Hello my dear Friends. A little note before we jump into the book on a whole. I am so very close to wrapping up the full entity of Praetorian Rising: Book 1. I can’t wait to hear feed back, to know what you think and feel about the story and the characters. To start with, I want to give you Chapter 1. Raw and ready to be absorbed by you.
Please, I do want to know what you think. I want to hear your thoughts, what you liked and didn’t like. This is the hard part, but also the most important. I want to steal your attention and not let it go. This is the opening to Ch. 1 and I would love to hear your thoughts! (please excuse any spacing issues, blogging a chapter with the correct textual spacing is a bit difficult)
I hope you enjoy. Without further blabbering from me. Please enjoy Chapter 1 of Praetorian Rising.
CHAPTER 1– Lost Memory
Stepping out of the shadowy denseness of Dun L’er Forest, Vesyon Vestra took extra care of the precious bundle in his arms, doing his best to keep the young woman closely tucked away from nearby guards’ prying eyes. His destination wasn’t far—just beyond the forest’s edge—but he could never be too careful. Her breath was warm against the crook of his neck, a slow and steady reminder of the the depths of her induced sleep. He was grateful for it, wishing she could remain asleep in the peaceful swirl of dreams instead of wake into the harsh reality of her impending future.
The task of rescuing her from the hands of High King LeMarc had been difficult, but his moment had arrived and he’d had no choice but to take it. Without her on the Rogue Rebellion’s side, the ebbing storm of the Praetorian war would consume them all. The High Court of Aspera wasn’t known to be lenient with traitors or rebels to the crown, and having her out of the High King’s hands would weaken his regime.
A mysterious and silent creature followed him in quick pursuit, dodging between bush and boulder to keep up with Vesyon’s quick march through the dense forest terrain. Short tufts of black and brown fur helped camouflage the creature’s every move, allowing him to accomplish his task of silent companion with pristine perfection. After so many years together, Vesyon couldn’t help but think of his small feline friend, Neeko, as one of his closest confidantes.
Up ahead, just past the battered wooden fence and looming watch towers on the outskirts of Sierra Village, Vesyon saw a dulled lamp light flickering wildly in the late evening. The orange glow was like a beacon, perched on top of a well-weathered cabin. He hurried toward the sagging walls and ancient slatted roof with eager anticipation. An elderly man with a weathered face and grizzly gray beard stepped out of the low-slung doorway, a look of intrigue and growing curiosity spilling across his leathered features. The old man’s milky blue eyes were fixed quizzically on the young man and what he held tightly in his arms.
Vesyon pulled the bundle closer against his chest, imagining how her sharp emerald eyes would’ve stared at the man with quiet interest if she were conscious. Would she remember the elderly man, or would she dismiss him as a complete stranger? He couldn’t be certain, but hoped for the latter as his eyes traversed the deep lines of the man’s face in grave worry, not wanting to introduce his old friend to the storm of chaos she could invoke.
“It’s been a long time, my dear friend,” the aging man, Peter Schroder, remarked with a simple smile and mischievous grin. “I’m surprised the guards let you sneak by so easily.” His anxious gaze swept over the deserted village grounds past Vesyon’s shoulder, his caterpillar brows furrowing into a singular line over squinted eyes.
Trespassers weren’t welcome in the village, and Vesyon was well aware of the consequences if he were caught inside the grounds by the wrong person. He smiled affectionately as he watched Peter caress the dagger hidden at the old man’s waistband like a cherished friend. Being the town butcher allowed Peter an excuse for his love of sharp blades without anyone questioning his motives.
Vesyon’s lips twitched downward as he readjusted the sleeping woman closer and ducked through the cabin’s doorway. The guards surrounding the village hadn’t noticed his presence, and it irked him that they were being so careless. One had been smoking luxuriously as Vesyon slunk past, while another gossiped with his companion. He’d need to quietly address the issue on his way out with the Head Guard of Sierra Village, Marcus Flint, a good friend and close confidante of Peter’s. True, Vesyon possessed a knack for sneaking past the trained eye unnoticed, but in such dire times the village’s lax state of security was too dangerous to ignore.
