Book 1 of The Imperial Series
By LA Quill
She missed her brother. A lot. The village folk had been kind, and had helped her in the days following Darian’s departure, and continued to lend her assistance when asked. But their displeasure with Darian was made very clear, both then and now. He had left her without a male protector, which was nothing short of scandalous, and they made sure she knew how they felt. But they were always so nice to her, and were careful not to outright insult her brother while in her presence, though she was certain they did so behind her back. And she did try to be a healer to the village folk, though she wasn’t very skilled, contrary to what Darian seemed to think. She had worked hard to make a life for herself, to find where she fit in this world.
But … she missed her brother. Sighing, Arianna focused her mind on the original reason for her visit to the beach. Seaweed. She needed more seaweed for several of her herbal recipes, since it seemed every other remedy needed seaweed at some point in its preparation. And since it had to be dried for several days before it could be used, she had better gather at least some now; she had very little left in her stores. She figured she’d gather as much as she could find between the two rivers. She would not attempt to cross either river, not today. She probably wouldn’t need that much seaweed anyway. Besides, the mayor, not wanting to lose the only healer the village had access to, and been very clear in his instructions. She was not to leave the Valley without escort. If she did need to gather herbs from beyond the small inlet, she was to let him know, and he would arrange for a company of village men to go with her. He was her protector, since she had no male family here, and as such, she had no choice but to obey him.
She resented that a little; more than a little when she was honest with herself. Women had no rights, no freedom except that which was granted to them by the men in their lives — father, brother, husband, sometimes a cousin. All women were expected to obey, immediately and without question. She didn’t understand why, but it was the way things were. It made her more uncomfortable to be viewed as inferior, especially when she didn’t feel that way.
Arianna refocused on the seaweed. It could take the better part of the day to accomplish her task, so she needed to hurry. She wanted to be home well before dark, or the mayor might mount a search for her. Putting her errant older brother out of her mind, she began her trek along the beach, picking up any good piece of seaweed she found and adding it to her bag, made of a mesh so that the seaweed could at least start to dry in the breeze. The bag also prevented mold from growing, so she would be sure to have usable seaweed when she returned home.
A candlemark later, having gathered at least some seaweed, though not as much as she had hoped, she spotted something out to sea. It looked like driftwood, probably from a ship of some sort. Another shipwreck out on the rocks, she mused sadly, thinking about the last shipwreck she’d seen. In the past ten years, the number of shipwrecks had increased dramatically. Instead of the usual one per year, they were averaging six. There were eight last year alone, and those were only the ones that washed up on shore. Who knew how many more wrecks there had actually been out in the vast sea. The high number of shipwrecks only indicated one thing, as far as the village folk were concerned: there would eventually be an invasion from the east.
Every villager assumed that the ships came from the Abital Empire. Republic captains knew how to avoid the rocks that dotted the coastline, whereas the Imperial captains were most certainly inexperienced, at least according to what the villagers said. And inexperience spelled disaster on the open sea, and utter devastation along the rocky coast, but that wasn’t the only reason for their suspicions. The driftwood that washed up on shore wasn’t the same as Republican ships used; it was redder and smoother than anything the Yarians had access to. West of the Mountains of Mylara, most woods were a deep brown. The east was a desert, however, so the woods there would be very different from those found here. Combine those two factors, and it certainly spelled an invasion, at least as far as the mayor was concerned.
There had been war with the east for as long as anyone could remember. No one really knew why anymore, at least, no one Arianna knew; the reasons behind the war had disappeared into history. Any overture of peace was rejected out of hand; they knew that much from the yearly dispatches from the capital, Scytha. However, with the Mountains of Mylara separating the two factions, there had been no real movement on either side for over a hundred years; the mountains were just too difficult to cross for a large group, though small raiding parties crossed into the Republic once in a while. The Empire kept slaves, most of those stolen from the Yarian Republic. Since they stole the largest number of these from north of the Ardan River, the King usually ignored these raids.
Perhaps the Empire now thought that they could conquer by the sea. The Empire didn’t have much ocean exposure, but the Republic did. They were a mostly costal nation. It was theoretically possible to capture it with an attack from the sea, but only by experienced captains, captains who could out-sail their Republican counterparts; the Empire didn’t have those kinds of captains, at least to her knowledge. So how they thought to conquer by sea was really beyond comprehension; it just didn’t seem feasible to someone like Arianna. But then, she wasn’t a strategist. She was a simple peasant girl, and happy to be one.
