Heartbreak - Excerpt from The Baron's Heart
The Baron's Heart hit a milestone this last week - 40,000+ words and counting. With nearly 14 chapters complete, Kathryn and I are more than a third of a way through the book. At this rate, we are definitely on target for a release late summer/early fall 2018.
As we previously alluded to, this last entry in the Heroes series brings the focus back to Ravenford. The Lady Andrella in particular plays a more significant role in the story.
The tragic events that unfold center around the young lady, but affect all the companions in ways they may not consciously realize. Some characters might even "push the envelope" so to speak, acting in unexpected ways that could jeopardize who they are at their very core.
We will have to cover that some other time though. This blog entry is about the Lady Andrella.
As the story unfolds, we quickly find out that Andrella has been hiding untapped magical knowledge and power. Like someone else we know, she is enamored with fire spells, but still needs to learn control. As Seth so aptly puts it, “Don’t look now, but I think we have two pyromaniacs on our hands.”
Lets end this month's blog with an initial excerpt from the Baron's Heart. This is the first time we delve into Andrella's mind. She is distraught with good cause, but we swiftly see the stern stuff that makes up this young lady's character:
Andrella Avernos had been raised to believe in “Noblesse Oblige,” that with nobility comes responsibility. It meant that her obligations as a noble took precedence over her own needs. It was a Penwick concept, one to which her father and mother firmly subscribed. Yet that belief system had never been so sorely tested as it had these last few days.
Andrella’s father was dead, brutally murdered. He had been her rock, her safe haven in a world full of monsters and petty nobles. Whether dealing with a bad dream or some self-centered suitor, Andrella could always turn to Daddy for support. Yet now he was gone.
The young lady wanted nothing more than to curl up into a ball and hide under her bedcovers. If she stayed there, maybe it would turn out to be just another bad dream. She would wake up and Daddy would in his chambers, right as rain.
Yet Andrella could not afford that luxury. Her mother needed her. Mother was strong, but Father had been her heart. Andrella had watched her mother closely these last few days. On the outside she wore a stony mask of nobility, acting as a rock for their people, but Andrella could see the toll it was taking on her. She had stood outside her mother’s doorway and heard the sobs in the night. When they took Father’s heart, they might as well have taken Mother’s too.
Thus, Andrella couldn’t turn her back and hide from the world. She put on her own stony mask and was there for her mother and their people during this trying time.
A pair of strong arms wrapped themselves around her shoulders. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
Andrella gazed away from the full-length mirror in front of her, and into a pair of steel-blue eyes filled with concern. The young lady grasped those arms and breathed a deep sigh as she lay her head on the firm chest behind her. “I’ll be fine.”
Lloyd Stealle was a godsend. He was so much like her father, tall, strong, and handsome. Further, he followed that same moral code that her family held so dear. She felt safe in his arms. He was so unassuming, the exact opposite of the pompous suitors she was used to.
Lloyd spun her around and pulled her closer. “Just making sure. This couldn’t have been easy on you.”
Andrella lay her head beneath his strong chin, a contented sigh escaping her lips. She could be herself with Lloyd. He understood what it was like to have noble parents and to accept the responsibilities that went with it. He was still a little rough around the edges, but with a bit of polish he would make a fine duke someday.
“It wasn’t, but it’s much better now that you’re here.”
A strong hand lifted her chin to stare once again into those deep blue eyes. “Good, because I swear to you, we will find whoever did this, and recover your father’s heart.”
Andrella’s breath caught as wave of emotions threatened to overwhelm her. Lloyd was so much like her father that it magnified her sense of loss. Yet at the same time she felt a deep abiding love for this sweet, tender young man.
She stood up on her toes and pushed her lips against his, kissing him with wild abandon. Lloyd responded in kind, kiss after kiss sending sparks shooting throughout her body. She felt the heat rise to her cheeks, her breath coming in short ragged bursts. When she could no longer breathe, she pulled away and stared again into that handsome face.
Lloyd smiled at her, his cheeks flushed bright red. “Woah… if that was meant as incentive, you’ve done an excellent job.”
Andrella’s lips curved into an alluring smile. “Well, if you like that, you’ll love your reward when you make good on your promise.”
Lloyd’s eyes widened, his cheeks turning scarlet.
Andrella laughed aloud. Lloyd was so genuine, so easy to embarrass. He was a keeper—she wasn’t ever letting him go.
The young lady pushed away, her mood abruptly turning somber. They still had a long way to go if they were to save her father. She opened the jewelry box on top of her dresser and pulled out the key to the tall tower across the courtyard.
“Anyway, the others should be arriving soon. Let’s go and see what Maltar has hiding in that tower.”
Four figures waited for them at the entrance to the tower—Elladan, Glolindir, Donatello, and Kalyn. Andrella knew the first three well enough.
“Do you have the key?” Elladan called out.
Elladan was a strikingly handsome elf. His performances had been the highlight of her birthday party. Yet the bard was surprisingly humble offstage.
“Right here,” Andrella replied, holding it up as she strode past them.
“You might want to hand that to Donnie,” Glolindir called after her.
Andrella stopped in mid-step and turned to face the tall flaxen-haired elf. Glolindir was quite intelligent—smarter than Maltar she would daresay. Yet he was also very brave. Andrella would never forget how he took the brunt of a ball of fire to save the guests at her party.
She narrowed an eye at him. “Why’s that?”
“From what I heard, Maltar’s home had traps on its traps,” Donatello quipped.
The slim elf was a bit of an enigma. His boyish good looks and devil may care attitude belied the soul of a hero. The slim elf had stood side by side with Lloyd when those giant serpents appeared in the midst of the courtyard.
