Authors: David A. Wells
Sovereign of the Seven Isles: Book Three
David A. Wells
Copyright © 2011 by David A. Wells
All rights reserved.
Edited by Carol L. Wells
This is a work of fiction. Characters, events and organizations in this novel are creations of the author’s imagination.
Isabel stood on the balcony that jutted from the side of the fortress island many hundreds of feet above the ocean. It was a calm day with clear blue skies and gently rolling seas. Under other circumstances the view would have been peaceful and beautiful. The gentle breeze was cool but not uncomfortably so and the sounds of seagulls could be heard in the distance as they soared over the surf looking for their next meal.
She tried to focus her mind on the numerous problems at hand but inevitably found herself thinking about Alexander. It had been several days since she and Abigail had been summoned before the triumvirate and they were both anxious for news. The serving girl who brought food to their well-appointed prison cell was pleasant enough but she wasn’t privy to the inner workings of the fortress island, let alone the intentions of the triumvirate.
Last Isabel had heard, Alexander was in the Reishi Keep along with Jataan P’Tal. Although she had great faith in Alexander, she worried that even with the Thinblade powered by the magic of the skillbook, he might not be equal to the battle mage. The thought of losing him was one she was not willing to entertain and yet it intruded into her mind with maddening insistence.
Whatever troubles he was facing, she had a few of her own to consider. She and Abigail were still prisoners. The possibility of escape from the fortress island was unlikely. The Reishi Coven and the Sky Knights, as the wyvern riders called themselves, had revealed little of their purpose—save for their intention to prevent the Sovereign Stone from falling into Phane’s hands.
Then there was the matter of the poison coursing through her veins. She had only a few weeks to live, unless Magda was telling the truth about Mage Gamaliel’s magic, and provided that the magic actually worked. Her own predicament only brought her back to her worry for Alexander. She knew that his love for her was true and complete. She had felt it when their souls bonded during their escape from the netherworld. If she died, it would crush his spirit. His will to fight was tied to his love for life and that was bound to his love for her. She had to find a way to convince the witches to save her from the poison—if not for herself, then for Alexander.
Abigail stopped pacing behind her and came to stand silently next to her on the balcony. They’d spent most of their time at the fortress island together and had bonded as friends and sisters. Both shared the same resolve to secure their freedom and return to Alexander’s side to see this war through to the end.
Abigail had been pacing since breakfast. Isabel left her to it. She had just as much to worry about, if not more. The revelation that she and Alexander were Reishi had hit her hard. The first night after that unwelcome revelation, she had cried herself to sleep. The Reishi had killed her oldest brother, burned her home to the ground, and hunted her family across all of Ruatha.
She had good reason to hate them.
Isabel suspected that Abigail had come to some new understanding but waited patiently for her to speak.
“What if they’re right?” Abigail asked. “What if Alexander and I are Reishi?”
Isabel thought about it for a moment before she said, “I don’t know. It’s hard to tell how the Reishi Protectorate might respond, let alone the people of Ruatha.”
Abigail frowned. “I hadn’t thought about that, but I see what you mean. The Protectorate might become less of a threat and the people of Ruatha might decide that we’re their enemy. After all, the Reishi brought about the fall of the House of Ruatha during the war.” She shook her head to bring herself back to her original concern. “What happens when Alexander finds the Sovereign Stone? Do you think he might be able to use it?”
Isabel looked at her sharply. Until now the Sovereign Stone had been nothing but a terrible threat to the future because of the power it would confer upon Phane if he found it first. Isabel hadn’t considered the possibility that Alexander might be able to use it.
She shook her head slowly. “I don’t know, but it’s worth thinking about. If we had the power of the Sovereign Stone, it might tip the balance in our favor. I wonder how the witches would react to that.”
Abigail gave her best mischievous grin. “I doubt they would be pleased, but then I don’t really care.” She paused to look out over the ocean. “I wish we knew where Alexander was,” she said in a small, worried voice.
Isabel took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “He’s all right, I can feel it. Besides, a number of Sky Knights returned just after breakfast, so I’m hoping we might have another conversation with the triumvirate today. I’m sure they have news to report.”
They both stood at the balcony railing in silence for a long time. The frustration of being trapped when so much was happening in the world was maddening.
