I absolutely love Glendella. Who is that? She is a ghost who befriends Aspen. She holds many secrets, special little drops of history that could influence Aspen’s life… Enjoy her! 🙂 Happy Halloween!
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The Price of Power Chapter 11 Excerpt
Sara settled on a royal blue velvet frock with tight sleeves from shoulder to wrist and an underskirt the whitest color of snow. It went beautifully with her Ring of Favour and the heart pendant from the king. Sara pulled a brush through the knots in her hair and fashioned it into a simple but graceful chignon. She thanked Sara for her good work and stepped out of the tent to get a bit of food.
The camp was teeming with life when Aspen made her way to the kitchen area. There were so many men walking about and standing about the perimeter were curious villagers coming to see what their presence was all about. Visitors were a rarity to the glade for it was so hard to get to.
Aspen scanned the crowds for Thorne and found him not. Nor did she find Sir Lenmoore so she figured they were meeting together to devise the day’s plan. Jackal, however, was following close behind her as ordered and sat with her as she ate her oats and apples.
“So did anything odd happen last night?” she asked hoping for some detail.
“Nothing,” was Jackal’s answer. So typical of him, just one word and the least amount of information as possible so as not to worry her.
“Hmmm,” she nearly snorted but tried her best to sound ladylike.
“You believe me not?” he asked feigning a wound.
“I know you would not tell me even if the camp was attacked and the entire crew was killed. You would say they went on a walk to the tavern until I had to know the truth,” she said stubbornly.
“Because your life is the one in danger, my lady, I would tell you all. I was the one who saw the look of terror on your face in Rosehill, forget that not,” he said somberly.
“I am so glad you did or I fear we would all be in much less humor right now,” she smiled. “I never had the chance to thank you with all my heart for saving me, Jackal. Thank you.”
“”Tis such a pleasure to defend such a wonderful young woman. I thank you for your trust and I will defend you to my death,” Jackal vowed.
“I know and I do trust you with my life. So where did his lordship take himself off to? I have not seen him since he woke.”
Thorne and Sir Lernmoore sat uncomfortably in the foyer of the manor waiting for Hans to be readied for company. Thorne kept rolling his eyes and sighing as his impatience grew with each passing minute. Sir Lernmoore leaned forward on the padded bench resting his elbows on his knees and pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger as though he were trying to staunch a headache. He was so exhausted, his eyes just wanted to close and he wanted to sleep now that the sun was up and the threat to the duchess was not so great. He had tried to fall asleep, but not knowing what was out there had kept him awake and he got back up and kept watch with the other men. Everything had been lively and funny, the jokes and never ending banter had lightened the mood drastically until they could hear the crow calling out into the darkness. It was at that point that the men went on alert and the laughter stopped. Everyone was afraid that he would slip through their net of protection on their watch.
The jovial Javier came strutting around the corner in his hose and slippers. He opened his mouth to speak and immediately his hands moved with it. “His lordship is awaiting you in the study, so if you would follow me my lords,” he said happily.
“Finally,” Thorne said under his breath and followed the man before him that was nearly skipping his way to the study.
The study was smaller than his back at home with a small fireplace and two small leather chairs on the other side of the oak desk that Hans was seated behind. It was fairly plain, not extravagant in the slightest, not even a portrait hung on the wall nor a family crest.
Hans stood as they entered the room and motioned for them to be seated in each of the chairs. He gave Javier a hand motion and the man left.
“So sorry you had to wait, my lords,” Hans said nervously, his voice shaking just a bit. He readjusted the piles of parchment on his desk twice, picking them up and straightening them.
“So are we, Hans,” Thorne’s voice boomed in comparison.
The man behind the desk stopped shuffling the papers and sucked a deep breath. He looked Thorne square in the eyes and braced himself for the worst. “Look, my lord, I know you are upset with everything…”
“What exactly do you classify as everything?” Thorne asked cutting Hans short.
“Well, uh, the inconvenience last night I do so apologize for, I wanted to be able to welcome you,” he said clearing his throat. “And then to make you wait this morn because I was not awake. You see I take a potion so I can sleep sometimes and I did take one last night but it makes it difficult at best to wake when I should. I do hate to make you wait for me.”
Hans groveled sincerely, Thorne had to give him that.
“You put my family in danger last night, Hans. I cannot forgive you that. By forsaking us a place to stay, we all forfeited a good night’s sleep and we have yet to get a warm bath,” Thorne said firmly.
Hans shook his head regretfully. “I wish you could see your way clear to find me in your good grace, my lord. We are ill equipped to handle a party of your magnitude. A warm bath for all of you is impossible. A warm bath for you and the duchess is near unmanageable. We merely get by, we do not live as you do,” Hans was to the point of begging.
The door opened and Sophia came in dressed in a red gown that fit her curves and flared at her hips. Even her sleeves hugged her. Her blonde hair was fashioned flawlessly atop her head very much the same as it always was giving her face a drawn up and stretched appearance, as if her maid had pulled her hair too tight.
Thorne hoped she was just dropping off tea, but knew that wasn’t so since she didn’t bear a tray. No, she was coming to inflict her evil presence upon them and make them suffer for the remainder of the morning. He had to think of a way to get them out of there. To let him have the study to himself and be rid of her.
