Introducing…Descension!

My first book, part of the Pangaea Series, is on its way to being officially published!  It’s in the final stages of editing now.  It will, hopefully, be out no later than the Spring or Summer 2013.  Please be patient as I try to make it as good as possible for you. 🙂  For now, enjoy the sneak preview of Ch. 1!

Chapter 1

~~~~~~~~~~~

The Affairs of Pangaea

            Aaron sat silently on his throne.  It was the one time every week that he sat in the throne room for a few hours and allowed anyone in the kingdom to enter and speak with him.  It was “the people’s time,” as he called it.  Anyone, no matter what class or circumstances they were from, could come to Aaron and inform him of a problem or request help or say what was on their mind, as long as it was not done in too threatening a manner.  There had been a few occasions when Aaron’s guards had needed to remove someone, but most people over the past seven years had used the time well.  This process allowed Aaron to know the people he ruled better and be able to solve conflicts peacefully.

However, this specific day had been dull.  Only three people had come, and all of them had visited within the first hour.  Aaron only had a half hour left to sit on his throne, but he was impatient.  After over twenty years of peace, a new opposition to the Lunsford family had formed.  Aaron sat motionless, contemplating the current situation.

Compared to the number of people who still followed Aaron, the rebel forces were small in size, if not miniscule.  Still, the rebels were neither stupid nor weak.  They had numerous small camps hidden throughout Aaron’s lands, making it difficult to find them, and even if Aaron’s army managed to discover a campsite, it was tough to capture or kill any major generals or leaders.  Aaron continued to train and strengthen his troops, build the most recent weaponry, and station his men around major cities and routes, but the rebels still managed to sneak through and attack many innocent civilians.  It was immensely difficult to tell when and where the rebel forces were going to strike.

Aaron sighed and put his fingers against his temple, pressing gently.  He tried to alleviate his headache, but it didn’t work well, so he rubbed his fingers harder.  It had been nearly two weeks since the last attack, and Aaron was certain that another bomb was being placed and prepared; he only wished he knew where.  His men were always searching the forest and touring the cities and towns, but it was hard to discover and counterattack the rebels before their plan was in action due to their unconventional techniques.

So far, the only facts Aaron knew were that two brothers, Kelton and Seymour Fenton, were leading the rebels.  He often wondered who the Fenton brothers were and why they claimed to be the true, rightful heirs to the throne.  Aaron also wondered how the brothers had found men to follow them in the beginning and how they convinced other men they captured from his cities to turn against him.

Many of Aaron’s counselors had been urging him to create a draft or find a way to increase the number of young men in his army.  The older men who made up most of Aaron’s army were simply too set in their outdated ways to successfully track down or fight the rebels, with a few exceptions.  George Swain, despite his age, had, so far, been the only person who was able to discover and stop any rebel attacks, although he had only discovered three.  However, two of the three attacks George had halted had been within the last month.  Aaron wasn’t sure exactly what George was doing, but his strategy seemed to work, so Aaron had moved him to the rank of General only three weeks ago.

As for the draft, Aaron had no desire to begin one unless it was an utter necessity.  He had been contemplating ways to get more young men in his army without using a draft, since he knew that would upset many of his people.  He had finally come to a decision the previous night.  He had decided, against his wishes, to place his own sons in the army.  Aaron knew it was his sons’ duty to protect the kingdom, since they were its future leaders, but he had not wanted to put them in the army until he thought they were ready or were absolutely necessary to the kingdom’s survival.  Now was the perfect time to have his sons enter the army.  Aaron believed both of them were old enough and trained enough to fight honorably, and, hopefully, survive.  Aaron also hoped that his self-sacrifice would inspire the compassion and generosity of other parents in his kingdom.  He also wanted it to persuade his sons’ young friends to join his forces.  This would strengthen his army’s numbers, abilities, and, possibly, their camaraderie.

As Aaron was thinking of these things, his youngest son, Troy, appeared from a hallway to the right.  Troy was eighteen, but he was strong.  He was as adept at sword-fighting as his older brother, Adam, who had defeated many of his fellow men in friendly duels.  Troy was also young and quick, and he had an emanating courage and charisma about him.  He was more outgoing than Adam, and he knew many people throughout his father’s kingdom.  Aaron hoped that Troy’s placement into the army would influence his numerous acquaintances, friends, and family to join the army with him.  However, Aaron had yet to see if Troy would comply with his plan, although he was certain his youngest son would.

