Khantara an epic fantasy romance has quite the appealing blurb so I just couldn’t say no to being part of the tour. Thank you to Paper Crane Books for contacting me. I’m quite pleased as I am getting to share a short story with you all. Enjoy and be sure to enter the giveaway
Remembering Kindness: Vyrdin’s Dream
The first lights of morning were ebbing over the horizon, the lasting revelry was passing away, and after a night most agreeably spent, Vyrdin went from the courtyard back to his room. It had been a wondrous evening: from Dorrin’s visit to the feast in the Great Hall, from the dancing in the servants’ quarter to his stargazing, every moment of his holiday had been splendidly commemorated. He had endured his due vexations, and no doubt his general anxiety and cautiousness must return ere long, but for now, Vyrdin was all wistful tranquility and encouraging ambition. His new prospect was granted him by the Gods, their gleaming effigies raining down upon him all the benediction that their appearance could warrant. His wish, the one he had made in the furtive corners of his mind while Reis had been racing overhead, of quelling every qualm and of discovering the serenity which Bryeison so cherished had evinced: he was smiling, was walking with a light step, was considering everything as good and great, and only his own self-consciousness could effect to diminish his happiness. It was all sanguine reverie, and as Balane kissed Fuinnog and the sun began her heavy ascent, Vyrdin said his quiet thanks to the Gods for their visit and asked them to accompany him as he left the courtyard.
Forever had he been used to harbour suspicions as to whether the Gods existed, as to whether they visited their children and took them away from unbearable suffering, and though the answer had always been there, and his admission of it always reluctant: Vyrdin knew that they, in some form or other, must exist. His troubled heart told him so. He had begged them every day to end his sorrows and bring him to a place where he might be loved, and he had wondered at what he could have done to merit being abandoned and given away and beaten and forlorn, and it was when his faith was least, when all aspiration of self-sovereignty was lost, that his prayers had been answered. His own hand had brought him to Diras, but it was the Grace of the Gods and of those who promoted their virtues that had saved him. They had brought him to Dorrin when they might have brought him elsewhere, and the king, the Agent of the Gods, had extended his hand and raised Vyrdin’s eyes from the ground. His eyes were raised still further by Draeden and Bryeison, and though they were not servants of the Gods themselves, they had given him the gift of self-liberation. They had forced him out of his discretion, had taught him to suspend his sorrows, and allowed him to acquit himself the misery of the past. It was a most untoward exultation, one that permitted him to smile down the hall and into his room in a private regale. He was blessed, he was safe, the door was shut, and he was home.
Only once during his time in Farriage had he ever felt it right to acknowledge his blessings, and as he resigned himself to the pleasant somnolence of sobriety, sacredness, and the sounds early morning, his mind began to drift into the gloaming of sleep, the place between oblivion and wakefulness where the blithesome and grateful young child who dared to hope for acceptance and family still dwelt. It was a secret part of Vyrdin, one which he himself tried not to recognize; it was too painful to remember how he had been deserted, and though he could no longer recall his parents’ faces, their actions could never be absolved. To be left at an orphanage at five years old, to be given the false desire of family, to endure the agony of seeing other children accepted and reclaimed and loved bore no sanguine effect on Vyrdin’s heart. It was here, in the space where he kept his secret agonies, where his greatest joys also resided. Here, in the first moments of sleep, it was safe for him to admit that he had discovered kindness: in the Sisters at the shelter, in the children at the orphanage who shared his room, but there was a very particular place in this realm which he kept for one who had granted him the greatest kindness and had given him the greatest happiness in the midst of his most unbearable sorrow. In his grief, he had found his joys and owned himself blessed where many might have considered themselves so heinously wronged, and it was here, in this uncommon gratitude, where he felt he had merited all his current fortune.
