A RISING MOON - draft sample

NOTE: The sample below is from the manuscript, NOT the book itself. There WILL be changes from what you read here!

 

Year 22 of Pashtuk’s Reign

“Orla! Hurry, girl! You must come with us!”

Orla glanced up from cleaning the miserable shriveled potatoes she’d scavenged from the little plot in back of the hut; she saw a rain-soaked and dripping Sorcha at the crude wooden door. Behind Sorcha—who was not much older than Orla herself—was a Mundoan woman with hair turning gray at the temples: Azru, First Wife of the Mundoan officer Bakir, to whom Orla was Second Wife.

Outside the clouds were weeping and the encampment’s grounds were a morass of sloppy mud, but despite the weather, Orla could see other camp wives running through the lanes between the warren of huts. Orla’s eyebrows lifted at the sight.

“Sorcha? Azru? What’s happening?”

Sorcha only shook her head, beads of water flying from the strands under her hood. Her brown hair looked nearly black with the moisture. She rubbed water away from eyes the color of ripe sweetnuts. Azru answered instead, her voice tinted with the nasal accent of the Mundoa as she spoke in halting Cateni. She glanced out toward the camp, then her gaze moved quickly back to Orla. “No time to explain. Just grab whatever you can carry—anything you absolutely don’t want left behind—and come with me. Here, let us help you·.·.·. “

Sorcha ducked under the low lintel and entered the room with Azru following. Orla could see that Sorcha was carrying a linen sack stuffed with clothing and household odds and ends, though Azru was empty-handed except for an empty sack that she thrust in Orla’s direction. Sorcha went to the battered chest at the foot of the bed; Azru busied herself elsewhere, grabbing Orla’s best teapot and skillet and wrapping them in a tablecloth along with a tinderbox.

Orla watched, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, not moving. “Wake up, girl,” Sorcha said. “Tell me what clothing you want to keep.” Sorcha was tossing the chest’s contents onto the bed. “Do you have any jewelry or keepsakes you must have?”

Orla touched the silver oak leaf that hung around her neck on a leather string: a gift from her mother and the only thing she’d managed to keep when she’d been taken forcibly from Pencraig, her old home. “Only what I’m wearing,” she said, going to the bed and starting to shove her least worn clothing into the sack. “Sorcha, Azru, what’s happened?” she asked again.

“No time,” Azru told Orla. “Just·.·.·. trust me.”

“Is it Bakir?” Orla asked. “Is he .·.·. ?” Dead? Orla couldn’t bring herself to say the word, not knowing if she might laugh in joy at the thought and not certain how Azru would respond. She glanced at Azru, who was still tying up good kitchenware in the tablecloth. Bakir had treated Orla like a despised slave to be used in any way he desired; Azru,, however, had treated Orla gently and if she couldn’t stop Bakir’s abuse, she had at least sheltered Orla from the worst of it. For that Orla was grateful. Azru’s treatment of Orla was unlike that of many of the other Mundoan wives, who thought of the Cateni wives as simply chattel. “The other wives·.·.·. .” Orla managed to husk out. “They’re not going to let us leave. They’re always watching, and they’ll stop us if we try to run.”

Azru gave a short bark of a laugh. “Most of the camp wives have gone to the southern gate.” She took a long, airy breath. “Orla, our Bakir’s dead, and so is Sorcha’s Alim. That’s part of why you must go. But not all. Please, Orla, no talk. You need to go. You especially need to go. With Bakir dead and what your mother has done, you must go. Now, before they realize·.·.·.”

Bakir dead·.·.·. She’d often wished that, even imagined this glorious moment since he’d beaten her mother nearly to death, sent her brother to the copper mines, and taken Orla as his Second Wife. She had no love for the man, only a smoldering and futile hatred. She’d attempted to escape from him a dozen times. Azru had always pretended not to see her leave, but someone else had always seen her and raised a cry. She’d been dragged back each time and punished harshly. That one, she’s the Mad Draoi’s daughter. Voada’s child. You can’t let her escape. When we get the chance, we’ll kill her for everything her mother’s done. We’ll make her pay·.·.·.

Strangely, the news that Bakir was gone didn’t give Orla the joy she’d always thought it would. She only felt·.·.·. empty, and sad for Azru and her children, who were blameless.

Azru had gone to the open doorway as Sorcha and Orla continued to stuff clothing into the sack. “That’s enough,” Orla heard Azru say. “Tie it off. Give it to Orla.” The woman tossed Orla her rough woolen cloak, hanging on its hook at the doorway. “Here. Follow me.”

Azru was already outside, and Sorcha moved into the downpour again after her. Pulling up her hood and putting the sack under her arm, Orla followed the two women. The encampment, built on the southern side of the River Meadham halfway between Muras and the Storm Sea, was alive with movement, as if someone had rammed a stick into a beehive and stirred it. There were people rushing toward the southern gate—mostly women and children, since nearly all the men but for the severely injured had gone south with Commander Savas to confront the Cateni army more than a week ago. For the moment no one seemed to pay much attention to the trio as Azru led them against the flow to the northern end of the encampment and the meadow leading down to the river’s shore.