“Good morning, my lord, I hope you slept well,” she said overly chipper but looking them over with cold and piercing eyes.
“No, I don’t think you do really,” Thorne said honestly so tired of their games. “I trust that we will have rooms ready soon, Sophia?”
Sophia regarded him almost hostile. “Of course, my lord. We have been working feverishly to be ready for you.”
“I am sure you have, but I have run out of patience and I demand that our rooms are ready before the midday meal is served. I want warm baths prepared for those staying in the castle as well,” Thorne ordered in anger.
Sophia’s hand landed upon her hips and her lips pursed as she bit back what she wanted to say. “And are you going to buy several more tubs so you can all bathe at the same time? It is impossible with what I have here.”
Thorne exploded in rage, the same rage that they had witnessed at the masque when he thundered at Marissa. He jumped from the leather chair and pounded both fists upon the desk with such force that his hair was torn free of its restraints and flowed about his shoulders making him look all the more menacing. “I do not want your petty excuses! You do what you must to make things right! I expect more from you than this!” he bellowed. “Now I need your financial papers, your population papers and your prisoner’s records. I trust that you have not wrongly imprisoned any person here, if you feel that you may have made an error in judgement, you had better free that person before I get to them because if I have to pay them a penance for your wrong doing, you will pay me three fold. Do I make myself clear?” Thorne thundered eyeing them both.
Thorne could hear Hans’ nervous breathing. “Perfectly,” the man whispered.
Sophia rolled her eyes at her husband’s weakness. He was lucky to have her, the strength behind his name. She would not cower to Darktower, the man who thought he could bully those he sought control over. No, he would learn that in the glade she was the ruler and there was no other sovereignty.
“Good then we have an understanding,” Thorne said smoothly. “Now call off your bitch and leave me be so I may spend some time with your records. I shall reconvene with you after the midday and a bath.”
Sophia was livid by his flippant use of his term for her and it took every ounce of strength not to scratch his eyes out and shove them down his henchman’s throat. But her scared and portly husband gestured to the stacks of parchment over his desk and moved aside for Thorne to move in and take his place.
Hans cleared his throat uncomfortably knowing his wife was quite inflamed over the remark that was made and took her slim elbow in his chubby hand to lead her away before it became unsightly. He was proud of her for remaining silent…he wondered what prize she would demand for her good behavior.
“I would like it if you would please accompany me on a walk through the village, Jackal,” Aspen announced as she finished her meal. The oats warmed her from the inside and she felt content.
“I am not so sure if that is such a…” Jackal tried to explain but Aspen was ready to defend.
“I know that we are not going to stay here very long and I would like to take advantage of the time I have to see what the village is like, what it looks like and how it compares to our village. I know I can’t go anywhere without you, nor would I want to, so we could go right now while nothing is happening,” she reasoned.
Jackal’s mouth was open to respond, but Aspen was already on her feet and walking in the direction of the houses that crowded the mountain. He let a low groan escape him before he hefted himself up and after his stubborn lady.
They passed several homes that looked as sweet and serene up close as they did from the carriage on their way in. The paths between the houses were cobbled with smooth stones in all different shades and on either side of the paths the grasses were nearly waist high and whispering in the breeze as they passed. The tenants had a sense of pride about them for they all grew a personal garden as well as nurtured vibrantly colored flowers of all kinds around the doors and walkways of their homes and some even sported boxes that were fixed below the windows that grew flowers in them. Those amazed Aspen. It was something she planned to bring home to her people, something easy but beautiful that added so much to the appearance of the home.
They stayed on their course and Aspen noticed that there were no crops, no farms, only little cottages. How did they survive here? Were they not feeding them because they had not the means to?
In the center of the houses, there was a pristine little chapel. It was all wood and washed white with stained glass in the windows, the rooftop pointing higher to the heavens than any other building in the village and was topped with an iron cross. The arches in the architecture were filled in with filigree craftsmanship that looked like lace and the cathedral doors felt welcoming while they looked like a pair of hands praying…slim at the top and wide at the base. It was all so perfect.
To the side of the chapel was a quaint cemetery that Aspen decided to walk through to see who had been buried there, to see how far back the Broadleaf name had been a noble one in the glade. Jackal watched her most curiously not willing to trespass into the sacred land even to follow his lady. It was bad luck, especially around foreign spirits. All he needed was to have a vengeful one attach itself to him and wreak havoc through his life, all because he dared trod where he should not have.
Aspen looked at the markers with interest, but many were unnamed. Close to the chapel’s whitewashed wall in the shade of an impossibly good smelling tree that possessed no blossoms were three stone crosses that Aspen’s eye ran over and widened. The smaller of the three read, ‘Glendella Broadleaf, Daughter’. Aspen thought on that for a time. Glendella was a real person…the glade was named after her, but was it after her death? What happened to her?