Troy walked briskly toward his father, bearing his usual broad and genuine grin.  His thick, ginger hair rested haphazardly on his head.

“Going somewhere, Troy?” Aaron asked, noting his son’s sword and nice clothing.  Aaron now made his sons carry a sword and a knife with them whenever they left the castle, but Troy only took the time to put on decent clothes if he was going to see one person.

“If you’ll allow me, Father,” Troy began heartily, as he walked up beside his father’s throne, “I would like to go visit Margaret.”

Aaron smiled knowingly.  Margaret was the daughter of General Swain.  The Swains were not only helpful, supportive, and loyal to Aaron, but they were good friends of him and his family as well.  Troy had quickly taken a liking to General Swain’s daughter two years ago, and he had then attempted to befriend her, and, as of the last year, court her.  Aaron was fond of Margaret himself.  She was beautiful, but she was also smart, courteous, and loyal to her beliefs.

“That should be alright,” Aaron answered after a moment.  He disliked having his sons leave his home in these unsafe times, but, if he was going to put them in the army, he would have to get used to having them leave.  They were no longer his little boys to protect, although Aaron knew that he would always do what he could to keep them safe.  They would always be his and Lindsay’s little boys.

“Thank you, Father,” Troy said earnestly.  He inclined his head partially, but not out of loyalty or fear of his king, his father, but because he was always grateful and polite.  Troy began to walk back down the stairs of the throne platform, but Aaron called out.

“Troy,” Aaron said with seriousness.  “When you return, I have something to ask of you.”

Troy knew that whatever his father was thinking about was troubling him.  He heard the grave tone of Aaron’s voice.  Troy wanted his father to ask him now.  He did not want his dad to be troubled, but after a moment’s recollection, he decided that he would not dispute his father’s wish to wait.

“Whatever you want, Father,” Troy said sincerely, and he knew that he would not go back on his word, no matter what it was his father asked him later.

“One last thing, then,” Aaron told his son as he rose from his stiff throne.  He eyed the window and knew by the sun’s position that he could leave the throne room.  “Do you know where Adam is?”

Troy thought for a moment, then said, “I know he had been speaking with some of his friends.  I think he had been asking them to go hunting.  I’m not sure if they were going today or not.”

“Thank you,” Aaron said, smiling warmly.

He wondered if Adam had left.  At the age of twenty, Adam felt and acted much more independent than Troy.  He never meant to anger his father, but, at times, he would neglect to tell Aaron what he was up to before he left.  Aaron usually understood, but there were times that Adam’s leaving upset him.

“Be careful out there, Troy,” Aaron warned, and with these words, he and Troy parted.

Aaron took leave of the audience chamber and walked through a brightly lit hallway in the corner of the room, behind his throne.  His seven guards that had been stationed in the hall and around the chamber, eased and returned to taking their rounds about the castle, with the numerous other castle guards.

“Is there anything further you need from us today, sir?” one of the men asked.

“No, thank you, Bartholomew,” Aaron responded kindly, and he nodded his head in thanks and began walking away.

Bartholomew then turned in the opposite direction from Aaron and motioned to his last few guards that they could leave.

Troy had already saddled his horse, not even taking the time to ask the servants to do it for him.  He jumped up and kicked his chestnut horse in the thighs and took off down the brick road that led from the large stable to the center of town.

It didn’t take long for Troy to make it to the Swains’ house.  They lived in a home on the eastern edge of town.  It was a modest, gray stone home that had a bold, black slate roof.  There was green ivy running along one side of the front door.  Troy always felt at home when he came to visit the Swains.

He quickly dismounted his horse and latched the halter of his Holsteiner colt to one of the trees that lined the short, dirt drive.  He walked towards the door and rapped on it twice.

