SPOILER ALERT!! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE FOLLOW-UP SERIES TO THE KINGSMEN CHRONICLES YET!!!
Hi lovely fans!
I know it’s been a while since I checked in, and it’s been a busy spring! I’m bringing to life a brand-new pen name for fantasy romance, which has been occupying most of my time to get three books out this summer.
You can check all that out below if you’re interested :)
But as ever, my heart constantly turns back to the Kingsmen Chronicles, my mind waking me up at 3am wondering “how is Elohl’s story going to go now that he’s got some space”?
Well, I’m happy to give you the start of that story today. :)
I wrote this passage right after I finished Goldenmark, thinking about how it might be if Elohl and Eleshen ever met up again. How would they feel about each other? What would they say?
Who would Eleshen be riding with, and can Elohl see her as the new, powerful person she’s become? And what would she notice about him now that he’s done being a hero?
Well, he’s not done. :)
Like a good tragic hero, Elohl will be called into the fight once more as the follow-up series takes off to fight the big, bad evil for the entire epic. And no, that wasn’t Lhaurent…
So here it is. Enjoy the first part of Elohl’s story post-Goldenmark, and I’ll check back later in the summer with more!
CHAPTER 2 – ELOHL
Silence settled around Elohl den’Alrahel, blanketed by snow. Sipping a mug of elder-bloom and cinnamon tea, he sat in his chair by the open kitchen door, watching the morning. Bright with promise, sunlight glinted off every smooth mound of snow beyond the porch. A fire burned in the hearth of the small inn, another gave heat to the cheery kitchen from the cast-iron ovens, the good smell of rosemary bread wafting through the crisp morning air. Smoke eased up from the inn’s chimneys, skirling off into a cloudless blue morning.
Company had come yesterday, a trio of Elsthemi hunters passing through to the Elsee. A bawdy bunch, they’d brought Klippas-ale and sung late into the night. But they’d departed on their sledge at dawn, pulled by six stout hounds with wired-haired coats, before the sky had settled from rose into cerulean. They were on their way to the Elsee now. Elohl had gotten the latest gossip; that King Therel Alramir and Queen Elyasin den’Ildrian Alramir had commissioned a week of winter sport at the border as further celebration of their nations’ unity.
Celebrations that had lasted – in one way or another – all winter.
Ever since Elohl had sent the Rennkavi’s Dawn through every heart on the continent.
The hunters and their sledge-mutts were the first of what Elohl expected to be a busy week for his inn. But now, the morning was calm and bright, steam curling off fresh snow as the sun lit it with diamonds. A red-crested driller fluttered to a cendarie branch above the eaves, digging in with claws and hammering the stout bark with its long beak. A chorus of peeping rose, and Elohl watched an ululi-wren flutter to her brood in a niche upon the riverstone chimney. Depositing her meal into little beaks, she fluttered off with a flash of crimson wings.
A smile touched Elohl’s lips as he sipped his tea. He rose from his porch-chair, one he’d joined together during the long months since Darkwinter, and moved in through the open kitchen door. Taking up a rag, he opened the cast-iron ovens and fetched out his morning bread with a long ashwood paddle, sliding the round loaves to the kitchen’s long trestle-table. Sprinkling the loaves with coarse salt, he moved to a stew-pot upon the stove, stirring his venison mitlass. The rest of the six-point buck he’d brought down with his yew bow yesterday was now salted and hanging in the pantry. Ready to weather the rest of the winter – or however long it would last through this week as revelers passed through.
Moving back to the porch, Elohl resumed his seat, watching the Elsee road curling with steam, the limbs of cendarie over the road bending with wet spring snow. Once, the sight of thick, draping branches like that would have made him cold inside. Back in the High Brigade, snow like that meant winter was ending and the spring thaw had come – thaws that could shift glaciers and kill men by the thousands. But only a vague darkness passed through Elohl today, watching the beauty of the white-on-white glimmer rather than a shadow of death.
His Goldenmarks lit with a slow flare at the open collar of his shirt as Elohl allowed himself to sink into the peace of the morning. His rooms were cleaned, the laundry freshened, and food was ready. He needed to chop firewood and check that spot up under the barn’s eaves that had begun to drip, but unless company came today, he’d only need to go out hunting for snowhare or grouse today.
