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Authors: Jonathan Davison

Annatrice of Cayborne

ANNATRICE OF CAYBORNE

 

by

 

Jonathan Davison

 

Copyright 2012 by Jonathan Davison

All Rights Reserved

The characters depicted in these stories are wholly fictional and any resemblances to those living or dead are purely coincidental.

 

Cover art by Chris Cold

This book is dedicated to Mandi my amazing wife and Jen who has helped me hone my craft and has given so much of her time for little in return.

 

It is also dedicated to people everywhere that courageously search for freedom in the face of seemingly impossible odds

About The Author

 

Jonathan Davison was born near Portsmouth, England in 1975. He lives with his wife Mandi in Newton Abbot, Devon. Jonathan began writing in earnest in 2010. He is also a musician and writer of radio drama and musical theatre. He currently works as a technical specialist for the police.

Previous novels by Jonathan Davison

The Observer (2010)
Wartime intrigue meets paranormal suspense and science fiction in a tale about a humble soldier with a galactic destiny. Set in World War II, it is a story about one man with the unwitting power to change everything.

Sanctuary (2011)
Crime drama and mystery meets outrageous science fiction in this story of faith, hope, destiny and redemption.

In Space No One Can Hear You Rock! (2011)
A futuristic, adult comedy about a virtuosic musician attempting to find fame in a stale and homogenised society. Will he be able to save the planet, get the girl, rekindle the halcyon days of Rock n Roll and take the galactic tour before his own ego eats him alive?

Dark Phase (2011)
A compelling and atmospheric science fiction story of Silicon based life form as he explores his past, present and future whilst attempting to understand his own evolution as a sentient being. He is the only one who can bring about order to the chaos. A poignant tale of self discovery.

The Prometheus Effect (2012)
Two men seek to discover the truth behind a global event which will usher in a terrifying new world order. An ambitious and suspenseful science fiction thriller for those who look to the future with cynical eyes.

PROLOGUE

 

The child stood shivering, the dew of the morning air glistened around her slender ankles, and her bare feet slowly sank into the mud leaving their impression in the cool, moist earth. A hot trickle of red liquor dripped from her nostril and ran down across her lips where it dripped to the ground without interference. Her breath was short and rapid, her eyes wide and bright. Her body was taut, rigid with shock and fear. She remained motionless despite her desperate peril. Having witnessed the heinous destruction of her home of thirteen years, the murder of her beloved father and tasting the cruel blow of a heavy wooden pike, Annatrice remained resolute, defiant. She had much of her father in her that was for certain.

The horse's bits were dripping with froth and their nostrils emitted plumes of swirling condensation as their hot breath mingled with the frosty morning air. They tossed their heads and whinnied as they awaited the next instruction; the next chance to exhibit their robustness, their exuberant athleticism. The riders kept them in check with firm tugs upon their reins and the powerful animals danced upon the spot in eagerness.

“Will you look at that?”

The first rider exclaimed, examining the pathetic wretch that stood before them, her white clothes had been spoiled by the stains of mud and blood.

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

The second rider asked, his gruff voice muffled inside the angular helmet.

“T'is hard to tell from here.”

The first rider inched his steed forward and halted just short of the child whose slight but persistent convulsions were clearly visible.

“If it is a boy then you know what to do.” The second rider called out as he glanced about him checking for any sign of approaching danger.

The child stood still, her eyes unfocused, gazing into the distance as if her mind were in a different place entirely.

“They told us that Taurlin bore no sons, or at least none that they were aware of. This creature has a likeness though.”

The first rider dismounted his charge and stood towering over the child who stood her ground. The riders menace was apparent; his muscular form bore the scars of battle as did his armour which stifled his every movement. His leather gloved hand flicked the long wet strands of hair away from the child’s face which was pallid and drawn.

“So?” The mounted rider called out, still vigilant.

“Pretty little thing.” The second rider announced and little did Annatrice know at that exact moment that she was saved from a swift and brutal death and her life's path altered irrevocably.

“How old do you think?” The first rider inquired. His inquisition was not born out through mere curiosity. It was a question of loyalty, a question of procedure and a question of morality. The second rider took hold of Annatrice's face by the lower jaw and clasped it firmly as he examined her pale features. Her black eyes rolled about as he jerked her face from side to side.

“Old enough.” The tall man responded with a gravelly sneer.

Lifting the child off her feet, Annatrice's body became limp as the battle weary soldier hoisted her over his shoulder, her cold limbs lolling over the frame of the purposeful man.

“You'll get the axe for this Jeaynus!” The mounted rider called out as he realised his comrade's intentions.

“What Tragian won’t know won't hurt anyone.” Jeaynus was confident in his friend's loyalty although he knew that he could not resist the spoils of battle either.

“Well I’ll not tell, but if you spoil 'er then he's goin' to find out sooner or later!”

Jeaynus halted his advance to the privacy of Taurlin's dwelling, a large conical house of wattle and daub.

“Get off your mount Heynagan. We've been doing Tragian's bidding years and with little reward. I'll tell you now that the threat of the axe will not come between me and spoilin' this prize.”

Heynagan shook his head and emitted a frustrated growl. He swung his leg over the girth of his steed and took to the squelch of the track. Unfastening his thick leather belt he prepared himself for his turn as he waited patiently outside the meagre shelter.

