Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Eric d'Ebrur -- Heartstone

The following takes place prior to the opening of Heartstone.

"I'll fight the Gawan with sword or blaster, fang or claw," Eric said firmly. "But I will not take a wife."

The words hung in the study like a laser-flare over a battlefield. Like a flare, they caused a moment of absolute stillness in the two men facing him. Sharp beams of light from the Antiare sun speared through the windows hitting a jeweled prism on the low table to Eric’s right and burst into coruscating splinters. Through the richly carved moonwood door, Eric caught the soft murmurs of his mother and Orianna as they exchanged pleasantries in the reception room. Doubtless, the girl was trying to woo the mother as she did the son, he thought sourly. Orianna was persistent but, as lovely as she was, he would not wed her.

Behind the massive black calani wood desk, Tiernan d'Ebrur lifted a reproving brow. His hair and eyes were the color of bright silver coins. The round collar of his tunic was the same silver gray and stood in contrast to the remainder of the garment's deep blue color. He sported the Ebrur House badge, a black wolf silhouetted by full Harrer, on his left shoulder. Eric wore a similar badge on his dark gray tunic. But where Eric's House badge was bordered by a plain silver edge, a gold and silver braid surrounded Tiernan's badge.

Not that Tiernan needed that lofty sign of office. His intelligence and force of will would dominate any gathering. Certainly, he dominated this meeting. As House Lord, Tiernan could be ruthless or charming, though he often professed to prefer charm as his weapon of choice. In Tiernan's opinion, one Eric shared, force of arms was best left as a last resort.

After a lengthy silence, he gave Eric an odd, understanding look. "You misunderstand, grandson. We are not offering a contract of true marriage. The liaison is one of Gar'Ja."

"Gar'Ja?" Eric stood, going to the sideboard to refill his glass. Relief and resentment mingled in his chest. At one time, the mental and emotional link between Gar’Jalon, husband, and Gar’Jael, wife, symbolized the deepest and truest of bonds between a man and a woman.

Long ago, great pains were taken to ensure each boy was joined in Gar’Ja to his perfect mate. Gar'Ja was still recognized by the Great Houses with all their political and economic alliances but, now, it was a temporary union, meant to last one year, and invoked less and less often. Eric looked at Tiernan coolly and said, "Then you, indeed, have the wrong man. My Gar'Jael is dead."

Tiernan exchanged a cautious look with his guest. The man, Benamont I'sadhe, fingered his Speaker's medallion, as if the heavy gold circle conveyed more authority than his words alone. Nothing the man could say would change Eric's mind, although it might prove interesting. Leaning against the sideboard, Eric sipped his brandy and studied the man.

Like all members of House Sadhe, Benamont was tall but his rounded shoulders gave him a frail appearance. I'sadhe's pale face glistened with oily sweat and dark patches formed under his arms although the room was not warm. To Eric, I'sadhe had the look of a man just recovering from illness, perhaps a touch of the Balenese flu. Eric wondered if the man's breathing had been affected as well since he'd apparently tried to drown himself in a sickly sweet cologne.

I'sadhe shifted uneasily on the rich, korath-hide chair and sent a questioning glance at Tiernan. Tiernan gave an almost imperceptible nod. Eric tensed. What did the man have to say that could not be said outright? Impatient, he strode to the windows and in its reflection, watched the Speaker.

With slow, measured movements, I'sadhe extracted an embroidered cloth from his pocket and methodically dabbed his neck and chin. Folding the cloth with precision, he said, "Your Gar'Jael lives."

Eric turned with a swift, challenging movement. "I understood she and her family were among those lost on Purlea."

"So we all believed." Benamont held the cloth ready in one hand while he reached for his own bulb-shaped glass. "Regardless, Keriam I'sadhe, my great-niece, lives. She has been traced to a world known by its inhabitants as Earth."

"Indeed?" Eric turned his back to the men. He understood now. Benamont wanted his niece returned to her family. This ruse of Gar'Ja was intended to provoke Eric's sympathy. In addition, since Eric was the only Antiari who had any real knowledge of that primitive world, he was the only logical candidate to fetch the missing girl. He considered the best way to refuse the, as yet, unspoken request as he stared at the fiery red locanthe blossoms lining the garden path. Finally, he decided on blunt honesty. "I am glad your niece has been found, sir, but my duty lies elsewhere. If you like, I can dispatch a hand of men to fetch Keriam I'sadhe, but that is as much as I can do."

"Would you forego a weapon against the Gawan?" Tiernan leaned back in his chair. Eric turned to confront his grandfather warily. The elder man continued. "A weapon that could stop the Gawan advance and repel them from our worlds?"

Eric narrowed his gaze. "You know the answer."

"The woman is the heir to the Heartstone," Tiernan said bluntly. Eric returned to his contemplation of the locanthe beyond the window to hide his reaction.

