NEVENA OF ETHORE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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Published by Dungeon Media Corp.
Copyright © 2016 Dungeon Media
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Part 1 4
ABOUT THE AUTHOR 27
My name is Nevena of Ethore. It is my lot to be a servant girl and to never have known of my people or my ancestry. I serve the House of Gaelbreth, comprised of Lord Jacob, Lady Katrina, and their daughters Thea and Delirah; a noble and kind family. I live and work in the halls of Moerdra Castle, which has housed the great family of Gaelbreth through many ages of peace, fire, darkness, and love.
I know nothing more of my past than that I was found in the valley of Ethore during the War of Four Heavens by Lord Jacob’s oldest daughter, Delirah. She was but a girl herself, had seen no more than nine winters, yet had stowed herself among the artillery of her father and his vassals. It is a wonder she lived, but that is who she has always been: the very spirit of adventure. Even now she is my truest friend and though propriety demands we be separated according to class and circumstance, it has never separated us. I have never known from who or why I came, I have never known the embrace of father or mother, but I have never lived a day without family. These halls have seen me pass 25 winters; me and my family, the other servants.
Tonight Moerdra Castle is alive with the soft, rushing cacophony of our preparations. Grandestraer will tread these halls tonight. I cannot speak for the others, but since the day I heard his great title announced in the Open Chamber I have felt . . . something. I think, perhaps, it is Grandestraer himself; I think his power is so great that any place where his feet are destined to tread is marked with his magic. Even from afar. I have always had feelings of a sort. More likely than not these feelings are preceded or followed by some small accident: a bowl tipping over, a chill passing through the room, an instrument playing a single note by its own will. Delirah has some magical ability, limited but beautiful, and these feelings come whenever I know she comes to see me. I have no ability of my own, but I can sense those who have magic. And I feel Grandestraer now.
I have come to the Open Chamber, the great receiving room of the House of Gaelbreth. I must help with the final preparations. One hundred feet above us the servant boys are draping the massive banners of House Gaelbreth: the Eight-Throated Lion in white, with a glorious golden mane against a black background. The floors and walls have been cleaned to a state more shimmering than ever before. The oak tables have been set and wait now to be laden with food. Grandestraer’s banner is hung in honor over the entrance: the Black Sun against a white flag. Hundreds of servants rush to and fro carrying paint, tar, chairs, and settings. I find Delirah near the Lord’s Place, using her magic to help light candles.
“Have you need of me, my lady?” I ask.
“Not just now, sweet girl. Though I suppose the drapes will be in need later.”
She says this with a smile that none but I could read. She has spoken our code, our hint that we want to meet. “The drapes are in need.” Propriety separates us publicly and we are not able to meet every day, but we manage. I nod to her.
“Yes, my lady.”
I give a small bow and turn. Ciraa needs help with the covers of the dais. I sneak up and frighten her.
“Almighty, shield me!” she exclaims. “You are not a child, you know,” she says, laughing.
“We’ve a great sorcerer joining us tonight. Old tales would have us believe people of such power can prolong their lives for centuries. So when he arrives a girl of a mere 25 winters will certainly seem but a child.”
“Aye, I dare say you shall. Give me a hand, love.”
We lift each of the broad lengths of fabric and secure them as we’ve been taught. Ciraa and I spend as much times working as talking. She is my next closest friend after Delirah. When we’ve done, we
move on to burnishing the statues and then to mopping the dais. I have heard rumors of the dissatisfaction some encounter when working in the house of a lord. So many have claimed to be disillusioned by their servitude, yet I have never regretted serving the House of Gaelbreth. Perhaps it is because it is all I’ve ever known. It would be false to say I’ve never dreamed of another life, but it was not because this one is insufficient. I am a servant girl. I am happy.
“I do believe I overheard something about drapes needing attention,” Ciraa teases.
“A servant girl must serve, yes?”
“Aye, she must. It’s just that those drapes do seem to need such recurrent cleanings and dustings and beatings and such. One begins to wonder why the lady won’t simply dispose of them.”