Inside, Margaret and her parents recognized the knock.  Margaret, who had been playing the piano in the parlour, instantly stopped.  Her eyes lit up, and a joyful smile spread on her face.  She had been so intent on playing the piano, that she had missed the sound of hoofs on the dirt.  She stood up swiftly and made it to the door a few seconds later.

“Good afternoon, Margaret,” Troy said when her face appeared in the doorway.

“Good day,” Margaret replied happily, and she engulfed Troy in a warm hug.  “I am glad you came to visit.”

Troy smiled and released Margaret as he walked into the hallway.  Margaret moved back slightly and maneuvered around him to close the door.  Once it clicked, Troy moved closer to Margaret and promptly kissed her.  She did not stop him, though her face became a light shade of raspberry.  Troy broke away from her when he knew her parents were coming.  George and Lana Swain entered the hallway and beamed at the prince.

“It’s wonderful to see you again!” George said in his deep, cordial voice.

“It’s nice to be back here,” Troy agreed, shaking Mr. Swain’s hand enthusiastically.

Mrs. Swain gave Troy a warm hug.  “It seems like we haven’t been able to enjoy an afternoon together for quite some time now,” she said genially.

At this, Troy took Margaret’s hand.  “I know.  I’ve missed it,” he said honestly.  “Margaret, were you playing the piano just now?”

“I was,” Margaret nodded with a shy grin.

“Would you continue to play?” Troy asked softly, though his eyes were pleading.  Listening to Margaret play the piano was one of his favorite things to do.  Her parents always enjoyed it too.

“Of course,” Margaret said sweetly.  She kissed him gently on the cheek and led him into the parlour, still holding his hand.

Mr. and Mrs. Swain followed them into the nearby room and sat down on the sofa.  Troy sat beside Margaret on the wooden bench.  After Margaret made it through two songs, Troy stood up slowly and walked to a large chair with ivory upholstery.  He sat down and crossed his legs.

“Everyone’s glad to have you back in town,” Troy told Mr. Swain.

George Swain smiled, but his eyes wrinkled at the corners and looked sodden with disappointment.  “That’s nice to know, but I feel awful.  I achieved practically nothing on my excursion,” he said, ashamed.

“These aren’t easy men to find,” Troy reminded George, although Mr. Swain knew that quite well.

“Yes.  I think I got lucky the last three times, and now I’m pushing my luck,”

“It couldn’t have been just luck,” Troy stated.  “You are the only one who has succeeded at all in stopping them.”

George sighed and patted his wife’s hand absently.

It wasn’t until this pause that Troy realized Margaret had stopped playing the piano.  Troy looked over at her, and she was giving him a hard look.  Troy tried to think of what he could have done to upset her.  Perhaps, she had hoped that this afternoon would be free of the stressful talk about the oncoming war.  Troy felt certain that these attacks would soon lead to a large-scale war.  He simply hoped that the war would force the rebels to assemble their forces more, making them easier targets for his father’s army.  He then imagined himself in a battle.  He understood the honor and necessity of fighting for his kingdom and peace, but he knew that when the time came, he would really be full of fear.  He hoped that his terror wouldn’t hinder his fighting.  Margaret brought Troy out of his trance.

“Troy, is your father planning a draft?” she asked in a stiff tone.

“Not that I know of,” Troy answered.  He was puzzled why she was wondering about that, but he was relieved to know that she wasn’t angry with him for discussing the attacks.

Margaret did not say anything in return, so Troy continued his conversation with her father.

“You didn’t find anything on your search, Sir?”

“Not anything conclusive,” George sighed.  “We searched much of the woods and the town, but we did not find any lingering rebels, and there was no major camp in sight, only a trail of small, dying campfires, which my men and I followed, along with the trail of hoof prints, but once the woods ended, so did the trails.

“There were some rough hoof prints beyond the woods that someone could have followed, but I decided to call our search back instead of continuing through the valleys and mountains.  If those men have large forces there, then we would have been detected and obliterated easily.  Besides, I thought that we ought to come back here before another attack was launched.  I am going to suggest to your father that he find someone to follow those hoof prints beyond the woods, but it should only be a couple men, and their duty should be to spy and remain inconspicuous.  I don’t know how far the rebels are coming from, but it’s obviously far enough that they have to ride on horses by night and campout until their planned assault can be carried out.”