“Too long,” Vesyon agreed in earnest, allowing a tenderness to peek through his voice at Peter’s words. Few were trusted by him like Peter was, a hardened man by trade but with a wide open heart and unending flow of compassion for those without a leg to stand on. Vesyon knew without a doubt that leaving the woman in Peter’s capable hands was the safest choice imaginable.
The old man’s cabin was nothing more than a solitary room; kitchen, living room and bedroom were all combined, scarcely lit by one swinging bulb and a glowing fire.
Electricity was quite a luxury in the rundown Villages of Aspera, but Sierra Village seemed to make do with what they had. Peter, despite the electric icebox in his butchery, kept his personal home almost completely stripped of those technological advancements the wealthier had.
Above their heads through the latticework was an attic large enough for the eight-year-old boy who’d been snoring softly through the late-night commotion, undisturbed and seemingly unaware. Peter’s home was small, but cozy, the way Vesyon knew he preferred.
“Do you really think she’s ready for this?” Peter asked, nodding his head toward the still-unmoving girl where Vesyon had lowered her on the bed beside the warm hearth. It was a hefty question, and Vesyon wasn’t sure of the answer himself. He sat down on a wicker stool, pulling his heavy fur cloak from his shoulders, reveling in the heat billowing from glowing hearth. Removing a rusted poker from its hook on the wall, Peter shuffled the coals around with quick, sharp stabs, stoking the heat back into a soft flame. A curling smile lifted the corner’s of Vesyon’s lips as he observed Peter’s strength in movement despite the frailty infused after years of use. His age spotted hands and knobby knuckles seemed a mere facade of old age.
Approving of his freshly stoked fire, Peter nodded once before grabbing a plate of meat slices from the kitchen table and offering them to Vesyon. It was considered common courtesy to offer food to any visitor, even if all you had to offer was stale bread slices and salt cured meat too old to sell.
“I have no idea,” Vesyon said, politely declining the offer of sustenance. He instead pulled a worn pipe from his cloak, spreading open a slim canvas bag filled with the dried leaves of his favorite tobacco. He carefully pressed the delicate tobacco bits into the wide pipe end and stared at the dancing flame in the hearth with a sense of momentary calm.
“The High King had her in his dungeon for an entire year,” Vesyon remarked, his voice tinged with a hint of frustration as he pulled his knife and flint stone from his pocket. “We honestly can’t be certain of anything.” He lit his pipe and puffed three times in quick succession to get the leaves to catch flame. The sweet tang of smoke filled Vesyon’s lungs and he sighed with silent relief at the tingling sensation left behind as he exhaled.
“She looks too fragile. Is there no other option? No one else?” Peter questioned.
“She’s all we have. Our rebellion can’t wait a second longer—she must be prepared. She is the strongest among us. We don’t just need a leader; we need an unstoppable warrior.” Vesyon turned from the flame to glance back at the girl, studying her delicate features currently highlighted by the glow of the fire. Peter was right; despite her age, she looked too young and innocent for such a battle. She was someone he would give his life for, and Vesyon hated knowing what she was about to endure.
For the first moment in over two years, every second was precious. Backing out of his plans to destroy the sovereign rule the High King enforced would mean complete and total submission to the crown, and Vesyon had never been one to bow down without a fierce fight.
“How long must I keep her?” Peter whispered, pulling the fur blankets more securely around the young woman. Bitter fall air seeped through a cracked windowpane, and noticeably Peter shivered—Vesyon wasn’t sure whether it was from the weather, or the heavy responsibility he’d just heaped on the old man’s shoulders. “It’s going to take time to assess how destructive her induced amnesia is. From what Langhorn expressed to me, she might not remember anything at all.”