The larger two read, ‘Lord Broadleaf’ and ‘Lady Broadleaf’ so Aspen assumed it was Glendella’s mother and father who rested with her. There were no first names, no other sentiments…only their titles. It was odd to Aspen to not be remembered by a name. She wondered then if they had all died together. What sort of tragedy befell this family? Was it anything like Thorne had suffered in losing his entire family? Did some jealous village leader come here and kill them to take over? Could it have been the St. Michaels?
Aspen returned to Jackal’s side casting him a sideways smile and elbowing him playfully for his superstitions. “The ghosts weren’t out today,” she tried to comfort him.
“Ah, so now you claim to see ghosts,” Jackal laughed.
“And what if I could? I don’t think they are all bad, just lost,” she replied as they walked.
Jackal laughed and shook his head at her. “If I did not know you better, I would think you a crazed woman, my lady.”
“Perhaps I am that too,” she smiled in fun.
The walkway sloped further down until they came to the market segment of the village. Little shops and tents lined the path selling many different kinds of wares. Aspen could barely take it all in. She forgot all about the feuding with Hans and Sophia and took upon her the task of browsing the store fronts, purchasing trinkets and gifts, jewelry and another record book. Her purse was much lighter but Jackal was laden with packages by the end of the market. She marveled at how this little place could be so self-sufficient and sell everything they needed…even crops that Aspen could not find planted. They found a tavern with an inn but then Aspen’s heart stopped beating and broke in two when she saw twenty or thirty men, women and even children drooping in a sea of stockades. Their clothing was tattered or missing and evidence of lashing on bare skin showed in open gaping wounds crawling with insects. Each prisoner had their head and wrists locked into a bar of wood leaving the rest of their body free, but they could go nowhere, they could not sit, they could only stand hunched over to bake in the western sun and freeze in the cold mountain nights contemplating their crimes. Aspen could smell the decay and hear their moans begging someone for mercy. She covered her mouth to keep from vomiting and Jackal led her away before she could observe any more.
“What in the bloody Hell was that?” she raged when she had regained control of her stomach.
“That, my lady, was their form of a dungeon. That is their punishment for crimes that do not befit their society,” Jackal replied in his low gravelly voice.
“Dear God, there were small children locked up and bleeding out there!” she shrieked.
“You don’t know what they did to deserve it, my lady, with all due respect,” he reminded her.
“But a child!” she raged on thinking of little Mira being locked up in a stockade. “I hate this place and I want so badly to go home.”
“Me too, my lady.”
Aspen was so enraged by what she had seen that she tried to speak to Jackal about going with her to find Sophia and talking with her about the stockades, but he held up his hand and told her absolutely not.
“Why don’t I take you to see the glade? It isn’t far and we could be back in plenty of time for the midday. Perhaps the beautiful scenery will pacify your thirst for vengance,” Jackal laughed.
Aspen sulked but finally agreed to go. “I don’t know what is so special about some more trees,” she said grumpily.
“I don’t think you slept very well. Perhaps we should stay and let you take a nap, my lady,” he mused quite charmingly.
“You men think you are all so very funny,” she retorted and stalked off toward the glade.
“Ah, my lady?” Jackal called.
Aspen looked back at him noticing how the sunshine made his scars appear lighter. “What?” she demanded.
“The glade is this way,” he said softly and gestured for her to proceed ahead of him.
Aspen crossed her arms and floated on ahead, her pretty face set in a deep scowl, causing Jackal to chuckle to himself.
“So stubborn,” he laughed and scratched the back of his neck thoroughly amused.
Jackal took her to a stand of trees that were fragrant and beautiful standing tall and green despite the heat of the late summer. Aspen ducked between the branches of them following the fading path that was eroding with time. It grew darker and cool, the sounds of wildlife scampering away filled Aspen’s ears making her feel slightly apprehensive. Birds that were chirping stopped as the intruders entered their domain. It had suddenly grown deathly silent and quite cold. Aspen shivered.
Finally, the trees broke away and a glorious clearing butted up to the mountain’s side. It reminded her of the place where she had first married Thorne, the tall grass, the babbling creek…it was only missing the waterfall and pond. Here, the wildflowers were rampant but it was still cold here. Aspen walked on into the small space reveling in the little bit of warmth that the sun was able to bring her there. In the far corner, where the creek ran close to the trees, she could see something swaying back and forth. She started for it to find that it was a rope that appeared to have been used as a swing. She shivered again and turned to head back to a patient Jackal when a silvery form appeared in bend of the rope.
It took Aspen by surprise and she jumped back gasping loudly. The form smiled at her as if it was an expected reaction. She was a young girl, very lovely, with a shimmering gown from her neck to her slippers, her hair was long and loose to her waist and a ribbon tied around her head as though she were a present. She had large eyes on a slender face with pouty lips, her hands were folded properly in her lap.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” she said in a high voice like unto a child’s. “My name is Glendella and you have entered my glade. Who are you?”
Aspen looked back at Jackal hoping he was far enough away that he could not hear her answer. “I am Aspen. Aspen Darktower.”
Aspen heard an odd whistling noise come from the spirit before her. “Darktower, you say? Are you a Darktower born, or did you marry one?” she asked.
Aspen thought the ghost’s reaction very peculiar. “I married one. Thorne…a son. Why?”
“I loved a Darktower once upon a time,” she sighed a mournful sound.