This is a nice and long chapter to sink your teeth into.
“It’s background noise, mostly, except on a full moon.”
Chapter Three – Solenne
The iron key rattled as Solenne shimmied it into place. The locking mechanism groaned in protest as she turned the old key and pushed the door open. At one time, the Marechal family had many functioning treasures of the old world. Now they had a room full of broken junk. Some still considered the useless machines to be treasures, which was why Solenne picked through the shelves.
The armor Godwin and Luis wore was a genuine treasure. Made of a lightweight and super-strong carbon, the ability to make it had been lost to time. The pieces were battered and failing. Fortunately, Miles in the village had developed a technique to repair the carbon material. The mended fabric was not as strong but still better than anything else. Leather was not durable enough and metal, even chainmail, was too loud and too bulky for the family’s work. By this point, the Marechal armor was mostly composed of repairs. Solenne would eat her hat if more than 50% of the original material remained.
She moved aside defunct slabs made of a material as clear as glass but stronger and shatterproof. Sometimes, if she left them in the sun long enough, they glowed with an internal light.
Solenne found it difficult to believe that the machines of the ancestors ever worked, that technology could be reliable and dependent. It seemed like a fairy story.
The artifacts disturbed her. She knew it was not magic but a lost technology. It worked on a principle of gears and levers, heat and steam, or pressure and valves: the same as any machine. Still, images and symbols that she could not decipher ghosted across the surface. She’d rather leave well enough alone.
Miles, however, couldn’t get enough.
She passed over non-functional pistols—or that’s what they looked like to her—and mysterious black boxes. At the back of a dusty shelf, she found a spheroid object, flat on the bottom with a handle. Once white, the casing had yellowed with age. The material was plastic which, while no longer produced, was common enough. The oldest houses had entire dinner services made of the stuff. The ancestors had used it for practically everything, even trivial, one-time use products. Discarded plastics were shredded into chips and melted to be reused. The end product was a crude but durable material, perfect for roof shingles and the like.
Carefully, she wrapped the item in cloth like a sacred relic and added it to a basket along with the damaged armor. She did not need to convince Miles to accept the item as payment for repairing the armor, but she could prevent it from being damaged during the journey.
A week had passed since the events of the full moon. Godwin refused to stay in bed and rest. Luis pored over old texts and fiddled with broken weaponry. The household was almost normal if one could ignore the underlying current of worry. Every night brought them closer to another full moon when creatures crossed through the Veil. Time was not on their side.
Luis perched on a stool in the library, holding a small crystal to the window. Solenne knocked on the open door’s frame.
“A new gun will not help you,” she said. The ancestor’s weapons discharged searing bolts of energy. The weapons had little effect on the monsters and more often than not exploded in the operator’s hand. They were too dangerous to use. “You’d be better off practicing with the crossbow.”
“I did. I have the callus to prove it.” Luis held up his other hand, the palm red. The family had a crossbow made of a flexible carbon material similar to the armor, but also had an armory full of models made from humbler material.
The weapon did not matter so much as the silver-tipped arrows did. Silver injured the beasts better than anything.
“I’m going into the village to see Miles,” Solenne said.
Luis whistled and made kissy noises.
“Ew, no. To fix the armor.”
“I’ll walk with you.”
Luis sprang from his seat. Tall and athletic, the morning sun picked out golden highlights in his dark hair. Solenne knew her brother much preferred history to fighting, but they were not given a preference for their lot in life. Solenne would rather learn archery and how to fight. Godwin forbade his daughter from such pursuits—bet he regretted that now as Luis was equipped to handle such responsibility on his own— so she learned the uses of the plants of the forest.
“No worries, I just wanted you to know to expect me back in the afternoon. I’ll have lunch with Charlotte,” she said.
“Solenne, please. I know nothing will happen during the day, but I need to know you’re safe,” he said. “Please.”
Her brother stood over by a few inches. Somehow in the last winter, he shot up and filled out. The scrawny beanpole she remembered now rivaled their father in stature. He was eight years younger than her but somehow Luis had grown into an adult without her noticing.
“If you must,” she said.
“I enjoy the way you make it sound like a hardship for yourself.” He grabbed an overcoat from the rack in the hall and they made their way into the village.
The sun had finally pierced through a rainy spring, although a chill dampness hung in the air. Rain was a constant in their part of the world. Soon enough, the afternoons would grow warm and the greenery would explode in the valley. At the moment, mud colored everything.
The Marechal estate sat at the top of a hill in a clearing. A ring of old-growth trees surrounded the bottom half of the hill and denser forest growth lay to the west. Nestled in the valley at the bend of a river, the village was a brisk walk away.
In the sunshine, a sparkle at Luis’ throat caught her attention. Now interested, she studied his wardrobe. Luis wore his typical tan trousers and white shirt with a plain white waistcoat. The greatcoat was made of heavy wool and dyed a deep navy that hid many stains. His dark hair had been pulled back and tied with a red ribbon, but wisps had escaped. He very much had the air of a gentleman farmer.
That cravat though…
“Are you expecting to be attacked by a blood drinker in broad daylight?” she asked, keeping her tone light and jovial.
Luis touched the silver infused cloth and blushed. “I just thought it looked nice.”