“Perhaps they hold the value of sentiment.”
“Perhaps a servant girl needs lessons in cleaning drapes. I believe mine stay clean for months at a time, though I’ve no interest in boasting.”
Ciraa is and has always been a perpetual teaser. She is the only one outside of Delirah and myself who knows of the code. By now the Open Chamber is finished and ready. The servants begin to leave, Ciraa and me with them. Some of the younger girls ask to touch my hair and I oblige; the young ones always love my hair. They never tire of the color.
Ciraa and I enter the servant girls’ quarters and rest for just a moment before we begin to dress for the night. Ciraa, like all the other people of this House and land, is darker than I. I have heard foreigners call that skin “tanned.” I, however, am fair-skinned, like the Thriscles far east beyond the Doomed Mountains. Every man, woman, and child in this land is born with either golden or black hair. Ciraa’s is black. The Gaelbreth line is golden. Mine is as white as ice. I once thought this was the color of my people, but I am told they were a red-headed race. Fortunately, despite my differences, this place and its people have never shunned me, never made me feel unwelcome. And my hair seems fitting enough: I have ever loved the snow.
“Almighty, you’re gorgeous,” Sister says to me. She has seen more than fifty winters and is a mother to all us servants, girls and boys alike.
“Aye, that she is,” says Ciraa. “And does she use it? Does she care the first about the legions of men she could bring to their knees? No! Beautiful, kind, and wise. I could murder you daily, I could. If the Almighty blessed me with that I’d have to be beheaded for corrupting all the young men of the land.”
“Corrupt the High King and there’ll be no need for beheading,” Sister says.
“Oh, never you worry, he’ll be first. It’s all the women whose men I stole that I worry about.”
“I thank you both for your compliments, but turn your attention to my clothes, lest you forget I am a servant girl.”
“That’s nothing to you,” Sister says, standing and coming to take my hands. “Under the High King’s new edict a worthy and faithful servant may be freed once they’ve gained thirty winters. I’ve no doubt Lord Jacob will reward your good service. And you’ll be a force, you will.”
This is my family and this is why I have never wanted more than them. Freedom, whatever it is, is certain to be a wonderful life, but how could I leave these halls? What would I do in the world? What would I become? We all put on our sleek, shimmering dresses and pull our hair back in the way of servants. I watch myself in the looking glass for quite some time: it is my first real dress. It was Lady Katrina’s wish that we look more than presentable. She is a rather austere woman, but she has only ever defended the integrity of the women at her charge. She has always sought to help us see our own value. We have all just finished dressing when a knock comes at the door. Sister goes to open it. It is Lady Thea, the lord’s youngest daughter.
“My lady,” Sister says, curtseying, “How may we be of service?”
“Mother wishes me to bring a message to Nevena,” she says, her young voice ringing like a beautiful army of silver bells. She is too young to even attend the ceremony tonight, but she is the most rapturously beautiful girl in the Land of Dao, and rumors hold her as the most exquisite in all the Hundred Kingdoms.
“Nevena, the lady has a word for you,” Sister says as she steps aside for me to pass.
“What need has your mother of me, my lady?” I ask.
“She asks that you devote yourself to Grandestraer tonight, as his red shadow.”
“It will be an honor. I thank your mother and you as well, my lady.”
Lady Thea leaves and the girls gather to me, congratulating me and wishing me luck. To serve a high-born person as their red shadow is an honor beyond words for a servant. One must follow the assigned person and attend to all their needs. You never leave their side so long as the night lasts. Red shadows have been known to attend the most secret meetings and experience the rarest pleasures while serving their chosen. At the end of the night – or day, as circumstance would have it – the red shadow is rewarded with gold and a blank red parchment; the parchment is used to obtain a vermillion vest, allowing the servant to buy food and clothes free of charge for a period of ten years. The position takes its name from the color of the parchment and from the fact that some red shadows have been obliged to die while protecting their chosen from attack, though this is rare. Traditionally, only the most diligent, wise and faithful servants of a House are chosen. The position can also be dangerous, as a poor performance could seal the servant’s fate. I worry not; I am ecstatic.