“My mother?” Orla asked as they hurried

between the last few huts and onto open ground along the river. “Has something happened to her?”

“They’re saying there was a great battle near Siran,” Sorcha said breathlessly. “A messenger came not a turn of the glass ago with the news that the Cateni fled the field in defeat.”

“My mother?” Orla asked again. “Ceanndraoi Voada?”

Sorcha only shook her head. “She was mortally wounded, according to the messenger, and Ceannàrd Maol Iosa was taken dead from the field,” she answered between breaths. “But Commander Savas’ army suffered great numbers of casualties, too many for it to pursue what’s left of the Cateni forces. The remnants of the army are returning here, and everyone’s gone to hear if her husband is one of the dead or wounded. Far too many of them will be.”

Azru had stopped as Sorcha was talking. She took a long breath and stared at Orla. “The women—and the men—are going to blame you for the deaths and injuries your mother’s inflicted, Orla,” she finished, “and you won’t have Bakir’s presence to hold them back. I know how disgracefully he’s treated you, and I don’t blame you for hating him, but whether you know it or not, he did protect you when other soldiers or their wives would have killed you for the death and destruction your mother brought. You have to leave here, Orla. Sorcha does too, because without Alim·.·.·. ” She shrugged, leaving the rest unsaid. Orla knew what she meant: the Cateni wives were the underclass, looked down upon and reviled. A widowed Cateni wouldn’t live long.

Orla turned to Sorcha. “Your children.—Erdem? Esra?”

A look of deep pain crossed Sorcha’s face. “Azru has promised to look after them for me. The boys will be better off here than with us,” she said. “They’re half Mundoan, and Commander Savas will make sure they’re looked after. With your mother dying and Ceannàrd Maol already dead, I have to believe their prospects are better here than with me in the north.”

“Sorcha·.·.·. ” Orla touched the woman’s arm in sympathy; Sorcha sniffed and wiped at her eyes with the rain-soaked sleeve of her cloak. “You should go back and get them. I’ll wait here, or I’ll go with you—”

“No!” Sorcha’s denial was both a wail of grief and a cry of desperation, and she looked at Azru helplessly. “Azru will take them in. It’s done. Just be glad that you miscarried the child Bakir put in you so you’ll never have to make a decision like this.”

“Enough,” Azru interjected. “Hurry now. Come on—I know where there’s a boat tied up on this side of the river. We don’t have much time before they notice you’re gone, and I have to get back for my children and Sorcha’s.”

Azru moved toward the river at a quick walk. Sorcha took Orla’s hand, pulling her along. Orla followed, glancing back once at the encampment where she’d lived for the last several moons. She could see people gathering in the central court and the gleam of armor on the soldiers marching in. From the camp she heard the long wail of a woman: a cry of grief and pain. The sound put speed into their feet, and the trio raced to the rush-choked bank of the river.

“There!” Azru pointed to a small currach sitting upside down on the bank, rain dripping from her forefinger. She handed Orla the wrapped kitchenware she carried. “I have to go now. Good luck to you both.” She embraced Orla quickly, then Sorcha, and turned without another word to run back toward the camp.

Sorcha and Orla went to the small boat, turned it over, and put their bundles in. Sorcha held the currach steady for Orla as she climbed in and took the single oar. She could feel the pull of the river’s current wanting to take the boat. Then Sorcha stepped in, holding the rope that had been tied around a rock at the river’s edge, and the tide-driven water took them quickly out as Orla paddled desperately.

The Meadham’s swift current carried them westward toward its mouth at the Storm Sea even as Orla and Sorcha steered the little craft slowly north toward the opposite bank, away from the life Orla had known ever since Bakir stole her from her mother and her home.

They rowed toward Albann Bràghad. Toward the clans of the north. Toward an uncertain and frightening future.

 

PART ONE

Year 23 of Pashtuk’s Reign

 

1

The Acolyte

Often enough, Orla wondered why she’d ever bothered to come to Onglse.

The opportunity to go to the island home of the draoi was the culmination of an impossible dream, a path she’d been destined to take from the moment back in Pencraig when she’d realized that—like her mother Voada—she could see the ghosts of the dead. The soldiers’ wives in the Mundoan army encampments had spoken of how Voada was an awful monster, how she’d been trained on Onglse before she’d taken on (or stolen, depending on who was telling the story) the title of ceanndraoi, joining with Ceannàrd Maol Iosa to lead the rebellion against the Mundoa. Together, Voada and Maol had laid waste to the Mundoan settlements south of the River Meadham.

The camp wives had hated Voada—even those, like Azru, who had some sympathy for the Cateni. They hated that she had killed so many of their husbands and sons. In turn, most of them also hated Orla simply for being Voada’s daughter. Still, like all the Cateni attempts to throw off the yoke of Mundoan rule south of the River Meadham, Voada’s war was ultimately a blood-drenched failure.

