Aldan arrived at the King's Castle expecting to apprentice to the King's Mage. Before he is able to recover from the journey, the castle comes under attack and he is forced into the role of the Princess's protector. Along with two guardsmen, they flee the castle through a secret passage and Aldan is confronted by beings and places he'd only read about.
Plagued by a lack of confidence in his abilities and confusion over the budding relationship with Princess Odessa, the companions struggle to reach a neighboring kingdom for help. With every confrontation, Aldan's confidence grows and Odessa discovers a source of magic only she can use.
Upon arrival, they discover the kingdom under attack from an ancient evil and only they have the power to combat it. Will Aldan's confidence and Odessa's rare magic be enough to prevail and guaranty the help they need to return home?
Any comments as to whether this first chapter is good enough to make you read on or not, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading!
Aldan Beaverson hurried along the cobblestone street leading to the King’s Castle at the west end of Westalia. He had made good time on the road after leaving his master’s home on the far eastern border of the kingdom. However, today the weather became unpredictable and he’d arrived in the city later than planned. The rich aroma of roasting mutton and the sound of laughter coming from a nearby inn pulled him away from his intended destination. It had been a fast paced but lonely five days.
Aldan stepped through the door into silence as every eye fell on him and then quickly turned away. Forced laughter erupted from several tables, and it appeared that more patrons were knocking back drinks than eating. The innkeeper seemed loath to abandon his sanctuary behind the counter when Aldan called him over, the one serving girl busy refilling mugs.
The food was surprisingly good, but he wasted no time in savoring the meal. Silence fell once again when he stood, and the laughter returned full force as the door shut behind him. The weather had taken a turn for the worse while he ate and heavy, dark clouds now filled the sky. Shifting shadows from old bushes and the rustle of leaves from ancient oaks, added to the unease he felt after leaving the inn.
Aldan breathed a sigh of relief as the dark silhouette of the castle came into view. This was the first castle he had seen outside of the pages of a book and the reality of it stopped him in his tracks. It would not have surprised him to hear the ground groan at the weight of the massive stone structure. Dull faced granite blocks, most covered with moss or ivy, were a testament to its extreme age. What he didn’t expect was the smell.
Apparently they drained the castles garderobes into the moat, probably as an extra deterrent to keep enemies out. Fortunately, the drawbridge was lowered. Holding his breath, Aldan hurried across to the sally port in the massive wooden gate. A quick pull on the bell rope and a voice from somewhere above called down.
“Who goes there?”
“Aldan Beaverson. I’m the new apprentice mage.”
“Aye. We’ve been expecting you. A moment please while I summon the mage.”
Aldan hoped they would hurry as one of the shadows detached itself from the nearest building and slowly made its way toward the bridge. He quickly rehearsed one of the few defensive spells he had learned and loosened his sword in its scabbard, just in case.
About the time he determined to cast his spell, the portal opened and he was unceremoniously dragged through as the nervous guard peered out then slammed the door.
Unaware he’d been holding his breath, Aldan gasped, “What in the Seven Hells was that?”
“That is why you are needed here,” announced an elderly, silver haired gentleman. “And why the gate is always kept closed. Well met, young Beaverson. I am Jordan Ryecliff, Kings Mage. I must return to the King but the chamberlain should arrive shortly to escort you to your rooms. I will see you as soon as I can, but plan on asking your questions on the morrow when we have more time.”
With that, the mage turned to leave in a swirl of flowing, dark blue robes and disappeared down a corridor just as a harried, portly man approached from the opposite side of the entry tunnel.
“Ah, Master Beaverson! So glad you finally arrived. Welcome to Greystone Castle. I’m the chamberlain, Horis Whitely. Please follow me and I will show you to your rooms.”
Before Aldan had a chance to answer, the chamberlain headed back the way he had come. Hurrying to catch up, he couldn’t help but notice the poor state of the castle. Dust covered everything in the hall and cobwebs hung from the ceiling. The wooden banisters and railings, of the three flights of stairs they climbed, hadn’t seen a polish cloth in a very long time. The hour was not that late, yet the only sounds to disturb the eerily quiet halls were their footsteps.