Vesyon’s upper lip twitched downward at Peter’s probing words, a subtle tic he tried his best to hide. He hoped she would remember nothing, hoped what Langhorn had done would work. Her mind had been obliterated from everything she’d endured over the last year; if she was lucky, she would wake up without recalling even the smallest detail of her life before that point. It was cruel to rip away someone’s identity in such a manner, but they’d had no choice. If even an inkling of her memories survived, they would all pay for the egregious and horrible things inflicted on her mind, body, and soul while she’d been locked inside LeMarc’s torture chamber.
Peter’s eyes settled heavily on Vesyon’s unshaven face before he lowered his creaky body onto the stool placed in close proximity to the fireplace. Bones snapped and popped as he settled into the sagging wicker, reminding Vesyon of the extreme fragility all Asperians seemed to develop from lack of proper nutrients over the years. Vesyon couldn’t restrain the wince of barely concealed worry from flickering across his features, but thankfully Peter didn’t appear to notice.
“Tea?” Peter asked, pushing a heavy blackened pot into heat.
Vesyon nodded, knowing he should leave with quickened haste, but felt it would be rude not to partake in such a quick and simple comfort. He had asked Peter for an incredible favor, it was his duty to give the elderly man a moment of company and as much information of the growing rebellion as he could.
If he were honest with himself, there wasn’t much yet to tell. Not anything of consequence to Peter. The rebellion that had started almost exactly two years prior, had died just as viciously as it had started. The broken families and wounded Rogue soldiers had burrowed into hiding like a wounded bear, anxious to lick it’s wounds and prepare for a long and painful hibernation period. Slowly, and painstakingly, Vesyon had begun to rebuild the scattered Rogues from the depth of shadows. The time had come to walk back into the sunlight and take back their freedom that had been so easily snatched away in a moment of naive weakness. He needed the girl to follow through on his impending plan, and rescuing her from the vice grip of LeMarc had been the first step.
“Do you have an idea of where the High King is?” Peter asked as he handed Vesyon a steaming cup of lavender tea.
Vesyon habitually blew across the rim of the dingy grey mug, watching the wafting tendrils of steam curl into the bitter air and disperse like mysterious ghosts. “I don’t have a clue,” he replied without pause. “The King Regent is still managing the throne and has been since the Praetorian Exile. However, I don’t believe for a second he is idly sitting by. His absence is worrisome, but more than that, his complete silence over the last two years proves Langhorn right. The High King is up to something of grand proportions and I want to ensure I’m ready when he lays out his cards.”
Glancing out the frost-riddled window, Vesyon smiled softly at Neeko, whose mouth was currently full of fresh forest mice as he stood guard like a sentinel on the windowsill. It had been a good idea to bring him along. The thought of leaving the woman to her own devices there in Sierra Village deeply troubled Vesyon; but he saw no way around it. He knew she would be safe with Peter—as safe as she could be until Vesyon returned.
Just beyond the cat’s darkened form, Vesyon studied the thick clouds rolling in over the forest canopy. A storm was coming, and it was time to leave. There was still so much he had to do, and not nearly enough time to accomplish it. Waiting for the woman to wake up would be a waste of precious time; the war for Aspera had been slowly catching flame for over two years, and it was now at their doorstep.
Tipping the tea glass up, Vesyon took a hefty gulp of the delicious liquid and almost choked as the scorching heat burned down his throat warming the confines of his belly. Vesyon grunted once in mild discomfort before the burning sensation dispersed. Peter eyed him with an arched brow of concern and mild bemusement, but Vesyon waved him off and blew more intently on his tea. “I can’t thank you enough for this Peter, I have no possible way to repay you for taking care of her.”