It had been close to a year since Orla and Sorcha had crossed the River Meadham into Albann Bràghad. Orla’s eighteenth birthday had passed unremarked. Orla had heard the tales of Ceanndraoi Voada whispered everywhere: in stories, in poems, in songs. She’d listened to the wondrous, contradictory, and still-growing legend of her mother hands upon hands of times, from hand upon hands of mouths, in every clan house she’d visited. Orla was hardly able to reconcile the fierce, vengeful, and merciless Voada they described with the woman she’d once called Mother.

Her mother was now famous, if not universally beloved, while Orla was a burnished copper mirror reflecting a warped image of that maternal fame. The northern Cateni passed her carefully from clan àrd to clan àrd, pretending to be pleased to meet the famous Voada’s daughter but heaving a sigh of relief when they sent her on her way again, as if they’d somehow escaped contagion or attack.

For nearly half a year, Orla and Sorcha passed from village to village, always hearing the words, “Oh, you must go on to Onglse. You need to speak with Ceanndraoi Greum. He’ll be able to help you. We wish we could, but we can’t.” What exactly Ceanndraoi Greum could help her with was never quite voiced.

When she and Sorcha finally reached Onglse, the Isle of the Draoi, Ceanndraoi Greum made little effort to mask his feelings toward Orla. The Red-Hand, as Greum was also known, remembered Orla’s mother all too well, and that was the problem. Yes, he had helped train Voada, and he had commanded the forces defending Onglse when Commander Savas of the Mundoa had attacked the island.

But Voada had stolen away Greum’s military chief, Ceannàrd Maol Iosa when she abandoned Onglse to organize the rebellion in the south. And it was Greum’s title of ceanndraoi that Voada had claimed as well.

Greum was obviously less than happy to find that Voada’s daughter had arrived on the island asking for training. His voice was a deep, rich baritone that lent authority to his words, and he leaned on a wooden staff he always carried for support, as his leg had never quite healed from a wound he’d taken in the battle for Onglse.

“You say you can see the taibhsean, the ghosts of the dead, and I’ll accept that,” Ceanndraoi Greum declared when she was presented to him at Bàn Cill, the sacred temple set at the center of Onglse. Greum Red-Hand had the build of a warrior, with dark hair now well-laced with gray, a long braid down his back, and a thick, oiled beard. His eyebrows, like fat caterpillars perched on the ledge of his brow, were already more white than dark, though the eyes beneath them were the black of a moonless night. As ceanndraoi, he wore an outer cloak of deep red, sewn at the hems with silver threads in a knotted pattern. Orla immediately saw why he was called “Red-Hand”—not for the blood he’d shed in battle, but because the hands emerging from the sleeves of his léine were mottled with orange-red splotches, as if the Goddess Elia had splashed pigment on them as he was born. An older woman draoi, whom he introduced as Ceiteag, stood alongside him. The woman stared at Orla with an intensity that unnerved her.

“Given your lineage,” Greum continued, glaring at Orla, “I’ve no reason to doubt your word. But seeing taibhse doesn’t make you a draoi, only a potential menach—a cleric of Elia.” Greum bowed his head slightly as he spoke the goddess’ name.

“She sees the anamacha as well,” Ceiteag broke in. “Go on, girl—point to the Ceanndraoi’s anamacha or to mine. I know you see them, even if your friend is entirely blind to them.”

Greum scowled as Orla pointed to Greum’s right side, where a ghostly figure stood, its head flickering as several visages came and vanished, the faces of dozens of the former draoi caught within it. “Draoi Ceiteag is correct; I can see the anamacha too, not just the taibhse,” Orla told Greum. “I know now that back in my old home of Pencraig, both my mother and I saw Leagsaidh Moonshadow’s anamacha, and we all know what my mother became when she bonded with the Moonshadow.”

Greum’s scowl deepened at the mention, irritation knitting together bushy eyebrows. “And where is the Moonshadow’s anamacha now?” he scoffed. “Lost again, as it was for so long before it found your mam. I don’t see the Moonshadow’s anamacha or any other standing alongside you, girl. Do you think I need another menach or another servant to clean the temple? What use are you and your unsighted friend to me or to Onglse?”

Sorcha, who had been Orla’s constant companion since they’d fled the Mundoan army encampment, took a sudden step back at the ceanndraoi’s evident rage, as if afraid the man might strike them or cast a spell. Since their arrival on Onglse, Sorcha had become increasingly reluctant to speak out and more reserved, despite being the older of the two. Orla forced herself to stand erect, lifting her chin and staring silently at Greum, her lips pressed together tightly.

“Here’s what I will do,” Greum spat at last. “It’s two moons until the next solstice. You and your friend may stay until then. I’ll have Menach Moire see if you’ve any potential at all, and if you don’t, you’ll both be asked to leave.”

Ceiteag touched the arm of his robe. “Ceanndraoi, perhaps I should—”

“No,” Greum said loudly before Ceiteag could finish. “Not you, Ceiteag. Menach Moire will be in charge of the girl’s training.”

And with that he stalked away with a swirl of his red cloak. With a final glance back toward Orla, Ceiteag followed him.