Sunwielder

By D. Wallace Peach

Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Paperback, eBook

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427
2 mins

Prologue

The warrior rode in silence. Black oaks and silvergreen, dark with summer leaves, swathed the trail in shifting shadow. Shafts of sunlight speared the forest floor, altered only by the graceful sway of branches in the heated wind. She directed the mare with her knees, an arrow nocked in the recurve bow, a full quiver hanging from her pommel. A short sword, with a breath of a curve, rested in its scabbard at her belt, the ornate guard and curling quillon studded with moonstones.

Even this far from the battlefield, the land of Aldykar was riddled with brigands, deserters, and the soldiers hunting them. Yet she wore no armor, only the leathers of her homeland, tawny jerkin and breeches, soft-soled boots laced to the knee. Her hair, the red of old blood, flared in the filtered light, brushing her cheeks. Slanted gray eyes, pale as winter clouds, scanned the dark recesses of rock and fern in the hollows beneath the trees. The meeting place lay in a foreign wilderness, a place not unknown to her for she’d traveled the roadways and trails between Edriis and Mastrelle before, as maiden and warrior. Why the old woman chose the woods of Casbonny caused her wonder and filled her with wariness.

An owl’s solemn voice hooted in the moving shadows. The clearing lay ahead through columns of black bark, the round glade sunbathed and thick with fine grass. A young silvergreen grew in its center, branches filigreed steel in the pool of light. Her grandmother stood before the tree, arms at her side, gray hair plaited at her back. An odd expression imprinted her smooth face, a blend of relief, hope, and terrible resignation. “I am alone, Estriilde,” she said.

Songbirds quipped and called in the trees, offering no warning of predators. Estriilde relaxed her bowstring and slipped the arrow into her quiver. A long leg swung over the saddle, and she landed lightly at the shadow’s edge. “We live today, Grandmother,” she said in greeting.

“We live today.” Again the sorrow.

“Why all the trouble to meet at this place?” She tethered Morning Dove to a branch at the glade’s rim. “I ride to Angefell in eight days.”

That she’d received her grandmother’s missive at all seemed a toss left to chance, though she knew better. The old one glimpsed the endless arrays of time, how each moment unfolded like a fan with infinite future possibilities. She traveled them, followed their paths, tracked the splintering of lives, chose and chose through the moments to see where they wended and died.

“You know I bear a vision, my little one.”

Little one? Estriilde smiled. They were Edriisan, statuesque compared to the women of Aldykar, and she stood a hand taller than her grandmother. “This place is part of a path?”

Clasping her hand, the woman drew her into the glade’s light. “Every moment is a path. Yet this is the only one that will save you. The only one I could find. You have died a thousand times.”

Estriilde sighed. “Only today exists.”

“Only now exists, Estriilde. Only now, but I cannot help seeing what I see.”

“What will happen here?” She withdrew from her grandmother’s grasp and walked the edge of the grass in a slow circle, her right hand fingering the hilt of her sword.

The old one’s reply laced the air with ice, “The stranger will come when he hears you scream.”

“Am I to die today?” Estriilde slid the blade free, sunlight glinting on watery steel.

“It is the only way,” the gray woman whispered.

“You invite me to my death, Grandmother.” Estriilde gazed at the forlorn eyes, so like her own. “I will not die easily.”

“You will scream.”

Eyes closed, Estriilde raised her face to the cloudless sky. “Will you stay to see me fall?”

“I cannot, my child. But I will sing for you when you’re dead.”

The birds stilled, their calls frozen in the thick air. The debris of the forest floor rustled and snapped beneath the soft thud of approaching hooves.

“It comes now?” She cast a sideways glance through a wisp of blood red hair to find her grandmother gone.

Bearing weapons of war, the riders reined their mounts at the rim of the glade and slid from their saddles.

Then the screaming began.



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