Here’s the opening to Wielder, Gatebreaker #2. Now available!
Chills ran up my spine as the icy wind whipped at my back. My violet cloak swirled around my body and my hair lashed at my face as another gust pummeled me. The temperature dropped as the last rays of the pink and gold sunset fought to stay above the horizon. Only a small expanse of snow-covered ground separated my feet from the winding rows of houses that once belonged to the village outside the castle. Now they belonged to members of the Thavellian army. And my friends lived in one of them.
“Lady Lydia!” The words carried on a third gust of wind that almost knocked me off my feet. I gritted my teeth swiped at the strands of hair that seemed magnetically drawn to my face. Gabrielle hurried across the courtyard from the front of the castle.
“Lady Lydia,” Gabrielle as she drew near. “You must come inside, it’s almost time for the Festival of Midwinter. You’re about to be introduced.”
I stifled the groan that rose in my throat and trudged back toward the castle with her. Gabrielle had been good to these past few months, helping me navigate a new world where even the flick of a wrist could offend someone, and I didn’t want my foul mood to bother her. I fiddled with the miniature carved crow in my hand before shoving it deep into the pocket of my cloak and called myself nine kinds of coward for not finding Murphy when I had the chance.
The stone entryway of the castle provided little warmth, but it was nice to have a respite from the wind. Gabrielle ushered me into the line of nobles, waiting to descend into the ballroom. She pulled my cloak off and readjusted my hair so it fell around my shoulders and down my back. After fluffing the giant skirt of my emerald ballgown and dusting the last bit of snow off the hem, she disappeared.
I sucked a breath through my nose and stared into the open doors before me. Only two more entrances before my own. I stifled another groan and hid my clammy palms in the folds of my dress. It wasn’t the entrance that bothered me. Months of curtsying and dining and dancing with the nobles in Thavell had dulled me to the grandeur of it all. No, it wasn’t the entrance. It was who I had to enter with. The scene I had to repeat over and over for each ball of winter since they announced me as the Gatebreaker.
It was perfectly logical, as the king had explained it. Here in Thavell I had no family or connections, so I became a ward of the crown. But that meant I needed an escort for each and every ball. And there was only one person with a high enough rank to fill that role.
Aidric stood before me. From his dark hair to his typical dark finery, he looked every bit a fairy tale prince. His wolf’s head pin gleamed on his chest. Evergreen stitching edged the blue jacket that stretched across his shoulders. The same green as my dress. The color of the occasion.
No words of greeting emerged from my mouth, even though I knew I needed to attempt some sort of cordiality. Unperturbed as always, Aidric merely bowed and offered me his arm. I grasped it with as light of a touch as I could manage. His arm stiffened beneath my touch. But there was no time for me to react. The herald announced us to the crowd gathered below.
Swaths of color and fabric cut through the torchlight and glowing mage orbs as we stepped up to the edge of the staircase. My eyes locked onto the dazzling, deep red and evergreen clad people in the ballroom. There was an order to these precessions, I’d learned. Unless someone new was being presented to the king and entering last, everyone entered according to their status. The lower-ranking nobility and merchants first, the king last. And since only king ranked higher than Aidric and I in Thavellian nobility, the ballroom was full to bursting as we descended.
With each step, my eyes roamed the faces of those waiting at the bottom. I tried to run through all the names and ranks in my head. Gabrielle drilled me on them every morning. As soon as our steps alighted on the stone floor, the crowd swept into bows. For both of us. It was something I’d never get used to.