Even the copious ale he’d imbibed last night with his rowdy guests could not break his ease today. A plop came as a cendarie-frond shed wet snow near the porch. Elohl blew on his tea, watching the steam form patterns in the air. His Goldenmarks moved with his breath and Elohl watched them where they whispered upon the backs of his hands. Sometimes he thought he could read their curling script and flowing glyphs. But then the moment was gone – ephemeral as the steam swirling up into the chill air.
Suddenly, his sensate sphere began to tingle. Far off, he could feel movement through the morning – a party approaching along the Elsee road. Elohl closed his eyes, expanding his senses upon the tide of his breath. His gift had become like a second set of eyes, expanded a hundredfold since he’d gone through the Rennkavi’s Ritual. Power breathed through Elohl now; a power he could never stop. In the crowd of a city it was madness, feeling every beating heart for leagues. The claustrophobia he’d experienced at Roushenn Palace during Darkwinter Fest had been overwhelming – the tingle and lance of the Goldenmarks among thousands of people deafening. But out here in the mountains it was a blessing, showing him where the buck browsed, where the doe bedded down for the day. Where the snowhares burrowed, and when sleek wild keshar-cats slid through the trees.
And when company approached – friendly or foul.
Elohl watched ten riders moving through the early day with his gift now, his eyes closed as he breathed quietly in the sunlight. Feeling them out as they approached, he noted each person rode upon the liquid grace of keshar-cats. War bristled about them, though the party was calm. The smooth sensation of leather armor, the sharp, deadly edge of cold steel; battle-axes, polearms, and longswords.
Elohl’s brows knit as he opened his eyes. They were Elsthemi – keshari riders, still a half-league off. Probably some of High General Merra Alramir’s riders passing through, using the Elsee road as access between their wedded nations of Alrou-Mendera and Elsthemen. He could hear them around the snowy bend now, joking with bawdy laughter and ribald songs. The keshar-cats made no sound as they padded through the fresh powder, though the Elsthemi made plenty of it.
They rounded the bend and Elohl finally saw their motley leathers and shaggy furs. Silver pins glinted at their collars, and the sight brought Elohl to his feet. Something inside him darkened, watching that silver catch the sun. Elohl’s nerves wound tight as they approached.
Until he heard the booming barrel-laugh of one of King Therel’s Highswords. A man he knew – Lhesher Khoum.
Riding at the front of the column, he saw Lhesher’s lion-mane of braided red hair and his cascading braided red beard as he roared a laugh to a slighter, tall fellow with good shoulders beside him. A fellow with a half-shaved head and curling Elsthemi dragon-tattoos on his scalp, Rhennon Uhlki, a man Elohl also knew as one of General Merra’s elite war-Captains.
A strong, beautiful alto joined their laughter. That voice curled around Elohl, jangling him, making his Goldenmarks flare under his loose shirt and laced leather breeches like the morning had caught in blue-white fire. Riding behind Lhesher upon a dappled grey keshar-cat, a slender yet curvaceous woman flicked her long sable braid back over her snowhare pelt as she laughed in charcoal battle-leathers. Her gaze found the smoke curling up from the inn’s chimneys and her laughter ceased. And then her eyes, luminous as violets in the rain, found Elohl standing on the kitchen porch. She cocked her head as an amazed smile touched her full lips, her cheekbones still high and fierce, even though her new appearance was shocking.
Talk ceased. The Elsthemi halted their cats, watching Eleshen amble hers over the snow to the porch. With an incredulous smile she halted before Elohl, gazing down from her cat’s shouldered height. Her eyes roved Elohl’s Goldenmarks, watching them flare in the morning. And then she gave a throaty laugh and vaulted to the porch with her natural feistiness and a new, uncanny grace.
“Elohl den’Alrahel! I should have known you’d be here.”
“Eleshen,” Elohl breathed, amazed.