Andrella held up the key for Donnie to grab. “Be my guest.”
“Ladies and gents, there goes the brave elf to face certain explosion and humiliation. How far will he be blown into the sky this time?” Kalyn said with a half twist of her lips.
Andrella had never met Kalyn before last night. The young woman intrigued her. Lloyd had said she was an expert archer and tracker. She certainly dressed the part in that dirty green outfit.
Elladan snorted. “I think she’s got your number, Donnie.”
Already at the doorway to the tower, Donnie cast a dark look over his shoulder. “And when have you known me to blow up anything?”
Kalyn clasped her hands behind her back and kicked the dirt with her toe. “Oh, I’ve heard stories…”
“Don’t believe everything Seth tells you,” Donnie called back to her as he examined the lock on the door.
Everyone chuckled after that, even Andrella. It was the first time she had laughed in days and it felt good.
While Donnie continued to fiddle with the lock, Andrella covertly appraised Kalyn. The young woman was certainly feisty, but she also had a marvelously slim figure, a head of long, wavy, reddish-brown hair, storm gray eyes, and ivory skin. A good bath, the right dress, some makeup to cover those freckles, and a proper styling to that unkempt hair would turn Kalyn into a courtly beauty.
Andrella made up her mind then and there—Kalyn would be her side project. It would be a welcome distraction with everything that was going on right now.
Donnie grinned as he pushed open the door to the tower. “See, nothing to worry about folks.”
The tower was comprised of circular rooms with a spiral staircase in the center leading up to the two floors above and a basement below. The groups stood on the ground floor, a living area complete with a kitchen and a large open hearth. The second floor was split into four separate bedrooms, while a lab and scant library took up the top floor. Both were mostly empty. Maltar must have brought most of his things with him when he moved across town.
A thorough search turned up nothing of interest until they reached the basement. Another circular area, it was stacked with numerous crates and boxes. Yet off to one side, Donnie found a hidden door. There was some sort of trap on the entryway, but Donnie disarmed it without incident.
Beyond the door lay another room with three glowing rings in its center. The blue rings circled each other in a crisscross fashion, taking up most of the room.
A dazzling portrait of the celestial spheres was meticulously drawn on the ceiling above the circle. It depicted the seven heavens, the area in between, and the many layers of the abyss. A wide oval traversed the portrait mapping the path of Arinthar through the spheres. An intricate network of piping was suspended from the ceiling mirroring that path. A single rod hung down from the pipework with an orb at the top that appeared to be a tiny model of Arinthar.
Once Donnie deemed it safe, Glolindir went to examine the rings, the pipework, and the portrait above. Deep creases lined the wizard’s brow. “I’m not completely sure, but I think this is some kind of teleportation magic.”
Elladan stood next to him, his arms folded across his chest. “Maybe this is how Maltar left Ravenford unnoticed.”
Glo gave his friend a curt nod. “Possibly. The immediate question is how does it work?”
“Magic!” Kalyn crossed her arms, giggling at her own joke.
Glo glanced at the young woman with a single raised eyebrow.
Elladan stood back and gazed up at the ceiling. “I read somewhere that points in the sky can be used to map out locations on the ground.”
Glo steepled his hands in front of his lips. “I remember reading that as well.” He walked over to the hanging rod. “This looks like it could be moved along the pipes…”
“…which means it could be used to point out a specific location,” Andrella finished for him.
Glo spun around and nodded at the young lady, clearly impressed. “So if that’s true, we have the means of setting where we want to teleport. The next question is how the circle is invoked.”
“Maybe with this?” Donnie stood off to one side of the room, next to a podium that hadn’t been there before.
“Where did that come from?” Lloyd asked as they all strode over for a closer look.
“A hidden panel I found in the floor,” Donnie explained. “As soon as it opened, this pedestal popped out of it.”
The podium was adorned with a single red lever and a long blue horizontal bar that matched the light of the rings.
Elladan bent down for a closer look. “This lever probably turns on the rings.”
Glo gazed back up at the ceiling. “That makes sense. If Maltar used this circle to escape, then the piping should mark the place he teleported to…”
“…which means we could use it to follow him,” Lloyd finished his thought.
Glo’s expression grew pensive. “Maybe, but I’d still like to know more about how this thing works before we try it.”
Andrella cleared her throat. “I think I may know a way.”
All eyes turned to the young lady.
Elladan gazed at her with a half-smile. “I knew you were more than just a pretty face.”
Andrella gave the handsome elf an ironic smile. “Thanks... I think. Anyway, when I was younger, I studied with Maltar for a while. I remember seeing a book in his library with a few drawings that looked just like the map on the ceiling and those rings.”
Glo arched an eyebrow at her. “Would you recognize the book if you saw it again?”
Andrella nodded. “I think so. It had a red binding and was written in gnomish with a title something like Magical Devices from Before the Fall.”
Glo whistled. “A book from before the fall of the Baleful Moon? That’s a rare find indeed.”
Andrella felt rather pleased at the wizard’s praise. She swept her gaze across the small group. They all seemed impressed except for Lloyd who looked puzzled.
“Andrella, you can read gnomish?”
The young lady giggled. “Among a few other languages. Uncle Kelvick spared no expense when it came to my studies.”
Lloyd picked her up and spun her in a circle. “Andrella, you’re amazing!”
His enthusiasm made her giggle once more. “Lloyd, put me down.”
The young man immediately complied, a sheepish grin crossing his face. “Sorry.”
Glo held his hand out, palm up. “Well then, young scholar, care to lead the way to Maltar’s library?”
Andrella executed a perfect curtsy, a grin upon her face. “Why it would be my pleasure, good Sir.”