Azurite (Daughter of the Mountain Book 1)

 

Azurite

Daughter of the Mountain Book I

By

Megan Dent Nagle

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are products of the author’s imagination.

 

 

Azurite

Daughter of the Mountain Book 1

 

 

Text Copyright © 2015 by Megan Dent Nagle

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission from the author.

Acknowledgements

 

To my family for their constant support and encouragement.

To my husband for his awesome artistry and computer skills.

And to God, who did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:17)

 

 

Prologue

 

 “Zora…” a smooth voice slowly beckoned, its faint whisper breaking through the fragile night air.  The voice waited momentarily, cautiously.  There was no response.

“Zora?” it questioned again, this time a bit more audibly.  “Why don’t you ever answer me?  I know you hear me.” 

Again there was no reaction.  The voice was becoming impatient.  It was always like this.

“Zora!”

***

Zora Winnser slowly opened her sleep-filled eyes and peered around her bedchamber, while the irksome remnants of her dreams reverberated in her mind.  Even through her grogginess, Zora felt a surge of frustration fill her chest.  She breathed in deeply, telling herself to calm down and go back to sleep. 

That soft voice beckoning to Zora gently in her dreams had intruded on her sleep for the past three months, causing her to wake every time.  She waited for a couple of minutes to pass, allowing her eyes to adjust to the blackness of night that encompassed her room.  She examined her surroundings, trying to decipher any oddities in the shape of the shadows hiding in the corners.  Nothing appeared amiss.  To the right of Zora lay a fireless hearth that housed nothing more than a few glowing embers.

It was only a dream

Nothing more,
the girl consoled herself, yet she lay there too frightened to move. 
But how can you tell the difference between a voice in a dream and a voice that is real?
  Zora began to question her logic as she stared blindly at the ceiling. 
Can you really dream while you're awake?  It seems as though she speaks to me when I’m awake…

“Zora,” the voice beckoned again.  This time the girl sat upright in her bed, fully alert.

“This can’t be a dream,” she said out loud, swinging her legs over to the side and placing them on the cool floor. 

To the east of her bedchamber, which was located in the northern most tower of the Samarian fortress Mizra, an ivory half moon smiled low in the sky, illuminating the valley that her country lay in, nestled between the great Anion Mountain peaks           

“I know you hear me,” the voice said again, “so why don’t you answer me?”

Cautiously, the girl stood up and strolled over to the window.  She took a seat on the ledge and leaned back against the inside of the stone opening while frigid night air flowed over her like ocean waves.  The moon’s light failed to reach into the steep hill crevices in the northern part of the country, but overhead innumerable points of light hugged the purple sky.

“Zora,“ the voice gently cooed. “Future Queen of Samaria.”

Zora widened her eyes in surprise.  Queen of Samaria?  Had she heard right?  That idea was nonexistent.  She wanted it, of course.  She was entitled to it, so she naively believed, but in her situation that didn’t seem to matter.

However, the voice of her dreams felt powerful, and it sounded as if it possessed the authority to hold such a promise.  The young girl dismissed the thought as she sat on the windowsill, staring into the darkness covering her country.  Far in the distance she could make out the pitch-black clump of trees that comprised the infamous Forest of Mirth, a dreaded landmark that symbolized the northern zenith of the Realm. 

That’s where the voice is coming from
, Zora realized with a skip of a heartbeat. 

It had been summoning her for several months now, and not once before had she thought to actually answer the voice’s persistent requests.  Maybe if she responded, she could find out what it wanted with her.  A few subtle questions wouldn’t hurt.  The young girl tried to swallow the lump of fear in her throat before she gathered up the courage to speak.

            “Excuse me, Madame?” she said timidly.  “How can I be of help?”  Zora paused, listening as her diffident question got sucked up by the hushed night.  There was no answer, no voice. 

“This is stupid,” she mumbled in irritation.  “No one needs my help.  It’s all just a dumb dream.” 

