gershan drawing his sword, that scrape of steel, finally had her rise to her feet and back away defeated. She turned and headed towards the castle with heavy feet.

"You will follow her," Trinity instructed Gershan. "See to it she collects the herbs then spends the night in her room. She needs time to rest. I've pushed her too hard. Have the guard close in, but he is not to approach until I call upon him."

When at last mother and child were alone, Trinity summoned a deep breath. Her mind flicked to her daughter, Elmeda. Only four years old and already her resistance was strong. She was a court favorite, the darling princess with her dimpled cheeks and rosy smiles. One power. The other mysteriously absent.

Trinity looked down. The baby's mouth continued to open and close, his tongue pushing clumsily on his lips. She looked back up. Then used her hand to stop his tasting. She did not look back down. She couldn't, not even when he had stilled what little movement he'd produced. Her tears fell in large drops from her watered eyes. What she cried for she could not be sure. Perhaps three hundred years had finally weathered away her morality. Perhaps she was sad because she needed three hundred more and this infant would have interfered.

Perhaps she cried because she knew she wouldn't for this loss and that realization was enough to induce the tears that should have been for him.

"He is now yours, great Angels," she prayed. Then she laid him down in a bed of leaves and called for the guard.

Chapter 1

 

Amelie

 

The screams assaulted Amelie’s
ears and she winced as though she were the one in pain. The woman’s hand clutched hers so tightly it began to rival the hurt Amelie’s eardrums were experiencing.

“More hot water, Amelie,” Henna instructed, not looking at her. Her focus remained on the end of the bed where Amelie most certainly wanted to steer clear of.  She gave her hand a small tug but the iron grip of the woman’s fingers did not relent.

“I’m a bit caught at the moment,” Amelie tried to explain but her words were drowned out by another agonizing wail.

“Serena, water,” Henna barked. Apparently Henna’s hearing was accustomed to all the noise and she heard Amelie perfectly well. Serena, the other woman in the room, not the screamer sprawled out on the straw mattress, abruptly left out of the small doorframe in search of Henna’s request.

Henna spared Amelie a glance from her work. “You’re doing fine,” she assured her in a soothing voice. “Just keep holding her hand and keep the cool rag on her forehead.” To the screaming woman she said, “You’re doing fine as well, Therese. Deep breaths and bear down when the urge hits you.”

Therese. Yes. Amelie had forgotten her name. When she walked into the tiny cottage, the woman was large-bellied and wailing and though they’d been introduced, the name had been immediately been lost from her memory in all the melee. Knowing it now helped calm her nerves and she gave Therese’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

Serena returned quickly with the water. “My brother is not doing well,” she murmured as she settled herself beside Henna at the end of the bed.

Amelie tensed. “Are we close?” she asked trying to keep the impatience from her voice.

“Nearly there,” Henna replied.

“Can he not leave just this once? It’s been months and there’s no trace of the White Guard.”

“No.” Henna’s voice was sharp. “Nearly there, dear, nearly there.” Those last words weren’t for Amelie, but for Therese whose face contorted in fear at Amelie’s suggestion.

A last groaning push and then an infant’s short squalls filled the air. The women in the room gave a collective sigh and Therese fell back on the mattress, spent from all the exertion.

Amelie released the block on her mind and doubled over in pain.

“Damn the heavens!” she cried in surprise, clutching her gut. Henna waved at her.

“No, no, not yet! I’ve got to get it all.”

With painful effort, Amelie attempted to block the sensation of fire in her womb. "What do you mean? The baby...is...here," she gasped as she tried. It wasn't working. She wasn't too skilled in blocking pain in the first place much less trying to do it under this type of assault.

"The after birth. You cannot heal her until everything is out."

It was several minutes before Henna gave the all clear and Amelie placed a shaky hand on Therese's middle. Therese handed Serena the baby and nodded at Amelie gravely. Amelie pushed down. There was no more screaming left but each woman narrowed their eyes at the discomfort and Amelie bit down against the pain. Her magic merged with the tissue. Amelie could feel the pulse of healing beneath her, as if there were a living thing pushing a rhythm on her hand. The blue tonic she ingested hours before electrified her skin as she used her magic. The result was an interesting mixture of stinging pain and fluttering pleasure. 

"All of it, Amelie," Henna coached. "Take all of it. They must not detect she was with child."

At last Amelie finished and sunk to the warm floorboard, drained. Henna gave her shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "You were remarkable," she praised, her eyes sincere. Amelie smiled wearily up at her. Henna passed her the amber necklace. "Time to put this back on and put Simon out of his misery."