Peter shook his head with a tender grin pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Consider it a payment repaid to a dear friend, one very much deserved mind you.” Vesyon opened his mouth to protest but Peter raised a withered hand warding off even the smallest objection. “I have always hated being in debt to favors, even when it comes to friends. But even as I see it now, watching over her is a small contribution to pay for what you have given me in the past few years. If my wife were here, or my daughter,” Peter said, a glistening tear pricking at the corner’s of his eye. “They would have said the same.”
“You have no idea how at ease I am knowing she will be with you,” Vesyon said with genuine frankness, his gaze drifting back to Peter as he now carefully sipped his moderately scalding tea.
“Well, she’ll be with me and your little furry shadow,” Peter chuckled, his milky iris’s twinkling with mirth. “I might just bore that poor cat to tears in this village. It’s much less active and exciting than the life he’s led with you so far. Are you sure he is actually willing to stay?”
Vesyon eyed Neeko perched at the window, his stoic haunches barely twitching from the bitter rush of wind snaking down the mountain and through the village grounds. He would miss the little fur ball, but it was better for him to remain at Camille’s side. In the coming moon cycles she would need the protection and companionship far more than Vesyon. “Willing is a strong word,” Vesyon replied as he dumped the ashy remains of his tobacco into the dwindling flames of the fire. “He will stick by her though, and that’s exactly what she’ll need.”
“Well as far as Count Jenkin’s is aware, I have a distant relative staying with me until further notice. He’ll meet her as soon as she acclimates to the village. I don’t expect a warm welcome,” Peter said with a slight frown. It was no uncommon practice to be wary of outsiders, or random trades-folk, but pretending the woman was a distant relative of Peter had been the only way Vesyon could be certain she wouldn’t be shunned and removed from the village. Sierra Village wasn’t in the practice of being hospitable to strange folk, and despite every excuse Vesyon had fed himself of keeping Camille close at hand, he knew this was ultimately the best plan of action. “But they will accept her well enough,” Peter assured, assessing Vesyon’s pinched expression with obvious concern.
“She’s going to be with you Peter, I have no doubts she’ll be in good hands. Teach her everything you know about hunting, trapping, and tracking. She’ll be a bit rusty when she wakes.”
Peter nodded in understanding. “Any idea of when you will come back for her?” he asked, taking the half empty tea cup from Vesyon’s hand and placing it on the bare kitchen table with a subtle ‘clink’. As the flames of the fire stretched out it’s last arm in a dance of withering energy, Vesyon packed up his pipe and tobacco before shrugging into the heavy warmth of his fur lined cloak.
“You have twelve moon cycles. I will come for her then,” he said, grasping the man’s hand in a firm shake before reaching for the heavy iron pistol on his belt and placing it on the rickety table near the door. The smell of gunpowder singed the lining of his nostrils, sharp and bitter and recognizable to any warrior.
Peter eyed the weapon wearily. “Is that necessary?”
“Just in case,” Vesyon said with a final swift glance at the woman fully shrouded in fur blankets. “I’ve given you two bullets. Hopefully it’s enough for you and Lunci if our plan turns south.”
A heavy silence filled the air with Vesyon’s blatant intention. No words were needed to explain; Peter seemed to understand the weight of his role in Vesyon’s plan. Without further hesitation, Peter nodded once. “She’ll be ready.”
“Keep her safe Peter; keep her hidden from the High Court. No one must know she’s here.”
Peter stared at him, his wild caterpillar eyebrows dipping over squinted triangles before consenting with a curt nod.
“I need to get back to Romeo Village—I can’t leave Phillip alone with the mess they’re in right now. The poor man hasn’t yet recovered from what happened in Charlie Town.”
Peter raised an impatient hand at Vesyon’s rushed words. “I know, no need to explain.”
Vesyon could see that Peter empathized with the outlandish and extreme conditions he’d endured to free the woman from the High King’s grasp, and knew the consequences of what would happen if anyone found her in Sierra Village. There was no other route, no other option. They had one path: forward.
With a quick nod of appreciation, Vesyon ducked out the wooden door to disappear into the darkness of the forest edge, not once looking back.