Jumping down from the sill, the young girl snuffled a yawn, intent on making the rest of her night’s sleep a good one.  Suddenly, as she strolled back to bed, a powerful gust of wind blew in from outside, knocking over several candleholders that clanged loudly as they hit the ground.  Zora screamed in surprise, panic stopping her dead in her tracks.

“Good Evening, Zora Winnser, daughter of Evangeline Winnser, Queen of Samaria.  I knew you’d answer me eventually.” 

The voice surrounded her in every direction, and Zora felt her heart beat accelerating in her chest.  She spun around in a small circle, scrutinizing every piece of furniture, every shadow, and every flicker of light that entered the corner of her eye.  A light chuckle rose in her ears.

“What do you want?” Zora demanded harshly.  The laughter abruptly ended.  There was a pause in the air before the voice spoke again. 

“I want you, Zora, future Queen,” it replied knowingly, as if Zora should have been able to answer that question herself.  “Actually, I need your assistance with something, and it’s something only you can aid me with.”  A cold wind rustled the young girl’s hair while the voice endeared her.  She shuddered in response.

              “Why me?” Zora questioned suspiciously. 

The voice answered in a calm, composed tone.  “Because I know you.  I’ve had my eye on you a long time, and I know what you’re capable of. Zora Winnser, future Queen of Samaria.” 

Zora snorted out loud. 
I will be no Queen
, she thought bitterly. 
Yet this woman seems to think so.

“Why do you hesitate?” the voice asked.

“Sorry to disappoint you, but I will be no Queen as the law states,” Zora muttered with a woeful heart.  “Even though you think differently.”

 “Ah, but I can see things that others cannot, especially one as blind as your mother,” the woman replied confidently. 

Zora sighed, wishing she could make the woman understand how hopeless her situation was.  Suddenly, she felt the presence of a gentle motherly being enter her room, although no physical entity appeared.  

“What ails you, child?” the voice questioned.  “What holds your heart so full of doubt and despair?”  Zora felt the pain of rejection fill her when the woman brought up her nonexistent succession to the throne.  She pushed it aside, as she’d taught herself to do long ago. 

“My blood is dirty.  I am a baseborn,” the girl admitted quietly, as if it was something that should not be spoken of.  “Because of this my country shall never truly be mine.”

“I pay no heed to such technicalities,” the voice explained.  “What’s important is the power that radiates from the core of every human being, and with you I see an infinite amount.” 

With the woman’s last words playing in her mind, Zora walked back over the window and stared out at the Forest of Mirth.  From her position in the tower, Zora could feel the dark cluster of trees trying to draw her into its denseness, feeding off the shame of her birth status and turning it into a longing for acceptance.  The darkness inside the lonely forest seemed to ripple like water in a pond, and the faint glimmering of the stars above reflected dimly in a black shimmer.  Zora stumbled back from the window aghast at the sudden temptation she felt to jump out of the tower and into the back shimmer of the forest, which was located well past the Anion Mountains. 

“Zora,” the voice whispered in her ear, warm and comforting, yet eager at the same time.  “I can help you with all of it.  The relationship with your mother, your succession to the throne, and most importantly, what you’re capable of.  Just follow my voice.” 

The young girl couldn’t help but be lured by the woman’s seductive promises.

“Yes,” she heard herself whisper. “Tell me where to go.”  The woman laughed again, her tone still gentle but forceful 

“Zora, you already know where to find me.”

“How do I get there?” she asked simply, her attention completely taken over by the rippling forest below.

“Use the caverns, Daughter of the Mountain.” 

With that last command, Zora turned away from the window and fled down the stairs of the tower, making her way to the dark caverns below of the Anion Mountains. 

***

It took Zora no more than an hour to find her way out of the rocky mountain tunnels.  She knew the ways down there and often traveled them without fear.  The countless mines that had been dug out by her Samarian ancestors allowed Zora easy passage.  Thousands of drawings decorated the mountain caves, providing a vivid display of Samaria’s history.  Normally, Zora would stop and examine them, reading the ancient Samarian language with intrigue, but tonight, she flew by them without a glance. 