The Heartstone! Adrenaline jolted through his body, bringing with it an instinctual urge to shapeshift. The adrenaline quickly gave way to a fierce elation. If the Heartstone was found, the war could be over in months. Days! No more infestations of Gawan-spawn to hunt down and destroy. No more battle mates lost. His father's face swam through his memory, leaving him aching with guilt and fury. No more Enogch!

The legendary weapon, with its ability to broadcast energy along psychic wavelengths, was precisely what he needed to stop the mind-controlling Gawan.

Caution doused his state of near-euphoria. He relaxed his grip on the fragile brandy glass before it shattered. According to legend, the Heartstone would only answer to its rightful heir. And her chosen mate. To anyone else, it was deadly.

As if hearing his thoughts I'sadhe said, "A dangerous weapon and a useful tool. In the right hands."

"Also a tool whose whereabouts is unknown," Eric pointed out. He eyed the man with interest. "Or is it?"

Benamont smiled a mere twist of the mouth that did not reflect humor. He stroked the Speaker's medallion, a sly gleam in his eyes. "I have had Seekers dredging through our history datapaks and ancient tomes. I believe I have the location narrowed down to one place."

"Let me guess--Earth?" Eric asked suspiciously. Would the Sadhe tempt him with the Heartstone, a weapon without equal, just to retrieve his damned relative? He would throttle the man, Speaker or not, if that proved to be the case.

"No." The man waved his hand in dismissal. "Purlea."

"Then it might as well be in the deeps of the Abyss." Eric's newborn hope plummeted. "Purlea lies inside Gawan space. Going there would be suicide."

"A man such as yourself could get in and out of Purlea without attracting notice," Benamont I'sadhe said smoothly. He leaned forward in his chair, as if to number his arguments. "You've astounded the Council with your ability to survive impossible odds and accomplish your purpose. You broke the Gawan blockade over Jeirif. You, at great personal risk, rescued the First Speaker's son when the Agaz pirates took him hostage. You nearly single-handedly repelled the Gawan from Balen after their five-year entrenchment.... Think, Defender, what could you do with the Heartstone in your grasp?"

Eric leaned against the windowsill, frowning slightly. I'sadhe's flattery left a sour taste in his mouth. However, he had gone to the heart of the matter. With the Heartstone, Eric foresaw the end of the war. Finally, he said, "I would have to take your niece. If she lives, she is the only one who can find the Stone."

"She is," Benamont I'sadhe agreed.

"I dislike taking an innocent woman into danger. If we are captured, I might not be able to prevent her from becoming Infested. Can you accept that?" Eric's bald words fell like rocks. The following silence stretched for a long moment.

"We understand the risk and will hold you and your House harmless," I'sadhe said gravely. "If the Gawan are stopped, we will honor Keriam as befits a daughter of a Great House."

"Compared to the risks, I doubt she would consider that much of an inducement," Eric said dryly.

"She is a Sadhe. Destiny will guide her." The man dabbed at his temples with the now sodden cloth. "Of course, there are ways to insure her cooperation."

Eric caught an amused glint in Tiernan's eye. He looked at Benamont I'sadhe suspiciously. "What would that be?"

"Women can often be seduced to do a man's bidding." He spent some time folding his cloth again.

Rottinghell. They had come full circle. Eric glowered at both men. "Are you amusing yourselves at my expense?"

"Women are weak creatures, ruled by their empathic gifts. Touch her heart and she will follow you in anything.... Forgive me for being blunt but could you not exercise the same charm that draws even my granddaughter to your side?"

"Your granddaughter sees in me a future that does not exist," Eric all but growled. He fell back on the argument he had used on Orianna. "As long as I am the Defender of Antiare, I will not take a wife. I cannot afford the luxury of having my attention divided between the war and a woman."

"With the Heartstone, the war would be finished. You could attain a seat on the Council. And your Gar'Ja bond with my niece would be concluded, as far as House Sadhe is concerned, the moment you complete this mission." I'sadhe glanced at his wristcomp. "Make her love you, Defender. Once the Stone is bonded to you, you will have your weapon."

"Will I?" Eric muttered angrily. He considered the situation and found it repugnant. The risk to him--that was acceptable. He understood the dangers and the nightmare of failure. Moreover, if he were captured, his ability to shapeshift would protect him from Gawan Infestation. Keriam I'sadhe, however, would gain little and stood to risk much. "You lack a certain regard for your niece, sir."

"Quite the opposite, I assure you," I'sadhe said. "Her line is one of the strongest of House Sadhe. Nevertheless, as much as I value Keriam, I value Antiare more. My duty, and yours, is to protect and defend our people from the Gawan."

"You don't have to remind me of my duty. I've fought the Gawan since my first Shift."

"And Antiare thanks you for your dedication." I'sadhe made a show of checking his wristcomp again, then stood. "I have another appointment, I'm afraid. Consider my proposal and give me your answer tomorrow. I have confidence you will make the right decision."