There was a tap at the door, then the bar was removed and the bolt thrown. A large, burly guard pulled the door open to admit Wren, their serving girl. She was a waif of a thing, maybe five and a half feet tall and a hundred pounds dripping wet. She had fair skin and wispy dirty-blond hair that was always slightly disheveled. Her big eyes were deep blue and she had freckles across her nose and cheeks. She was innocent to the point of naiveté. Isabel and Abigail had both taken a liking to her in spite of the fact that she was working for the enemy.
“Mistress Isabel, Mistress Abigail, I have your lunch,” she said as she entered, balancing a covered tray on one hand. The guard closed the door behind her and bolted it shut.
Isabel smiled. “Wren, how many times do I have to tell you to call me Isabel? I’m not your mistress.”
Wren flushed a bit and nodded. “Yes, Mistress,” she said as she went about the task of laying out their meal.
Isabel and Abigail shared a smile.
Wren was fragile and friendly and terribly eager to please. She went out of her way to ensure that the meals she brought were well prepared, always warm and consisted of food that her two charges preferred. Isabel had to admit that she and Abigail ate well despite their lack of freedom.
They had tried to engage Wren in conversation a number of times but she was usually not very forthcoming—not out of a desire to withhold information but more from a pronounced sense of deference. It was clear that the witches had impressed upon her the need to provide excellent service. That simple fact gave Isabel a measure of hope that there was still a chance for an alliance with these people.
“Please, sit and share a meal with us, Wren,” Isabel said with a warm smile.
“Oh, but I couldn’t, Mistress,” Wren said. “I’m just a serving girl. It’s not my place to sit with high-born ladies.” She looked down as she spoke.
Abigail laughed and Isabel smiled with a gentle chuckle. Wren looked up with alarm until she saw the genuine mirth on their faces and she couldn’t help but smile slightly.
“I was born on a ranch and grew up herding cattle,” Abigail said. “I’m not ‘high-born’ by any stretch of the imagination.”
“I grew up riding patrol in the Great Forest of Ruatha, sleeping on the ground and eating trail rations,” Isabel said. “You don’t have to be afraid of us, Wren. We’d like to be your friends.”
A look of puzzlement mingled with hope ghosted across her face. “Why?” she asked simply and earnestly.
Isabel shrugged. “Because we could use the company and you seem like a nice person.”
Wren hesitated for a moment. “You’re so different from anyone here. People here are always worried about position and appearance. None of the important people would dare be caught talking to a servant except to give orders.” She shook her head. “I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live in a place where people could do what they want instead of what they were born to do.”
“What do you mean, born to do?” Isabel asked.
“We’re all born into our place here. The mission of the Reishi Coven is so vital to the world that we must all accept our place and do our part to protect the future from the Reishi Prince,” Wren said.
Isabel and Abigail shared a look. “Please sit with us. We know almost nothing of your ways and customs. Would you tell us about your home?” Isabel said, motioning to a chair at the sturdy dining table.
Wren blinked a few times and slowly sat down, clasping her hands on the table and studying them like she thought she was guilty of some transgression.
Isabel and Abigail took their seats at the square little table and helped themselves to lunch. There was smoked fish, roasted bison, and freshly baked hard rolls with a wedge of soft spreadable cheese. It was simple fare but it was well prepared and there was plenty of it. Isabel figured the people of the fortress island must have limited sources of food, hence the reliance on fish as a main staple of their diet. She fixed a plate of food for Wren and set it in front of the waifish serving girl.
Wren looked up wide-eyed with just a hint of panic. “I can’t eat your food. I would get in trouble.”
Isabel shrugged. “We won’t tell if you won’t,” she said as she popped a piece of smoked fish into her mouth.
Wren looked at the food, then at Isabel. “You promise?” she asked.
“Of course,” Isabel said nodding.
Wren looked to Abigail.
She smiled warmly. “We won’t tell a soul.”
Wren hesitated for a moment more before she took a small piece of roasted bison and spread some cheese on it. She closed her eyes and savored the flavor of it as she chewed.
“Meat is scarce, so the servants aren’t allowed to have any,” she said. “It’s delicious.” She didn’t make a move to have any more.