The underground path she followed in the darkness was well traveled by Samarian miners.  It was located into the far reaches of the northern mountain range where the tall peaks overlooking the valley turned into nothing more than infantile, pebbly hills.  Outside of the fertile valley lay nothing but barren tundra; a dead land inhabited only by ice and snow.  The Forest of Mirth covered the land opposite the mountain range, and it ran on for miles until it touched icy seashores.  It was a lifeless and dreary area forever tormented by fierce, winter storms that seemed to foster in the forest’s vile center. 

The trees there were clustered together, thick and daunting, making it almost impossible for one to go into the forest and still come out on the other side.  No Samarian had ever risked such a move.  They were afraid of the evil that lies within the pitch void of the forest.  The only Samarians who even came close were the miners who worked for the Queen chipping away under the blue mountains in order to retrieve the famous Samarian gems, and even those men kept a safe distance from the black woodland. 

            A cold wind seemed to have picked up as Zora stepped out of the large cave mouth.  She looked around the barren land nervously, noting the gray sky and fierce howling of the winds.  To her left and to her right stood nothingness, just flat icy land as far as the eye could see.  Thick clouds blocked out the luminesce from the moon and stars, if the moon or stars even dared to show their faces in this forsaken part of the world.  In the distance stood the forest, only a few spans from where she was now, dark and foreboding against the gloomy sky

You can always turn around and go back to your warm bed
, Zora thought. 
But then the voice would just come back, night after night
unrelentingly
.  The girl felt the pull of the forest again, the enticement of the silky voice even though now it could not be heard. 
That is where the voice waits for me.  I must meet it. 

Wearily, Zora placed one foot in front of the other, the billowy snow under her feet numbing them to the bone until she was no longer sure her feet were moving.  As the forest grew nearer, the trees became larger and more real.  They swayed alive in the wind, although to Zora’s eyes they appeared dead.  She halted in front of the only entrance she could see then looked behind her to make sure her only connection back to Mizra was still there.  Zora gasped in dismay when the mouth of the cave and the tall mountain peaks were well hidden by the violent wrath of gray winter storms.  The wind howled in her ears and beat ruthlessly against her body.  Zora clenched her fists at her sides and faced the entrance to the forest. 

“Guess the only way to get out is to go in,” she whispered. 

Inside, the stench of decaying trees was almost more than she could bear.  A canopy of tree limbs sheltered her from the winds, but through the breaks in this makeshift shelter she could see dark clouds swirling above her like a tornado.  Her toes still dug their way into freezing snow, and Zora was surprised when she looked down and noticed that her feet had not even turned the slightest bit of pink.  Despite the tempest that waited for Zora outside, the dying trees were not affected by the storms.  They stood frozen and still, like pillars.  They were an odd black color, almost as if flames had consumed the whole land but not turned the trees to ashes. 

The deeper and deeper the forest seemed to go, the more the limbs of the trees seemed to knit together until the sky could no longer be seen and the screaming of the winds was cut off from her ears.  Zora kept a wary eye on her surroundings, unsure of where she was and where she was going, wondering for how far and how long she would have to walk before finding the source of that voice.  Something kept pulling her feet in a straight line, like she was a dog on a leash being pulled by her master.  Sometimes a fork in the road would bend to the left or right and head off into the darkness.  The unnamed road sometimes even curled around on itself before heading south again.  A quick look to her surroundings caused Zora’s brisk pace to cease as the young girl gasped in surprise.

The trees had now grown so tightly together that she could not differentiate where the lifeless vegetation began and where it ended.  Even the icy ground had vanished from under her and turned into some kind of earth brown stone, smooth and worn down by hundreds of feet over hundreds of years.  A narrow hallway seemed to appear out of nowhere, walled by charred black tree trunks and arched with dead braches that ran on forever.  Zora took a few cautious paces forward and then quickly retraced them, all the while staring into that unending hallway as she watched its form bend and contract in her sight. 

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