Benamont I'sadhe bowed to Tiernan and took his leave. Eric returned his glass to the sideboard while his grandfather pulled open a desk drawer to retrieve a datapak. Tiernan sent it spinning on the desktop. "This is an imagescan of Keriam I'sadhe at the time of your bond making. I expect her appearance will have changed somewhat."

Eric picked it up and depressed the tiny stud on the upper edge. Immediately the image of a plump, young child appeared in the air before him. She had a fuzzy kind of hair, reddish in tint but thin enough that her scalp showed through clearly. Her eyes, a blue as dark as the midnight sky, widened in wonder. As he watched, her dimpled chin quivered then she let out an ear-splitting screech and lunged forward. The imagescan halted and looped to the beginning. The corner of Eric's mouth twitched upward, until catching Tiernan's glance, he schooled his face to bored nonchalance. He placed the datapak on the desk. "A brat."

"She was quite taken with you," Tiernan's eyes glinted with wicked amusement. "And you with her, I might add. You seemed fascinated with her."

"I was three years old. Even bugs fascinated me," Eric pointed out. "My tastes have changed since then. I now prefer my women with hair. And teeth."

Tiernan's amused expression faded. "Eric, are you so against this Gar'Ja bond? Are you worried it might...offend Orianna?"

Eric clenched his jaw then forced himself to relax. "Offend Orianna? No. I doubt there is much that would offend that particular woman. She wants my name. My status."

"Many pair-bondings are built on less honest grounds."

Eric shrugged. "I've made my position clear. As long as the Gawan threaten Antiare and the Federation, I will not wed."

"Other Defenders have not taken such a stand."

"Other Defenders were not faced with the Gawan." Eric rounded on his grandfather. "Marriage weakens a man...makes him lose sight of his goals. His vision becomes limited to his immediate clan or family. Isn't that why my father did what he did?"

Tiernan looked away as Eric struggled to contain the conflicting emotions, shame, grief, and guilt, mention of his father always brought. He heaved a sigh. "I can't afford to pass the opportunity to gain the Heartstone, can I?"

"Unleashed, it is a force without equal," Tiernan said, returning to his desk. "At least, that is what my research indicates. Sit down, grandson. Before you make your decision, and it will be your decision alone, there are some things you need to know."

Eric returned to his seat. Tiernan paused for a moment before he spoke. "When I'sadhe first came to me with the news about his niece, I was more than surprised. I wondered how he knew where Keriam went or that she still lived."

"Good questions." Eric nodded.

"Especially since she and her mother disappeared from Purlea at the height of the first Gawan attack. Had her father not closed the Purlean Portals, we would have been overrun by Gawan-spawn long ago." Tiernan pursed his mouth. "I'sadhe claims Meredith and Keriam were in transit when the primary Purlea portal was shut down. The resulting backlash is supposedly what deposited them on Earth."

"Similar to what happened to me when I tested the Gatefold on Neraldi."

"Precisely. Although, in your case, the influence of the magnetic lines transversing both planets ultimately caused your arrival on Earth," Tiernan agreed. "The question is, however, how did I'sadhe come by his information? Purlea is closed to us. Of the few who escaped before the Portal was closed, none had any knowledge of Meredith or her daughter."

"None?" Eric looked up, surprised.

"Not one. I have had my people investigating his story. So far, I can neither prove nor disprove anything he says."

"You think he's lying?"

"No," Tiernan said frowning. "But I have a sense there's more involved here than just the acquisition of the Heartstone."

"Something involving Keriam I'sadhe?"


Tiernan's unease transmitted itself to Eric as he considered the facts he had available. Looking at his grandfather, he said, "The Heartstone is still a tempting weapon. If we can use it."

"As for that, I am researching the history surrounding the jewel. It may be several days before I have anything conclusive however."

"In the meanwhile, I can fetch Keriam I'sadhe."

"There's something else you should know." Tiernan held a hand up to forestall Eric's departure. "I suspect the Gawan have infiltrated Antiare."

Eric's gaze shot to his grandfather. "What do you mean? Gawan? Here?"

"I have no proof. Not yet. But things have happened that make me wary." Tiernan shook his head. "If the Gawan are indeed here, they'll use the Portals to transfer to each of the Federation Worlds."

Eric's blood chilled. "There is no choice. We must have the Heartstone."


Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Great excerpt, Lynda!

Angela Verdenius said...

wow - awesome excerpt, Lynda!

I sometimes think the hardest thing of writing fanatsy/sci-fi/parnaormal romances, is finding the right words to describe customs and things which we have made up. You've done a great job of finding ust the right words!


Lynda K. Scott said...

Thanks, ladies!

I just found out that Heartstone is available NOW! LOL I didn't expect it to be released until August 15.