George had been sent by Aaron to follow the rebels he had been able to stop before their attack had commenced.  George’s forces had taken the rebels by surprise in the woods, where they were camped.  Due to the surprise, a number of rebels were killed and wounded.  The wounded were taken back to the dungeon of Aaron’s castle to be healed and interrogated.  Some men who surrendered were also taken captive.  However, many of the rebels had fled on their horses.  A few of them were chased down, but most of them had escaped.  Even though the surprise attack that George launched had been successful, Aaron had sent him to investigate the surrounding area, hoping for more information and clues.  As George had told Troy moments ago, he and his men discovered that the rebels were coming from the mountains and rocky areas in the east, but those lands were vast.  The rebels could be camped close on the eastern mountain border or even farther out beyond the mountains.

“This is helpful information, though,” Troy informed George.  “At least we know what direction they are coming from.”

“Yes, that is good,” George said.  “I only wish we could discover their strategy in choosing attack points.”

“So do we all,” agreed Troy.  “I think you ought to tell my father of your espionage idea soon.  It would be dangerous for whoever goes, but I think it could pay off and help beyond belief.”

“I plan to tell him tomorrow, and then bring it up at the council meeting,” George said gravely.  “Whoever is sent on that mission, they need to be someone who is decently knowledgeable on those lands and someone who is extremely trustworthy and quick-witted.”

Troy nodded.  Then, Margaret, who had heard enough for one day, stood up from her bench.

“Father, could Troy and I walk outside?” she asked imploringly.

Mr. Swain, who was lost in thought, waved towards the back door, but did not make a verbal reply.  Troy stood up and took Margaret’s hand again.  He grinned apologetically to her, hoping that he hadn’t ruined her day or his visit with her.  Margaret made no acknowledgement of Troy’s smile.  Her expression remained unreadable.  She walked with Troy to the back door, and they exited the house in silence.

Once they were outside, Margaret’s expression changed.  Instead of anger, worry appeared in her features.  The edges of her lips were turned down slightly, and her eyes filled with a filmy layer of water.  Troy held her hand more tightly, but continued to walk on until they reached the small garden.  When the two of them were hidden behind the walls of shrubbery, Troy gathered Margaret into his arms.  He rocked slightly and held her with his strong arms and hands.  He kissed her wavy, brown hair, which was pulled back with a bow.

“I’m sorry,” he said earnestly.  “I shouldn’t have talked about those things.  I came to see you, since I haven’t seen you for a week, and I ruined my time with you.  I’m so sorry.”

“No,” Margaret muttered into Troy’s chest.  She kept her head buried there as she spoke.  “I’m not angry.  I’ve just missed you so much, and Papa.  I fear for both of you.”  Her voice choked on her final sentence.

“You know I want to tell you that everything’s perfect.  I want to tell you we’re together and our families are well, and nothing bad will ever happen, but I can’t,” Troy told her painfully.  “I can’t lie to you.”

Margaret slowly moved her face upward until her chin rested on Troy’s chest, and she was looking up at him forcefully.

“And I don’t want you to lie to me,” she confirmed.

“But I can honestly tell you that I love you,” he told her sweetly as he held her in his arms tightly.  His hands rested on her back, and hers rested on his.  “But I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.  I know that war is lingering over us.  One big move by the rebels, and all of my dad’s forces will be called to action…” Troy’s voice trailed off, and he rested his chin on Margaret’s soft hair.

“Do you think your dad will make you fight?” Margaret asked, dreading the answer.

“Is that why you asked about the draft earlier?” Troy questioned.  “I’m eighteen now.  I probably will.  Even if he doesn’t make me, I’ll want to fight for my people,”

“Then, can I fight beside you?” Margaret asked longingly.

Troy glared at her for a moment.

“Margaret, that’s ridiculus!” he chided.  “Women don’t fight.”

“But we can,” she asserted.

“You know that’s not going to happen because I wouldn’t be able to fight if I knew you were there,” Troy told her.

Margaret sighed.