He didn’t know what to say. All thought left him as he stared at her. Eleshen had been lovely before, but she was a dagger in the morning now, incredible. Some part of Elohl cursed himself – knowing he’d had her in his hands once and let her go. She was gone now; Ghrenna was gone, and Olea too. And though Eleshen stood before him, she was another woman now – a Kingswoman and keshari rider, wearing the silver mountain-and-stars pins of Merra’s elite forces.
Not to mention Dhepan of Quelsis, the most powerful city in the eastern reaches.
“Did you know that absolutely everyone’s been looking for you these past months, Elohl?” Eleshen laughed, pinning him with her eyes, accusatory and amused. “And here you are! Right smack under our noses, keeping my old inn like a common bartender. Or were you just pining away, waiting for me to come visit you?”
That last was said with a grin, but it held bite. Elohl didn’t think Eleshen would ever forgive him for abandoning her in Lintesh last Highsummer, even though it had been to save Queen Elyasin from assassination. Even though she’d been launched upon her journey to becoming a Kingswoman and reclaiming her birthright in Quelsis because of it.
“I wanted someplace quiet, someplace out of the way.” Elohl stated truthfully. “I’m no-one’s sword now, Eleshen. The intrigue and politics of Lintesh isn’t where I belong.”
“And the only place you could think of to call home was my old inn.” Eleshen’s gaze softened, something sad in it as she gazed upon him. “Oh, Elohl!”
And then she was flowing forward, seizing him in her arms, hugging him fiercely. His hands went around her waist. His nose was in her hair, breathing in her honey-lavender scent. Something warming filled Elohl to be in her arms again; to be welcomed back despite what an idiot he’d been chasing after destiny. They breathed together a long moment and then she pulled back, catching his face in her hands and planting a brisk kiss upon his lips.
“You! I could just throttle you!” Eleshen shook him like a wayward puppy. Elohl laughed. Something bright rushed through him, flaring his Goldenmarks. He growled, hauling her up around the waist in his hands. His strength was far more than it had been, hefting her high off the snowy porch as Eleshen gave a breathless laugh and kicked her legs, slapping his shoulders. “Put me down, Elohl, put me down! Aeon’s stars…!”
He did, though he crushed her in his arms again before letting her go. “It’s good to see you,” he breathed into her hair.
“You have been too long in the woods alone.” Eleshen huffed, slapping his shirt, though she smiled as she gazed at him. Reaching out, she stroked his short winter beard with her gloved fingers, admiration in her eyes. Something still shone there for him and it twisted Elohl’s heart, feeling her love. Even though he’d broken it, ruined it, and she’d fallen in love with another man because of him, there was something good inside Eleshen that could never be broken. It showed in that moment as she smiled at him, unabashed and kind.
A throat cleared behind her, the big, booming sound of Lhesher Khoum. “If you’re done accostin’ the lad, step back and let the rest of us have a go, woman!”
Eleshen’s violet eyes widened, and she stepped back with a flush of embarrassment. Lhesher Khoum vaulted from his cat-saddle, barreling up the snowy steps to crush Elohl in a massive embrace. “Ho, lad! Never thought ta see ye here! But glad I am!”
“Get any fuckin’ out here worth a damn?” The purring alto of Jhonen Rebaldi came next as she vaulted off her big tawny cat. Fierce with a mane of bright orange hair done back in a crest of braids, Jhonen had an eagle’s talon pierced through one ear, raven’s feathers braided through her bright mane in the renegade Highlander way. Her corseted fighting leathers featured shaggy wolf-pelt chaps, a black wolf-pelt buckled around her broad shoulders and a massive broadsword slung across her back. The tallest, strongest woman Elohl had ever seen, she moved in, fondling Elohl’s crotch with a lurid grin. “I hear yer a free man now, lowlander, released from service to Queen and country. Enjoy it while ye can. ‘Till yer trapped between my thighs.”
Elohl laughed at her sassy bravado, so very Jhonen. He seized her in an embrace, undoing the flirtation. She laughed, slapping him on the back, then grabbed his butt. He chuckled, but they both knew it was not to be as she stepped back with a wide grin.