Looking out over the expanse of the green fields there was a dense forest and beyond that, the rolling mountains of Cayborne. The shivers took hold of Heynagan as the cold nipped at him. He leaned back and looked up to dark, pendulous clouds above. There was a silence, not even the trees spoke as the wind died. Heynagan felt the calm before the coming storm, a warning that a vengeful force was about to be unleashed. He would have to take his spoils in haste lest he get caught in its wrath.

CHAPTER ONE

 

Annatrice lie flaccid and still across the haunches of the sweaty auburn steed as it trotted steadily down the well worn track, the camber causing the mare to frequently complain as it was kept moving forward by the sharp heel of an iron boot. The winding path led to Tragian's estate in the heart of Araman, the county of gold and green which lay on the southern edge of the Protathaian Isles. Gold and green so named because of its lush green rolling hills and meadows, gold because it was a place of wealth in an otherwise poor land. Tragian, fifth in the Order of the Grey ruled over Araman, he was a man of lineage but held little affection from his people despite his blood right to reign. He was a fortunate son to have commanded such riches. He had inherited the sword of power yet had done so very little to earn its value. It was to Tragian's court the weak and broken child was to be presented, a gift for the King, the daughter of one who dared speak ill of him and latterly suffered the most dire and indeed fatal consequences.

The hills of Cayborne subsided to the mystical Forest of Shadows, the flatlands of Reveylla and onwards towards the mighty town of Karick which sat astride the river Huk, a bubbling torrent of water which ran down from the high grounds and was soaked up like a sponge by the Reveyllan flats. Karick was a bustling conurbation, a centre of trade and industry, a place for the adventurous to carve a career but also for the detritus of the kingdom to fester and proliferate. Karick had its faults but it was the undeniable heartbeat of Araman, it was the home of the rich and the poor alike. Nobles rubbed shoulders with beggars who looked upon those more fortunate ones with envious eyes. There was a place for all in this fortress town whose walls were a daunting prospect for any invader. The putrid slime from the Huk grew up the smooth defensive borders and would make a formidable deterrent for those with intentions to scale them. The by product was an uncommon stench which clung to the back of the throat like a gelatinous fog. To the newcomer, it was a repellent odour which thankfully subsided with everyday life and became another part of the Karick experience. The turgid slime also aided the harvesting of considerable quantities of delicious crustacea which were served as a local delicacy, providing another unique offering to passing merchants.

Jeaynus and Heynagan passed closely by the town using the nearby Rhyllian Bridge as a required part of their journey. Named not after its master builder but more morbidly after the first to fall foul of it and perish in the murky depths of the river beneath. Rhyllian was a local merchant and respected member of the governing council of Karick. The circumstances of his demise were never truly understood but ruling out more sinister circumstances, it was clear to see how accidents might occur on the expansive, yet rickety traverse. The two weary soldiers dismounted their horses to cross, not wanting to be unwilling victims of their mounts sudden desire to rear up or take flight. Annatrice however was not offered the same protection as she remained slumped across the girth of Jeaynus' animal, its fearful eyes wide and moist. The bridge was constructed of wooden flats and thick lengths of rope which suspended the construction high above the deep green river. The wind was beginning to howl and whistle through the frail bridge causing it to sway markedly and rain spots began to fall and pitter-patter on the soldier's helmets. It was a sign of impending danger and Heynagan once again looked up to the brooding skies to gauge how long before the worst of it came. Jeaynus detected Heynagan's growing fears and ushered his steed onwards across the narrow suspension being careful not to be crushed by the animal as it fought to keep its balance. The fast flowing river beneath hypnotically drew the gaze as the men crossed, its motion did little to ease the feeling that the bridge was moving from side to side, the creaking of rope under tension causing ill ease.

The tall brown creature of Jeaynus stumbled as its hoof slid across the greasy wooden flat and it bolted yanking the reigns from the soldier's hand. The slight figure of Annatrice could be seen to take flight and fall back down upon the great mares haunches, her body still limp as if in some deep slumber, an inescapable dream-like abyss. The horse shot forward into an unsteady canter and Jeaynus called out in rage as he clutched his burning hand where the friction of the escaping reins had warmed through his glove. Heynagan's mount reared up, spooked by its counterparts actions and it too took flight leaving the armoured soldiers lagging far behind by the time they had reached the end of the bridge.

Struggling to run let alone keep pace with their rogue charges, the soldiers could see them gallop into the distance and then pull up by a small copse of trees atop a small hill.

“Ah, you'll have lost the girl!” Heynagan called out to his wheezing comrade as their heavy armour made every step an arduous one.

“To hell with the girl, that horse is worth forty Yar!” Jeaynus replied angered by his own mishandling.

The two encumbered men finally reached the copse and slowed to a gentle walking pace as to not startle their mounts as they approached. Incredulous, they looked at each other with a puzzled expression, then wry smiles as they saw the child standing upright and alert, petting the smooth throat of the lead horse. She was calm, awake but not altogether lucid. It seemed to the two men that she was in some state of nervous shock possibly brought about by anxiety; they had witnessed similar in fellow warriors after battle. They both had their suspicions however that she was just a broken mind, a defective creation. If the latter was the case then there was always a place for the likes of her somewhere deep in Tragian's keep with the rest of the curiosities.

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