“And now you’re a red shadow, too. The Almighty breathes on you,” Ciraa says.
We all leave the room and mix with the servant boys on the way to the Grey Pasture, where one can get the first glimpse of arriving visitors and where Grandestraer will be first welcomed. I say goodbye to Ciraa and Sister, make my way to the Lord’s Chamber. The red shadow must officially receive the charge from the master of the House and must take the Red Oath.
As I make my way down the hall, I realize that I am completely alone. This provides an opportunity. I begin to wind through the maze of Moerdra Castle, going to the place I sometimes visit. I can only go there alone; I’ve not even told Ciraa and Delirah. It is my most thrilling pleasure and my greatest shame. Yet I can’t help going there. I can’t help watching.
Often there’s no one there and on those occasions I simply stand nearby and reflect on what it must be like to be a part of that. Yet this day I am in luck, for I can hear them on my approach. It will never be said that Moerdra Castle is inferior; not only is this the most sumptuous castle in the land, it is also the largest. I don’t think even Lord Jacob has walked every hall. And, of course, the lord of House would never walk among the servants’ halls unless there were some great disaster. Thus in the eighth west hall the servants have found a place to. . . indulge. We call it The Chasm, a large room where the servants have, over the years, deposited the lord’s old furniture. There is quite the collection there now and the servants take their pick when in need. The servants are all good people, though not without their needs. Being a virgin, I have not the experience of the sensation. Hence my visits to watch others. I have little time, but I will risk it.
I enter the room next door and find the fissure in the wall. I bring my stool up to it and sit down to watch, feeling ashamed but also exhilarated. I can see Chelle there, on her back, and though I’ve seen her here before, never have I seen or heard her this pleased. Her breasts, round and olive and ample, are
rising and falling with each quick, deep thrust. Chelle is moaning like some wild thing and gripping a man’s back side to pull him down every time he rises.
“Yes! Yes, Bron! I want more, I need more! Oh!”
So it’s Bronden. I could not see his face – only the back of him, some of his left side, and a slight glimpse of what stood between his legs every time he pulled back. I can feel my own body responding to the sight of them. I turn to leave before they catch sight of me, willing the flushing in my cheeks to subside.
When I arrive at the Lord’s Chamber, the door is open and Lord Jacob welcomes me.
“You are lovely,” he says. “A fitting appearance for a shadow to such a prestigious guest.”
“It is an honor I should never have expected, my lord. I cannot tell of my gratefulness.”
“You have earned it,” says Lady Katrina, busy at the looking glass. “You have been trustworthy from the moment you took to your legs.”
I curtsey in response. The great honor has sealed my lips.
“You may take the oath,” says Lord Jacob.
“I, Nevena of Ethore, having received the great honor of becoming a red shadow, vow that ‘til this night be done I will attend on my chosen as I would a child from my own blood. If by any or all the breaths of my body I may be of service, I swear to be such and to take joy in my service. I am the red shadow of the great sorcerer Grandestraer.”
“I hold your oath sworn,” says the lord. “Though I must inform you that I met this great sorcerer once before. I tell you now as he told me then: he prefers Eduard.”
I am in the halls now, following my lord and lady to the Grey Pasture to receive our guest, my chosen. Only now has the gravity and grandeur of my new post dawned on me. I realize now that I am to serve the greatest sorcerer of our time, and for an entire night. He will be watching me, expecting of me, and should I fail him in even the smallest way not only will it bring shame to the House of Gaelbreth, it will lower me in the eyes of the land forever. I may even be sent to serve in the halls of some lesser personage. I begin praying to the Almighty, if only for the strength to cease trembling. We are at the Grey Pasture now and Grandestraer’s party rides hard for the gate; one would think they ride to war. They slow as they approach and the party stops in front of us. Grandestraer is announced and his driver dismounts to open the door. Out steps the most beautiful man I have ever seen.