She hummed and straightened the fabric. Pressing her lips to hide her grin, she looked away and said nothing. She counted Miles as a friend and Godwin had hinted often that a marriage between them would be advantageous for the family. While Miles did not bring the fortune the Marechal estate needed, he could have full access to the storerooms of broken technology and weaponry. Miles could repair and improve the inventory and the Marechals, and the village by extension, would prosper.
Her heart only held friendship for the man, nothing else, and Solenne had decided long ago that she would only marry for love.
Sneaking a glance at Luis, she approved of the excited gleam in his eye.
Besides, she suspected that Miles would marry into the family, regardless, if Luis had his way.
“Miles is awfully clever,” she said. Luis nodded. “Awfully handsome, too.”
A furious red blush took over his face. “It’s not like that, Solenne. He thinks I’m a child,” he sputtered.
Luis had grown a lot over the winter and filled out his frame. Solenne suspected that Miles might evaluate his opinion of Luis when they met. “You are a legal adult,” she said.
“Barely.” The sulk in his tone spoke to his youth.
Solenne turned her attention to the undergrowth near the edge of the trees, hiding her amusement. Her baby brother had it bad.
A purple blossom caught her attention. “Hold a minute.” She pushed the basket into his hands and drew out a small, silver blade. The slight curve made it ideal for collecting plants.
“Lungwort,” she said, folding her collection carefully into a handkerchief. Luis rolled his eyes. “You’ll be thankful when you have a cough.”
The path emerged from the trees and the air felt lighter.
“I don’t know how you stand it,” she said.
“It’s background noise, mostly, except on a full moon.”
The family was, to varying degrees, sensitive to nexus energies. It was, according to family lore, why the family had been given Boxon Hill and the forested land to the west. They knew instinctively where the Veil was thin and susceptible to an incursion. More important, they could track the beasts that came through the Veil. It was the Marechal gift.
The strength of the gift varied from person to person. Solenne only felt on the days leading to the full moon. It started as a tingly, zipping sensation that grew into sparks, like static electricity discharging when she shuffled her stocking feet across a carpet. Leaving the immediate vicinity of a nexus point, however, always felt like a relief, like silence replacing a constant buzzing noise.
Open pasture stretched from the foot of Boxon Hill to the outskirts of Boxon. Livestock did not do well on the hill—too skittish. The animals that lived on the hill were wilder and, sometimes, otherworldly. Solenne would be skittish, too.
“You should practice archery with me,” Luis announced.
“You used to be good with a bow and arrow, right? Back when Mom—”
Silence fell between the siblings. Injured while fighting a cursed beast, Amalia Marechal succumbed to her injuries. Solenne had been fifteen. Luis just seven.
Godwin immediately forbade Solenne from continuing her training. He lost his wife to the monsters. He would be damned before he lost his daughter the same way.
Solenne pressed her lips together. Godwin’s actions, made from love and fear, condemned them. Godwin would never regain his vision. Luis could not protect the entire valley on his own. If her father had not been so stubborn—
“Father will be upset,” she said.
“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Practicing with a long-range weapon is smarter than giving you a little dagger and hoping you never have to use it.” Luis frowned at the blade in the basket.
For months after their mother’s death, Solenne continued her training despite her father’s forbiddance. Too consumed with grief, he failed to notice her practicing blades with Aleksandar or hunting with the bow and arrow. The day he discovered her, covered in sweat and grim, dancing blades across the courtyard with Aleksandar—
Solenne rubbed her wrist. She shifted the basket to cover the motion. She lost several things that day, the full use of her arm was only one.
Luis noticed. He noticed everything. “He was wrong to hurt you. He was wrong to stop your training.” His voice took on a deep firmness that Solenne had never heard before. For a moment, she had a glimpse of the man her little brother would grow into.
“He was scared and angry,” she said. Godwin had not been himself, lost to grief and alcohol. That was the first and last day he ever raised a hand in anger to his daughter. He never touched a drop of alcohol again, but the damage had been done. He fractured her left arm and her wrist. While it healed well enough, she lacked the strength to hold a sword. After a decade of living with the injury, her anger had mostly mellowed.
“He’s a bully and a stubborn asshole,” Luis said. “I’m not sorry he’s hurt and blinded. He deserves worse for that he did to you. To us.”
Suddenly, youthful anger and certitude returned to his voice. Her baby brother still had some growing to do, after all.
She leaned in until they bumped shoulders. “Hey,” she said.
He grumbled a reply.
“I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t know if I have the strength in my hand for a bow. Maybe a crossbow. Or I can practice with my left.” Training to use her non-dominant hand would be difficult, but his idea was sound.
Luis nodded. “There’s the blacksmith.”
On the edge of the village, the forge billowed out steam in the cool morning air. Luis fidgeted with the lapels on his greatcoat.
“Come on. Let’s ply Miles with our treasures so he can work a miracle for us today,” she said.
Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings
MARI HAS TERRIBLE TASTE IN MEN.
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Only rumor claims Winter murdered his first wife. Mari can’t reconcile the stories of a possessive, jealous man and the protective single dad that she met on a tropical planet. He wants to bring her home and claim her as his mate.
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Tail, Dark and Handsome is a standalone book, although some old friends pay a visit. It has a HEA, no cheating, danger, a grumpy single dad with zero chill, a kit too smart for his own good, and a woman with a heart big enough to make them a family.