By the time they left, with instructions for Therese to nurse for six months and then bring the baby to the White Forest edge, everyone was sapped of energy and climbing gingerly onto their horses. Simon glanced at Amelie sheepishly. A double dose of Henna's herbal tea and the necklace's blocking power had his eyes cleared of any desire.

"I had thought myself stronger than that," he offered in way of apology.

Amelie waved it off. "You were fine, my friend," she assured him. "To your credit, the barrier never slipped.”

He smiled at her words and then they were off, riding back to the edge of the White Forest.

 

*                            *                            *

 

The trip back to Henna’s cabin was short, the better part of a day. Amelie helped stable the horses then found her way to the back of the cabin where wooden steps married the back entrance to the lush green of the forest floor. She stooped to the side of them and ran a hand over the smooth surface nicked with notches from her knife. Red fungus spuds dotted the space above her marks. She took her finger and swiped them off, leaving a streak of red where they had been and where they would sprout again.

“Find a wooden spot for yourself and mark your days,” Henna had told her early on. “The White Forest days run slightly shorter than you’re used to in the human realm.”

“Then how will I know when to mark?” Amelie started to ask, but Henna was already shoving a jar full of red paste under her nose.

“Red fungus,” Henna explained. “Find your patch of wood. Swipe some there. It’s a hardy variety. It will grow pebble-sized buds every twenty-four hours. Just wipe them away, make your mark, and find them again the next day. You’ll eventually find you’re marking towards midnight, then dusk, then afternoon, and so on until you’ve lost one of your human days.”

Amelie took the jar and capped it. She hesitated before saying, “This may very well be unnecessary as I may not go back.”

Henna’s return look seemed to anticipate that response. “Is Seth alive?” she asked. “When you left, was he well?”

Amelie’s ears burned. “As far as I know,” she responded.

Henna nodded. “Then you’ll go back. Just a small amount of fungus will do. Don’t want it to rot away the wood.”

The thing Amelie learned quickly about Henna was that she was right. Always. Even in the early days of their acquaintance when the woman nursed her back to health at the Draeden palace, before Amelie knew the scope of who she truly was, Henna could assess how she was feeling and gently offer words or actions that soothed. Even in her despair, Henna fought to see clearly.

Amelie remembered her first night in the White Forest, near starving and exhausted. She tried to convey the news of Rankor's death and felt sorrow for this woman, though none for the son she lost. Henna had quietly shushed her.

"Do not spend your energy worrying on my account," she'd said softly. "My son did this to you and I will work to undo what I can. To aid me, you must clear any burden you hold for me and rest. Your message is delivered. Let it go."

Amelie released herself from the memory and looked upon her handiwork. She fingered the notches she’d made. One year next week.

She could hear commotion inside. The cabin was more than a dwelling place for Henna and her friends. Children were kept here, mage children with special powers like the one they delivered today.

The sounds of dinner inside picked up, several hungry children chattering, elbowing for the best spot, and smacking their lips on their fingers as they used tongues instead of napkins to clean sticky messes off their hands. Amelie rose and went up the steps to join them. Like from the days spent in the convent, if you missed mealtime you didn’t eat. She took a moment to close her eyes and let the memory of the convent, of Candor, and of Seth wash over her before heading through the doorway.

Simon greeted her with a plate of boiled potatoes and ham. "I saved your dinner from a hungry Bolter," he said only half joking. Amelie glanced at the table where eight year old Crispin sat, tiny bolts of energy shooting from his fingertips. The young mage had the secondary power of shooting lightening from his hands and though it emerged incredibly early, it was weak and no harm of yet to anyone. "He nearly overcooked it in his eagerness to get to it."

Amelie glanced at the shy child. Of all the children, he was the quietest and rarely spoke. Simon told her early on that he witnessed the death of his family.  His parents had tried to stop the Royal Readers from taking him and had been slain violently but quietly under the hush of a magic silence wall. Crispin's first power was that of a memory keeper, mages who do not forget anything they bear witness to. Even as an infant.

He was Henna's first save. One of three readers sent to Crispin's birth, she tasked herself with killing the child and instead smuggled him into the human realm.

"Thank you," Amelie said to Simon. When Simon turned to make his own plate, Amelie pushed some potatoes quietly onto Crispin’s.

She grabbed a fork and settled down beside Simon with her dinner. Her thoughts from a few moments earlier by the cabin steps were still with her. “It’s been a year,” she spoke aloud.

Simon turned his head towards her to read her expression on that statement. Amelie knew a faraway sadness was in her eyes.

“Do you think you’ll ever go back?” he asked.

Amelie nodded. “Yes. When it doesn’t hurt.”

BOOK: The White Forest (Mages and Kingdoms Book 2)
4.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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