Grandestraer, Eduard, is first and foremost a young man. The rumors led me to believe he was a man of many years, perhaps hundreds, but the sorcerer before me is no shriveled hermit. He’s tall, well-formed, pale-haired, and commands a presence I’ve never known. Yet it is his eyes that have silenced the entire welcoming party. His eyes are changing colors. Every few moments they change; colors that are vibrant, intoxicating, but always soft, as if they wished not to inundate the world with all their beauty. Some large space of time passes, and then Eduard speaks.
“I assure you all, my mere looking at you will neither harm nor change you.”
A nervous laugh runs through everyone and we’re all alive again.
“Welcome to Moerdra Castle, Eduard, sagest and most potent of the sorcerers of the Hundred Kingdoms. Allow me to present to you my family. My wife, the Lady Katrina. My Eldest, Delirah, who will be among the royal sorceresses under your mighty tutelage.”
Delirah curtseys, graceful as the wind rushing the trees, and though her sister is the famed beauty, the eldest daughter of the House of Gaelbreth is no forgettable fare. Eduard kisses her hand.
“And this is my youngest, Thea. I mean not to boast, but perhaps you’ve heard of her beauty in your travels?”
“Assuredly,” Eduard says, his brilliant eyes wider as he looks at her. “And though rumors are so often false, mere tricks of liars to serve some dastardly purpose, this is undoubtedly a terrific beauty. As are yourselves, my ladies,” he says addressing Delirah and Lady Katrina.
“This is an honor, Grandestraer,” says Thea.
“And it is all mine, young one. Please, call me Eduard.”
“Poor Thea is a trifle upset with me, I fear,” says Lord Jacob. “I’ve told her not to come to tonight’s ceremony.”
“Ah, something easy enough to remedy. I shall be passing through the Land of Dao again two years hence. You may be certain I will call on your house again, little one, for the express pleasure of teaching you if you’ve shown magical abilities or simply talking with you if you haven’t. Is this acceptable to you?”
Thea smiles, nods vigorously, and curtseys again, almost tipping. Of something else I am now sure: Eduard is not merely powerful, but kind, and I’ve no idea which is the more admirable ability. Lord Jacob brings him to me.
“And this is one of our most trusted young servant girls, Nevena, from the land of Ethore. She has been selected as your red shadow and I trust her with you as I would my own daughters.”
“It is an honor beyond expression, my lord,” I say as I curtsey.
“My dear, I have not been a lord since I renounced my claims to my House and embraced the way of magic, though I thank you for that. I’ve never seen such enchanting hair and never any but red in my journeys through Ethore. And may the Almighty turn from me if I’ve ever seen skin so fair this side of the mountains.
“These compliments are too great, sir.”
“They are not great enough.”
His shifting eyes are looking into mine and it is as a great rift has sundered the sky and shown me a world of truth and color and mystery. And without warning one of those feelings washes over me and this time it is stronger than ever before. Suddenly the horses become nervous and begin to stomp and rear. Loose stones begin to roll on the ground away from us. The wind blows straight up in the sky, as if it were sucking at the earth. The welcoming parties are both startled and the stable boys have a difficult time calming the horses. Eventually everything settles. Eduard smiles.
“Forgive me friends, a mere vice I seem unable to refrain from. I always perform little feats like that to clear the air. One with my far reaching reputation sometimes arrives to a rather stiff welcome. As if I were some dastardly invader come to turn everyone into the most horrid beasts. It is only to show you that not only am I in complete control of my magic, I also have a sense of humor.”
Several people laugh and everyone is smiling. It would seem Eduard’s trick has worked.
“Father,” Delirah says, stepping forward. “I must fetch your gift for the great sorcerer. Might I borrow Nevena before her duties begin?”
“They have already begun,” Lord Jacob replies. “You must ask it of Eduard.”
“It is certainly fine with me.”
I follow Delirah through the halls to the Lord’s Chamber and shut the door behind us.
“Almighty, he’s gorgeous,” she exclaims. “It was only the strength from above that stopped me from dying of love on the spot. I envy you, Nevena. You were as calm as a frozen river.