They arrived at a door the chamberlain opened with one of the many keys attached to a ring. Aldan entered the room, pleasantly surprised at what he saw. His rooms had been thoroughly cleaned and several lit candles gave off a pleasant scent. A small fire crackled cheerfully in the fireplace. Tapestries hung on the walls depicting forest scenes and someone’s garden. Not really to his tastes but better than scenes of battle in their blood spattered glory.
Master Whitely waved in the direction of a small table to one side. “I suspect you are quite weary from your journey but a small bottle of wine and a platter of meat and cheese has been provided in case you are hungry. I must leave now and return to the King but the Mage indicated he would visit you before turning in. A key to your room hangs on a peg next to the door. Just as a precaution, always keep your door locked. Goodnight.”
Aldan shook his head as the chamberlain exited the room and quickly shut the door behind him. Other than the one question he’d been able to voice upon entering the castle, they had given him no opportunity for further conversation. He didn’t need to be a scholar to figure out something was terribly wrong. Where were all the staff, and why keep his door locked in the King’s castle?
A knock at the door put a hold on further musings. With the chamberlain’s warning still fresh in his mind, he cautiously stepped to the door and called out. “Who’s there?”
“Your royal welcoming committee-- as it were.”
Intrigued, Aldan opened the door to be confronted by a stunningly beautiful young woman about his own age. Long dark hair framed the face of an angel with deep green eyes and wearing a simple but elegant gown. Having someone like her appear at his door did not happen every day.
“Are you going to invite me in or just stand there and stare?” she asked as one corner of her mouth twitched, and the twinkle in her eyes threatened to un-mask her royal attitude of indifference.
“Ah, sorry my lady,” he stammered in apology. “I was expecting Mage Ryecliff.”
Aldan quickly opened the door as she glided in on slippered feet. The material of her dress made a swishing sound as her perfume filled the air. He shut and locked the door as he’d been told, all the while desperately trying to regain his composure. Why would Princess Odessa visit him in his rooms, alone?
He faced the princess and executed his best bow using the form taught to him by his mentor. “Forgive me your Highness. I am Aldan Beaverson, apprentice mage, at your service.”
After a perfunctory glance at the rest of the room, the princess returned her gaze to Aldan. Wavy blond hair that just touched the tips of his ears, framed an angular face dominated by a set of expressive dark brown eyes. The tall, slim body that would fill out as he aged gave her a glimpse of what the future promised.
“At least you are more pleasing to the eye than our last apprentice. Your hair is shorter than I prefer but that will grow out in time. Now come away from the door and join me at the table. We must talk.”
Aldan rushed to position her chair as she sat down, then sat facing her across the table hoping she had missed the color in his face at her frank appraisal. So many questions flashed through his mind, but where to start?
The princess sat there quietly with the same faint smile as if waiting for something. This time, the heat that rose up from his neck was for his own lack of manners. “May I pour you a glass of wine, Princess?”
She answered with a nod of her head and a quick glance at the platter of food in the center of the table.
“Please help yourself, Princess. Meat and cheese are all I have to offer you.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, but we can talk about that later. Right now, I feel I must inform you of the happenings inside the castle.”
“Please do. The city is full of rumors that the Southern King is poised to attack and I’ve felt something was amiss ever since I entered the city. It has only gotten worse now that I’m in the castle.” Aldan gestured with the knife he used to cut slices of the meat. “Even the air around me feels oppressive and filled with malice.”
The Princess nodded in agreement. “That is one of the reasons why most of the staff has abandoned the castle. That and other things.”
His attention riveted on her face as the hair on the back of his neck rose in apprehension. “What other things?”
Eyes wide in fear, trembling, she pointed to the door with a piece of cheese and whispered, “Those things.”
Reluctantly, his head swiveled to face in the direction she pointed and watched in fascination as a black cloud oozed under the door and formed into a being unlike anything he had ever seen before. It only took a moment to realize they were completely defenseless against it.