By Shona Kinsella
Ashael is a hunter-gatherer woman, apprenticed to Bhearra, the healer and spiritual leader of their tribe.
The Zanthar are invaders from another world who extend their own lives by stealing the life-force of everything around them. They were last seen on KalaDene 200 years ago. They have returned, looking for The Vessel, a being prophesied to hold the life-force of the land.
Iwan is a slave to the Zanthar, descendant of the folk that were taken as slaves the last time the Zanthar visited this world. He is sent out as a spy, while his mother is held hostage to ensure his compliance.
When Iwan and Ashael meet and she invites him to stay in Oak Cam, neither of them realise that she is the one the Zanthar seek. The fate of KalaDene and all of its people rests on Ashael’s shoulders.
‘Lady Merelle, you sent for me?’ Meegrum said, entering Merelle’s chamber and looking around. ‘Where are your maids?’
‘I told them to leave.’ Merelle’s voice came from behind an elaborate screen on the other side of the room.
‘Your husband would not approve of us being alone, my lady.’
‘My husband is an oaf. What do I care for his approval?’ Merelle snapped.
Meegrum eyed the door, wondering if Varald was due to return soon. ‘Why did you wish to see me?’
‘How is Daven?’ Merelle stepped out from behind the screen, wearing only a thin, loose-fitting robe. Meegrum could see the shape of her body beneath it and quickly averted his eyes.
‘My lord is well. He is enjoying the celebrations,’ Meegrum answered, looking over Merelle’s shoulder.
‘You never could lie to me, Meegrum,’ Merelle said, stepping in close and allowing Meegrum to smell her perfume.
‘It is no lie, my lady. Only yesterday, Daven was laughing with joy.’
‘Was it at the expense of another?’ Merelle asked.
‘Did you have some reason for bringing me here, Merelle?’
‘Ah, there’s the man I know; no false courtesies.’ Merelle walked over to the sideboard and poured two glasses of wine. Her robe slipped as she handed a glass to Meegrum, exposing the skin of her shoulder.
‘Perhaps you should put on something more suitable before your husband returns.’
‘Varald has gone hunting with the king. He will not return until sometime this evening, no doubt drunk and poorer.’
‘And your son?’
‘With his bride.’ Merelle sipped the wine thoughtfully. ‘Have you given any thought to what you will do when Daven is gone?’
Merelle tutted. ‘Now, now. We both know that he will not be successful on this campaign of his. He is too weak, too bitter. When he fails again, the king plans to execute him. What will you do then?’
Meegrum swallowed hard. He had faith in Daven and knew there was far more to his plan than Merelle was aware of, but to hear the future pronounced so baldly was difficult. ‘Of course my lord will succeed. But if he were to fail, I am sure the king would see me executed also. He has never had any love for me.’
‘Daven is your saviour and your curse. He allows you to use the Old Magic, granting you life despite your low caste. But in the doing, he has made you many enemies in the court.’
‘You tell me nothing I do not know. Do you have a point?’
Merelle leaned in so close that Meegrum could feel the warmth of her body. ‘Come and serve in my household. I will continue to allow you the Old Magic.’
‘Why would you do that?’ Meegrum scoffed.
‘I seem to remember that not all of you is small,’ Merelle said, grabbing the front of his breeches. ‘It’s been a long time since my needs were met.’
‘I cannot betray Daven,’ Meegrum said through gritted teeth, but already his body was responding to Merelle.
‘I seem to remember a similar conversation when I was his wife but it didn’t stop you then.’ Merelle began to undress him.
Meegrum looked into those grey eyes and saw his own desire mirrored there. ‘It is a dangerous game you play, Merelle.’
‘Then I hope you’ll make it worth the risk,’ she answered, stepping back and letting her robe fall to the floor.
Shona Kinsella is a fantasy author who lives near the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, in the west of Scotland. She is a member of the British Fantasy Society where she writes reviews of indie books. Shona has a degree in Law from the University of Strathclyde where she learned a lot about narrative structure.; everyone loves a story.
Shona enjoys spending time outdoors and much of her writing is inspired by the environment that she lives in, at the edge of Scotland’s first national park. When she is not writing, she enjoys geocaching with her husband and children and reading as many books as she can get her hands on.