“Only on the outside. He wasn’t at all what I expected. He’s handsome and kind.”
“Not to mention hardly hundreds of years old. Rumors never get anything right. But those eyes!”
“Yes, those perfect, shimmering, omniscient eyes.”
“How is it no one has spoken of them? You’d think such beauty would make itself heard from the mouths of the world. I daresay I’m as nervous as you.”
“Spare yourself the trouble of trying to cover it, sweet girl. If you’re my truest friend I’m yours, and I know you as I know myself. The great Eduard has brought us both to the precipice.”
Delirah and I are both smiling, both trembling a bit as well. It is no small feat to bear up in the presence of the most renowned sorcerer in the Hundred Kingdoms. She and I have not met for many days and now I go to her, embrace her, the friend whose absence I feel keener than the prick of hair pins at night. When we’re like this, together and alone, there is neither servant girl nor lady. Only two eternal friends. As I release her I summon the strength to share a burden that has haunted me for some time.
“Delirah, my love, there is something I must tell you.”
“Of course, sweet girl, though it must be quick. They’ll be expecting us in the Open Chamber.”
She leads me to her parents’ bed. She sits, but I hesitate.
“Oh, sit down, Nevena. No one’s going to know.”
I sit. I take her hands and then take a breath.
“I have hardly slept for some weeks now. I have had new dreams, Delirah, such dreams as I’ve never known. In the dreams I see nothing, feel nothing. Go nowhere. I simply listen to the voice of the man there. Who he is, I know not, but he whispers things to me. Even though I do not know the tongue, I seem to understand the words. Such enchanting whispers, such stunning promises. When I wake I don’t remember them and I cease to understand, but the voice lingers some moments. The man stays with me for just a little while after I’ve waked. Then he is gone.”
“Such dreams indeed,” she says, watching me carefully. You remember nothing? None of these whispers and promises?”
“Nothing. Only that I was able to know them in the dream.”
“Quite baffling. Of course, I daren’t say this bodes ill, sweet girl, other than robbing you of your sleep. Though I do wonder why a voice of dreams lingers after you’ve waked. That bit does trouble my mind, Nevena.”
“It all troubles mine,” I say, dropping my gaze to the floor.
“There, there, sweet girl. You’ll be fine. Tomorrow I’ll have one of the Fingers of the Almighty look at you. They’re the highest order of healers in the kingdoms, so they’re sure to have an answer.”
“I could not ask that of you. It is most unusual for such healers to see a servant.”
“Not when that servant is my sister,” she says, smiling.
I embrace her. I don’t bother insisting on my point, for Delirah has never broken her word when it comes to me, neither has she checked herself with reason if the opposite was for my benefit.
A few hours later, the welcoming ceremony has begun and the guests have been served. The Open Chamber has never been livelier. The food is superb, the wine and ale unending, and Eduard has sporadically entertained the guests with his magic. He has even managed to coax Delirah into displaying some of her ability, a thing she usually detests doing in public. At this moment, Eduard has conjured a waterfall over the entrance door. The river it creates flows from the entrance to the dais where Eduard and the House of Gaelbreth sit. His magic is such that one can walk through the waterfall or step into the river without getting wet. It is beautiful, elegant magic. I have not left Eduard’s side and he was kind enough to have a chair brought for me so that I won’t have to stand the entire time. He has not treated me like a servant. To be sure, even a man as kind and generous as he can’t treat a servant like an equal, but he has spoken kindly to me and not ignored me. He has also not asked too much of me. I have repaid him with the most diligent and attentive service I am capable of. Thus have we passed these hours together.
I have, however, often had to catch myself, or rather force myself to keep my mind clear. It is those eyes. Those beautiful, glowing eyes that hold me. All night they have shifted and turned, unbearable magnificent. The rest of him is worth dazing over as well, so I’ve put a special effort into remembering my place and my duty. Now Lord Jacob is ordering the wine to be stopped and the water to be served. He has always been an honorable man and he has always respected propriety. I know he wishes to avoid any scandals or embarrassments drunkenness would cause. He stands.