The village elders had contacted Scytha with their concerns, but had been ignored, as was usual. No one from the capital really believed that the Empire would actually mount a sea assault, and even if the idea might have been believed, anyone from north of the Ardan River was mostly ignored by the King anyway. It was just the way the Republic operated, and had for many years now. Now that I think about it, Arianna thought, it seems rather unlikely, foolish, even, that the Empire would try a sea assault against us. It won’t happen, not in my lifetime, at least. Maybe the King is right in ignoring the mayor and his cronies; they are prone to panic. Maybe there really won’t be an invasion.
Arianna’s gaze returned to the piece of driftwood, which was slowly getting closer to the shore, bobbing in the waves. She’d be sure to report the shipwreck to the mayor; he would bring the men out to gather the wood for extra firewood once it reached the shore. The red wood burned very well, and made the homes of the village smell sweet. It was much in demand, and the profit from it would allow the mayor to fund one of the programs he was so enthusiastic about.
The clouds parted for a moment, and the sun reflected off something that wasn’t wood. She looked closer, and could have sworn she saw movement, faint, but definitely there. That alone sent her running into the ocean, lifting her skirts above her knees. If someone was out there, it was her duty, as a healer, to help. She wasn’t going to let a little thing like the ocean stop her from doing her duty.
She was up to her shoulders in water before she reached the man clinging to the small piece of wood as if his life depended upon it. She supposed that it had. He had very dark hair, so black that in this light, it looked almost blue. His skin was not fair like hers, but a deep bronze, as if it had been kissed by the sun for many years. He was strong and muscular, and far from ordinary. No ordinary man would have survived being trapped in the ocean for as long as he must have been there. He must have an extraordinary strength of will. That alone intrigued her.
As she hauled him to the shore, which was made easier by the buoyancy of the water, she decided that he probably wasn’t a sailor. His hands, while calloused, were not nearly rough enough to indicate that he’d spent his whole life aboard ship. His clothes were too fine, and the sword he wore was of a higher quality than any sailor could afford, no matter how successful he might be. No, definitely not a sailor, of that she was certain. Who he might be, she really had no idea, but it didn’t matter. He was hurt, and he needed her help. That was the only thing she needed to know about him, at least for the moment. Later, when he was safe and alive, she’d wonder who he was. Later she would ask questions, begin to wonder who he was and what had brought him here.
Finally on the sandy shore, she quickly looked him over. His breathing was shallow, but he was alive and even moving slightly. She needed to get him back to her cottage, right now, where she could properly tend to his hurts. But she couldn’t do that alone. He was just too heavy for a young woman to lift without any aid. It had been difficult enough to pull him onto shore. She’d never make it back to her cottage while trying to carry him. She was just too small for that.
Making sure he wouldn’t be swept back out to sea while she was gone, she quickly went for help. She knew from the condition of the man that he wouldn’t last long without her care. Arianna wasn’t about to let him die because she was too slow in fetching help.
* * *
Candlemarks later, she finally sat down, purely exhausted. The strange man was resting in her brother’s old bed. He was ill, and still cool to the touch, but alive. She had removed his wet clothing, and started a fire. Though it wasn’t yet cold, she knew the fire would help combat the natural cold his body would be feeling from his time in the ocean waters. He wasn’t shivering, so she wasn’t too worried about his body temperature. It was low, but not dangerously so.
She was most concerned with his breathing. It was still shallow, but she’d forced several different potions down his throat, and placed a warm pack with several herbs on his chest to aid his breathing, and there was nothing more to be done. He’d live or die by his own willpower now. Judging from the little she knew of him, she thought his chances of survival were very good, better than most, in fact. It took an extraordinary will to survive what must have been candlemarks in the frigid sea, perhaps even days. It was the first time anyone had ever washed up alive. There had been some bodies in the past decade, but that was it. No survivors, no one who was even close to alive.
The villagers were already wildly curious about the man. He was tall, and very dark, not like them at all. Everyone around here was small and blond. Occasionally, you would see someone with red hair, but not often, at least not in this part of the Republic. There was a lot of speculation about where this man came from. Some of the village elders were saying that he was from beyond the Mountains of Mylara, which would make him from the Abital Empire. It was common knowledge that anyone with dark hair was Imperial, they claimed. Arianna wasn’t sure of this, but since she had no other information at the moment, she decided to label him, in her mind, as a man from the east.
Exhausted, Arianna decided to go to sleep; she wasn’t sure she could keep her eyes open much longer. Tomorrow would be early enough to deal with all the mysteries this stranger brought to her tiny valley.
This is an excerpt from my first novel. You can find the rest on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Ariannas-Tale-The-Imperial-Series/dp/1257642340/ref=sr_1_1...
) or most other retaillers. Books 2 and 3 in The Imperial Series are also available now.