Rhennon Uhlki had left his cat now and vaulted to the porch. He gripped arms with Elohl, his red-brown eyes pleased beneath his half-tattooed head, a ready smile on his lips. “Elohl. Good ta see you.”
“Rhennon,” Elohl murmured with a smile. “May Highland nights keep you warm.”
“Depends on how well a swordsman keeps an inn,” Rhennon chuckled, glancing up at the riverstone building with its stout cendarie timbers. “Not too bad, from the smell of it.”
“Breakfast?” Elohl asked, glancing around the group.
“I smell mitlass and rosemary bread,” Eleshen gave a teasing pout. “Stealing my recipes, are we?”
“Improving them.” Elohl gave a smile, gesturing inside. “I’ve beds enough for eight, if you’d like to stay a night or two. The rest can sleep with the cats in the barn.”
“Eight beds will do for all of us. You forget that Elsthemi bunk up when it’s cold.” Eleshen shouldered past Elohl into the cheery kitchen as she flashed a teasing smile back over her shoulder. Moving to the stove, she fetched polished wooden trenchers from the shelves as if she’d never left. Elohl had kept her intuitive system, and Eleshen moved around her old kitchen with ease.
“Aye, lads!” Lhesher gave a whistle back toward the rest of the group. “Lead the cats around ta the barn, then come in fer some breakfast!”
The keshari riders whistled their approval, then began stalking the cats off the road. Elohl turned, inviting the commanders into the kitchen with a beckon. The Elsthemi stomped their snowy boots off at the threshold and tromped inside, casting off furs as they flopped to a seat at the long trestle-table. Flasks came out and were passed around with eager sighs.
Throwing up her boots on the table and drawing on a silver flask, Jhonen extended it to Elohl. “Whiskey?”
“What kind?” Elohl reached for the flask as Lhesher kicked Jhonen’s boots off the table.
She glowered at Lhesher, a hot, sexy look, before answering Elohl. “Me own kind; piss an’ vinegar an’ not much else. I think ye might like it, lowlander.”
“I just might.” Elohl took a swig and the liquor burned down his throat in a searing wave, seven times stronger than the concoctions he brewed. He coughed, his eyes watering as he handed it back. “It’s good.”
“It’s just awful!” Eleshen quipped as she moved in with full trenchers of stew and butter from the crock, setting everything down. “How you drink that swill, Jhonen Rebaldi, I’ll never know! Now I have a distillery out back and some herbs—”
“I have a distillery out back and some herbs,” Elohl smiled.
“You never purchased this place,” Eleshen shot back with a teasing pout.
“You didn’t either.”
“I fixed it up. It was falling apart when I came here.” She spat back. “In any case, if you’ve put those long, lean muscles to use Elohl, and the few brains in your head, I hope you’ve made something nice from my carefully-kept liquor-works?”
“Indeed.” Elohl rose with a smile, fetching the glass decanter containing his best elder-bloom liquor off the top shelf. When Elohl had come here after Darkwinter, he’d discovered Eleshen’s brew-house behind the barn, full of buckets of honey chilled among piled sacks of wheat. Elohl had cleaned her fermentation barrels and distillery, and his first batch of elder-bloom honey liquor had been a drunken hit with guests. Though the Elsthemi would probably drink him out of hearth and home tonight. Taking down five crystal glasses, he filled them with honey-golden beverage. Passing them around, he lifted his glass. “To old friends.”
“And new memories.” Eleshen spoke. Elohl caught her glance, feeling everything that had passed between them this last tumultuous year. His Goldenmarks flared in a slow wave of rippling blue-white fire. Elohl felt their burn, smooth like the liquor about to go down his throat. His gaze connected to Eleshen’s and he saw her return it, fierce and sad. He could see her bad memories in that gaze; bad memories that would never die. Torture and transformation; love and loss. Elohl could feel her heart in that moment, blazing like a star in the darkness – a light that would never quit, no matter how bad things got.
“And new memories,” Elohl murmured quietly.
A rousing cheer went up from the group as all clinked glasses. The Elsthemi drank, draining their glasses and slamming them to the table with roars.
Copyright 2019 Jean Lowe Carlson LLC. All Rights Reserved. No part of this content may be reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.