“Lords and ladies, vassals, guests, friends, I hope you have enjoyed the food and drink. If you would please settle a bit, I believe our guest of honor is ready for his charge.”
Lord Jacob sits and Eduard rises. I stand as well and follow him to a smaller dais where his instruments and potions have been laid out. I rearrange the table as he asks and prepare his items for their use. I check to make sure the table and floor are clean and I haven’t spilled anything. I look to Eduard, to his hypnotizing eyes.
“That will be all for tonight,” he says, “Though I’m certain to rely on your excellent attentions tomorrow.”
“Are you certain, sir? I thought sure you would require me throughout your lesson.”
“Not at all. Nothing too strenuous tonight, only a bit of mystery and intrigue. Tomorrow will be the greater challenge and you’ll be needed twice over. For tonight, I’m quite well alone. After four hundred years I should be able to do an introductory lesson on my own.”
He smiles at me and turns back to the dais. I turn to leave, so shocked and surprised that I nearly miss Delirah waving goodnight to me. And now I realize the rumors are true: Eduard is old. His magic must be powerful indeed to keep him looking like a boy of a mere twenty something winters.
Having finished my duties for tonight—and not being required to assist in further duty because of my selection for the red shadow—I go to the Servants’ Quarters to retrieve my cloak and then go up to one of the castle’s walls. Yunger patrols the west wall at night and he always allows me to walk about up here so long as I can avoid being seen from below. I greet him as I pass and pay him the usual toll, a kiss on his forehead. I walk to the back side of the castle where the moon has cast the castle’s gargantuan shadow. Here I’m so well concealed I can’t even been seen by Yunger unless he were within twenty feet
of me. I have just stopped to collect myself and breathe when I sense someone near. I turn, shocked and a bit frightened that they’ve managed to come so close without a sound, and I see that it’s Eduard.
“Have you heard me calling?” he asks.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” I say, curtseying and still out of breath from the fright. “I thought you had done with me for the night.”
“And for the preparations I was. I did not mean I was calling you now.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon sir. But—Forgive me sir, but aren’t you meant to be teaching Lady Delirah and the royal sorceresses in the Open Chamber.”
“I am. Or at least part of me is. I’m a sorcerer, Nevena, and learning to copy myself was one of my earliest lessons.
Again I am shocked and rather than make a fumbling attempt at speech, I simply nod.
“Have you heard me calling? In your dreams?”
My mouth falls open as he says these words. And now the mystery reveals itself. Of course it was him; I simply didn’t recognize the voice because in the dream he spoke in another tongue. It was him keeping me awake at night, lingering so briefly in my waking thoughts. It was Eduard.
“I was reaching out to connect to other beings possessed of magic and your beacon was the strongest. You are quite powerful, Nevena.”
“Me? But I have no ability at all.”
“Of course you do,” he says, stepping forward. “You showed it earlier, in the Grey Pasture.”
“But I thought that was you, sir. You said you were playing at a joke.”
“Only to cover for you. I could tell you had no inclination of your gift. Let me guess, strange feelings overtake you sometimes and little accidents happen that shouldn’t happen?”
“How did you know? But the only power I have is in being able to sense sorcerers and sorceresses, like you and Lady Delirah.”
He laughs a little and looks out at the night. He seems to take pleasure in this revelation, but I don’t believe him. I can’t.
“Is that so?” he says. “Tell me, does Lady Delirah mean much to you?”
“She means a great deal to me.”
“There you have it. You’re not sensing her, though I’m sure you could do so if you chose. What you interpret as sensing her is merely your own magic reacting to the variation in your emotions. If Lady Delirah means a great deal to you, then you get excited when you know she’s coming or nearby. That excitements encourages your magic.”
“But—but—I sensed you before you came and I’ve never met you.”
“But you have. It was me in your dreams, stepping in your mind, connecting with you. Also I suppose you were rather nervous to have such a famous sorcerer coming to Moerdra Castle.”