“I just hate not being able to protect you and Papa like you both do for me,” she said with sorrow in her tone as she imagined Troy in a battle.

Troy looked down at her, looking over her ivory skin and smooth face.  Her deep brown eyes were resigned, but filled with anxiety.  Troy brushed one of his hands through her soft waves and then rested it against her back again.

“Well, this day hasn’t turned out to be as happy as I’d hoped,” Troy said bluntly.

Margaret smirked.  “I’m sorry.  I will stop talking about this,” she said with a hard smile.

“No, I want you to be able to tell me what you’re feeling,” Troy said.

“That’s all, I promise.  I just fear the day that you go to battle, and I fear for my father every time he leaves the house,”

“I’ll take care of you and your parents as long as I live,” Troy stated seriously.  His jaw was set tight as he looked at Margaret.

“I know,” Margaret said.  She leaned closer to Troy’s face, and he bent his down further.  She kissed him, and they stayed locked together for a few moments.

When they broke apart, they began to walk around the garden and talk again.  They tried to keep their conversation away from the war, so Troy told Margaret what his family was up to besides dealing with the war.  Margaret listened intently.  She loved Troy and all of his family as if they were part of her own.

By the time the two of them had talked over everything they had done in the past week, it was dark outside.  When the wind began to pick up, Troy and Margaret began to walk back to the house.  Mrs. Swain had lit the lanterns inside the house.  They walked into the hallway and to the right, where they heard Margaret’s parents talking in the kitchen.  When they entered the kitchen, her parents smiled.

“How was your walk?” Mrs. Swain asked.

“Good, thanks,” Troy replied sincerely.  “Your garden has even more flowers in bloom now than it did a week ago.  It’s very nice.”

“Thank you,” Lana said humbly.  “I’m sure it’s nothing like your castle gardens, though.”

“Smaller, but I can’t say it isn’t as beautiful,” Troy stated earnestly.

“Well, you’re quite flattering.  Are you hungry?  It’s much past dinnertime.  We were wondering if you two were still in the garden,”

“Sorry,” Margaret said.  “I didn’t notice how late it was until it got dark out.”

Mrs. Swain nodded.

“There are potatoes and corn left, if either of you would care to eat,”

Lana eyed Margaret, and Troy knew that Margaret didn’t really have a choice.  Lana had already begun to reheat the food on the stove for her daughter.  Troy knew it was late, and he needed to return to the castle.  He heard his colt pawing the ground anxiously outside.  He felt bad for leaving him tied up for so long.

“I really need to get home,” Troy said.  “My father will be worried if I return home any later than it already is.”

Mrs. Swain nodded courteously and said,  “We appreciate your visit very much.  Are you sure you wouldn’t like any bread or anything before you go?”

“No, thank you,” Troy replied.  He turned and headed for the front door.  He heard his colt snort when the wind picked up.

“Do you need a coat, Troy?” Mr. Swain, who had followed Troy and Margaret to the front, offered.  He realized that Troy had not worn one earlier.

“I should be fine, thank you,” Troy responded.  George nodded.  “I’ll try to come again soon,” he promised, turning to Margaret.

“I will try to be patient,” she said with a teasing grin.  She kissed him goodbye, and he headed out the door.

“Take care, Troy!” George called from the doorway.  One of his hands rested on his daughter’s shoulder.  “Tell your father that I can make the meeting tomorrow!”

“I will, thanks!” Troy shouted over his back and through the heavy wind as he ran to his horse.

The colt’s golden blonde mane and tail were flying in the wind.  Troy jumped onto his strong horse and waved goodbye to Mr. Swain and his daughter, who were still standing in the doorframe.  Then, he headed away from the house, down the dirt pathway.

When he was nearly at the end of the short drive, he heard a faint knocking noise echo in the wind.  Troy became alert and looked over his shoulder.  He was confused.  It wasn’t right; he had not passed anyone on his way down the driveway, and he hadn’t noticed anyone around the Swains’ house before he left.  Without thinking any further, he pulled his colt’s reins and steered him back towards the stone house.  He wondered if his horse had been snorting and stamping for a different reason than the wind.

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