His mind lilted further into that space, and he was in Farriage again. He was on the feller’s farm and he was in the midst of scoring the felled trees when Mr. Carrighan was calling him. The tiles on the shed had broken in the last storm and he was being asked to fix them. He had little idea at the time of the work involved in making and setting tiles, but he was given no choice: his life was one of work, he was to be availed of, he must earn his keep, and if he wanted a warm meal that evening to stave off the sting of winter frosts and the pangs of insufferable hunger, the tiles must be made and a kiln must be built and burning by nightfall. With some ingenuity and contrivance, the tiles were formed: the shards from the shattered slats might be ground and used in a new mortar, and with a mill and a good horse, he was able to make a fine paste which could be shaped for tiling. His mixture promised well: by midday, he had made enough tiles to fix the gaping holes in the shed roof, but the damp cold began settling in his hands, his fingers grew stiff, his skin cracked and bled, old injuries ached, and even more concerning was the hunger, which he had been relishing since the night before, now hindering his concentration and resilience. He was painfully thin, atrociously underdressed, and vehemently afraid of the man who had made himself his master. His arms and legs tired from the ceaseless work, his mind benumbed, his heart bitter with constant torment, his aspect rapt in a foray of shame and indignation, his conscience angry for having displeased the Gods or his parents so much as to have this as his penance. He wanted very much to sit in the shelter of the barn, insulated with hay from the loft and warmed by the furnace, but he dared not tarry from his duties lest he find his master’s hand on his arm and the lash at his back.
He returned to the house, where he was never allowed to enter unless told, went round the side where all the spare bricks were laid out for use, and began to collect them in a handbarrow to be taken to the far field and used to bake his tiles. He had gathered as many bricks as his bleeding knuckles and chilblains would admit when the amber light of a lit hearth within the moderate home claimed his attention. He stopped, placed the barrow down, and put his hand to the window. The warmth radiating from within met his palm and left an impression on the glass around his fingers. Warmth: the notion had been long foreign to him. Not since the end of summer had he felt truly warm, for the shed where he was given to sleep had no door, no bed, no furnace, had not even a blanket under which he could curl. He slept in his clothes, wearing in winter what he wore in summer: a scarf round his neck to keep the raw cold at bay, torn woolens which he wore over his thin galligaskins, and a straw mat to sleep upon, which had already been rife with mold when it had been left him. Warmth: the fire within the house flickered, and Vyrdin pressed both hands and his nose to the glass. His breath cooled in the hair and condensed against the window. Would that he be allowed one evening, one hour, one minute before a fire, to sit at its grates and watch the dancing flames and garner what heat he could — he would not care if he should never be allowed to cultivate its comforts again; a moment under the ascendancy of the roaring flames would be more than enough to restore his spirits. He stood with his face and hands against the window for some time, listening to the relentless groans of his stomach, and gleaned every last morsel, every intimation of heat that the glass could provide, and though his hands and face were only momentarily soothed and his misery put aside, it was better than going another winter without ever feeling the comfort of a fire at all.
He took up his handbarrow and moved to go, but the scent of roasted meats and boiled oats called him back again. He wiped the condensation away from the sill, and there beyond the hearth was Mr. Carrighan’s sister, visiting from town for the holiday. The holiday: he had forgotten that come evening it was Ailineighdaeth. He remembered how he had been used to cavil at attending holiday services, but it could be forborne with all the activity of merriment and decoration that he had been wont to practice on the eve of Frewyn’s greatest holiday. Here, however, was a very different holiday than those he had been used to celebrate: bricks and spades replaced his hearth and holly, and where silverleaf and cypress had once been a joyous sight when ornamenting the mantle at the orphanage, it was now become an odious prospect, for felled trees only meant more work for him. He glanced up at the skies and tried to determine the time, but the canopy was clouded over with a mackerel lining, blotting out the sun, and he soon began to worry that it was later in the day than he had hitherto conceived.
“What’re you lookin’ at, boy?” a familiar voice rasped.
Vyrdin whirled instantly round and there was Old Carrighan, grimacing and glaring at him with his one good and watchful eye. Vrydin’s gaze naturally fell to knees, his hands trembled, his stomach moaned: he was frightfully cold and desperately famished, and he would have begged for a warm meal that he might continue with his work if not for the consternation assailing him. “Nothing, sir,” he replied, in a fevered hush.
The old master glared at Vyrdin’s mess of black curls. “You get to makin’ that kiln, boy,” he said in a slow and threatening tenor, and without another word, Vyrdin wheeled the handbarrow to the far field with his eyes on the bricks and his head down, and Mr. Carrighan went into the house to welcome his sister with cool affection, auguring the same in return, and asked whether she would not warm herself by the fire.
Khantara is a Haanta conqueror, meant to wage war and rule over the enemy nation of Thellis, but after vanquishing Thellis and occupying a construction of a Haanta outpost, he meets Anelta, a woman enslaved by her own people bearing a brand of servitude on her neck. Khantara contrives to save her from a cruel home and bring her to the refuge his people can provide, but how can he do so successfully when the eyes of Thellis are upon him?