I am bewildered. I fall back against the stone of the castle and try to catch my breath. It is as if the entire world has come pressing on me at once. Magical abilities… at my command? Surely I am dreaming.
“I have been waiting my whole life to meet you, Nevena of Ethore, though I did not know your name or face until I encountered you in your dreams. I daresay it’s too early to tell you this, but you are the Winter Queen. The color of your skin and hair is no mistake.”
I cannot respond.
“Come with me, Nevena. There is a spell I wish you to see. Do not worry about being seen; I have whispered an incantation that will hide us from all eyes.”
He reaches out, touches my cheek, and I nearly lose the ability to stand. His touch is incredible. And just then, in the moment he touches me, his eyes are blue.
Confused and entranced I follow him through the halls of Moerdra Castle. We reach his chamber and he deposits me on the couch, for which I am grateful, as I could hardly bear to keep standing. Immediately he begins a spell in one of the new tongues; I’ve not had much practice with it, but it is the melodic and flowing tongue called French, which seems to me to have a magic all its own. At first I believe I’ve fainted and gone into a dream, but once several flakes melt on my arms I know I am awake. Eduard has made it snow here. It is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.
“How did you know I loved the snow? How is this possible inside, near the fire?”
“All things are possible with magic,” he says, kneeling before me. “And I knew because I’ve traveled in your mind and soul, and I’ll not forget a single thing I learned there.
My many years of lessons in propriety, of the proper relationships between servants and high-borns, has taught me that I should never be this close, I should never want what I want. But Eduard’s hands are on my hips. Eduard’s chest is between my thighs. His eyes are pulling me in, not commanding, not pleading, but beckoning, softly telling of their want and need. He kisses me, my first kiss, the only kiss I’ll ever want to feel again. I cannot stop my hands as they push down his coat, his vest, his shirt. I cannot stop my legs as they wrap around him. I’ve no idea how to do this and yet with him I know exactly why and how.
“I did not mean for this when I brought you here,” he says, “But there is something in us that must be together. If only you’ll have me.”
“I’ll have you,” I say, fusing my body to his.
He lays his coat down on the snow, which continues to fall all around us, though we have become so warm that I do not feel the cold. And now he is undressing me, peeling back the clasps and ripping the lighter garments beneath. He pulls what is left of the dress off of me, assuring me he will fix it with a spell later.
Eduard wraps his arms around my middle, pulling my body firmly up against his as he kissed down the side of my neck. “Eduard,” I managed to speak, although barely audibly. He looks me deep in my eyes, and we share a moment of mutual silence, drinking in each other’s gaze.
Never in a thousand years did I think I would be alone with a sorcerer, let alone one who seems so deeply and passionately interested in me. I stare into his eyes, willing this moment to go on forever, for after tonight I cannot imagine going back to being Nevena the servant girl.
He leans closer and whispers to me, “Nevena, after tonight, your life as you know it will seize to exist. You are the Winter Queen, and your life will be forever changed. Let me share with you the greatest magic of all.”
- End –
Nevena’s story continues in Winter Reign: Part 2. Get your copy .
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M.J. Stark is a best-selling novelist who lives in northern Canada with her two beautiful Samoyed babies, Lannister and Greyjoy. She enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction, but her heart truly belongs to romance.
For M.J., there is nothing better than curling up in front of the fire in the middle of winter (which only lasts about 12 months a year up there) with parchment and quill, writing her next steamy romance novel. Okay, maybe not quite parchment and quill, but you get the idea.
Elves, barbarians, sorcerers, and stable boys – M.J. loves them all equally, and you will certainly fall in love with them too through her award-winning stories.
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Winter Reign: Nevena of Ethore, Part 1 of 10 "An exciting, magic-filled fantasy adventure and romance serial" Serial description: Nevena of Ethore is a servant girl, having served the house of Gaelbreth since the day she could walk. She has known nothing besides servitude, and is highly devoted to the family she serves at Castle Moerdra. But one day when a revered sorcerer arrives at the castle, she discovers everything she thought she knew about her past is false, and her destiny is greater than any tale she could imagine.