I’m slowly working on my novel, and I can’t really show much of it to you, but here’s something that may or may not begin the story. I might just leave it out and start at Chapter 1 and not use this as a prologue. It did help me get a starting place though, a little bit of background. I hope you like it.
“You have to take her. NOW!”
He looked down at the babe in his arms, well swaddled against a trip out into the cold night air, green eyes regarding him calmly. “Your majesty,” he protested. “My oath is to you. I can’t leave you.”
“Your oath is to the royal family!” The Queen’s green eyes flashed. “And I swear right here and now, if you don’t take her, I will kill you myself.” And with that startling statement, she produced a knife, which she held in a very competent manner.
He eyed that knife, knowing she was serious, but reluctant to leave her. “This wasn’t part of the plan, your majesty. Someone else was supposed to take her. You take her and leave me.”
“They’re dead. Everyone is dead!” The queen snarled at him. “You are it. My life has enough value to buy hers for a few more moments. You they would kill and then pursue us immediately. Now, obey me. Go!”
He went, holding the baby closely, pretending he didn’t hear the stifled sob behind him as he opened the secret door. His last look of his queen was of a mother, mourning a life with her daughter she would never have, her green eyes glinting behind tears.
They had known Cronan would make his move soon. They had practiced several escape scenarios, everyone had known their role perfectly. Damn the man. By the time his treachery was known, he had bought off anyone who had the power to remove him; guards, members of the council, even the queen’s and king’s attendants. He apparently had more money than the Gods themselves. Who would have thought after all that practicing and all that planning that everything would have gone so completely to shit? Who would have thought the only survivor would be a baby? Only survivor, he told himself, if he made his escape.
He moved quickly, running during straight aways, no light needed. He had followed this route so many times his feet knew where to fall. The ground had just changed from smooth to rough, signalling he had left the palace behind and was now somewhere beneath the palace grounds, when he felt a draft. They had opened the secret door. He ran full time now, safe in the advantage of home territory.
The cold night air slapped his face and he blinked. Even the dim light of the night was bright after the pitch black of the tunnel. He looked around as he walked, noting with a pleasant surprise that there was a nice thick fog. He sent a thankful prayer skyward as he loaded himself and his parcel in the boat hidden along the lake shore. He rowed, hard, fast, and with desperation. He had to get far enough away fast enough or everything would be for naught.
It was impossible to see anything, but he kept the rowing, hoping he was rowing away from the palace and not toward. He could hear shouts as men burst from the tunnel.
“Footprints! He’s on the lake!”
“I can’t bloody see anything. Where is he? Find a boat!”
All he could do was row, so that’s what he did. His shoulders burned, but he kept rowing. After what seemed like an eternity, he realized he was in a current. Hope bubbled in his chest. He had found the river. With a current behind him he would move faster. He looked at the baby and found her fast asleep, lulled by the rocking of the boat. He shook his head at his luck that she hadn’t made a sound.
He stayed on the river until it was too rough to continue. He then found a farm which had been provided a horse for this very purpose weeks ago, and rode. He traveled as a widower with his daughter, fleeing the memories of his wife. He used funds provided him to buy a change of clothes for himself and the baby, so they looked like simple people instead of a soldier and a very rich looking infant. He told anyone he met that he was going in the opposite direction of his actual path and he just kept moving. Cities became towns, towns became villages. Soon they reached a small town perched in the mountains, so far removed from everywhere that he doubted they saw many visitors.
The baby was tied to him, sling fashion, and she cooed and waved as he pulled up in front of the largest building he could find.
“Yes,” he said. “I think we’re home too.”
Home turned out to be Eban, according to the local magistrate. He took pity on him after he told him a story about a wife, dead in childbirth, and him too sad to bear the memories of his home and life without her.
“Well of course you must stay. Poor lass,” he murmured at the baby. “No mother. Come, it just so happens we have a vacant house you can live in. What’s your profession?”
That stymied him a bit. He was a professional killer, but he couldn’t stay that, for obvious reasons. His father had been a blacksmith though, and he had apprenticed with him before deciding he’d rather wield a sword than a hammer. Perhaps he could handle horseshoes and wagon tongues, which is probably all that this place would require of him. “Blacksmith.”
“Oh, really? What a stroke of luck!” The magistrate grinned at him. “Ours just died of the ague, poor man, and his wife took off with a local farmer. Quite the scandal, let me tell you!” He shook his head at the whole mess, then gestured to the house they had stopped at. “It’s his house you’ll be taking and it’s right next to the forge.”
The magistrate opened the door, revealing a fully furnished, if dusty, interior of a modest house. “She left with nothing, daft woman. Just some clothes and food. You should find everything you need here, but if you find yourself lacking, let me know. I’m Barnaby Law.”
He should Barnaby’s hand. “Pleasure. I’m Ash. Ash Smith. And this,” he gestured to the baby, “is Aella.” Their true names would be buried forever, as were the ashes of her family and his queen.
They settled in to life in Eban. Ash re-learned smithing as quickly as possible. Aella was raised amid the din of the hammer on the anvil, breathing the smells of hot metal, fire and steam. She grew strong and quick, beginning to aid Ash with what she could. Fetching and carrying to begin with, then sweeping. On breaks he would read to her from what books he could find and taught her the letters, her numbers, and shapes. The queen would want her educated and for the first time he thanked his parents for teaching him what he had always thought pretty useless in his life.
As she got older, he taught her other things. How to hold a knife and how to draw it quickly, both from a sheath on her waist and a hidden one on her thigh. He taught her how to use a sling to bring down rabbits and even quail. “So you will never be without a weapon,” he told her when she asked why she had to learn. “All you need is a piece of cloth or leather and a rock.” He didn’t tell her why she should need a weapon at all.
The bow was next and then how to use a knife for more than cutting vegetables. She could hunt and shoot as well as him by 10, and often went hunting while he worked, skinning and carrying the animals back on her own by age 12. At sixteen she was running the business side of the smith, handling the ordering, deliveries, and who owed what and what they ordered. She couldn’t wield a hammer, the handles of which were almost as tall as she, but she would tend the fires, file finished pieces, or hold a piece as he worked.
She looked just like her mother. She had the same straight black hair, the same crystaline green eyes. She never grew past five feet or so, remaining petite if curvy. The boys of the village noticed the curves, but they also noticed her knife, and Ash’s stern countenance. He taught her as well as he could about boys and life, trying to instill a good moral compass, but he always felt he did a poor job. She called him father.
Never one to be surrounded by friends, she had one or two close friends that she spent her free time with. It was their influence that marked a change from tunics and hose to skirts. Her hair went from simple ponytails to elaborate styles and braids. All in all, she had a happy childhood, if atypical, but all oddities in her knowledge and manners were blamed on her being motherless.
He couldn’t believe how much he had grown to love her and regarded her as a daughter. What started as a duty had quickly become a labor of love. Soon, he knew, he would have to explain why she couldn’t marry, how he wasn’t really her father. But not yet. Let her be happy for a while yet.
Fate was not so kind.