Excerpt for Through the Land of Cloud and Leaf by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Through the Land

of Cloud and Leaf

Book 2 of the
Scions of the Aegean C series

A novel by
Terry L. Craig

Through the Land

of Cloud and Leaf

Book 2 of the
Scions of the Aegean C series

A novel by
Terry L. Craig

Through the Land of Cloud and Leaf

Book 2 of the Scions of the Aegean C series

Published by Wild Flower Press, Inc.

P O Box 2532

Leland, NC 28451

www.wildflowerpress.biz

Copyright © 2017 Terry L. Craig

All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. Although some of the situations portrayed were inspired by life situations, the story and the characters are fictional.


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for purchasing and downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to purchase and download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced or altered in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, digital, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.

Ebook Version:

ISBN: 978-1-946549-03-7

Images on front cover, used under license from Shutterstock.com

Dedication

To my beloved sister JoJo who flew away to heaven long before I was ready to let her go. My comfort is in knowing that the deep fellowship that God forged between us here will flow into eternity.

To my Bill.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to those who helped me in the polishing stages of this book—especially Tonya Brown, and Ethella Seyler.

Contents

Dedication and Acknowledgements

Backstory for the Series

List of Main Characters

CHAPTER 1 – First Flight

CHAPTER 2 – Runaway Servant

CHAPTER 3 – A New Leader for Aegea

CHAPTER 4 – Missing Daughter

CHAPTER 5 – The Latest News

CHAPTER 6 – A Ride in a Coach

CHAPTER 7 – Dooley's Dilemma

CHAPTER 8 – In the Land of Cloud and Leaf

CHAPTER 9 – The Widow Tree

CHAPTER 10 – The Flower

CHAPTER 11 – Ty, Basil, Kosh, Old Menoh

CHAPTER 12 – Announcement

CHAPTER 13 – The Challenge

CHAPTER 14 – A Reward

CHAPTER 15 – A Piece of the Puzzle

CHAPTER 16 – The General's Wife

CHAPTER 17 – Old Menoh's Lament

CHAPTER 18 – Marvel

CHAPTER 19 – Boats

CHAPTER 20 – Wild Women

CHAPTER 21 – Lemon

CHAPTER 22 – Solid Proof

CHAPTER 23 – Pearl

CHAPTER 24 – A Look Back Through Time

CHAPTER 25 – Last night in the Wilderness

CHAPTER 26 – Last look

CHAPTER 27 – Homeplace

CHAPTER 28 – The Feast

CHAPTER 29 – Man from the forest

CHAPTER 30

About the Author

Other Books by Terry L. Craig

Other Books Published by Wild Flower Press, Inc.

Backstory for the Series

In 2044, a spacecraft BX-9, christened the Aegean C left Earth on a mission with nearly 2,000 people aboard. The majority of the travelers were people of the Genon race—terraformers tasked with transforming the New Hope settlement into a fruitful habitation for future generations. The Genon carried with them the tools, seeds, livestock, and special skills for molding this wild, new settlement. They had the expectation of carrying out their mission with little, if any input from the soldiers who were tasked with their safe delivery before departing the settlement. Others on the mission—technicians, biologists, doctors, and engineers—were expected to remain at New Hope for several years and be available when their expertise was requested, but their primary objective was to observe and record specifically how the Genon were so successful in their endeavors.

The spacecraft suffered catastrophic damage shortly after takeoff, but the skill of the flight crew kept the craft intact as it reentered the atmosphere. The flight deck officers were killed when the ship crash landed on a shelf in a mountain range, not far from the equator. Miraculously, most of the passengers (soldiers, technicians, and Genon) survived and much of the cargo was salvaged but they landed in such a rugged and remote area, they knew rescue would be difficult.

Something noticed by the military in the first hours which became a source of growing concern: There appeared to be no signs of other human life on the planet. There were no responding radio transmissions, no visible roads or trails, no lights in the distance, no satellites moving through the night sky. And the constellations were different.

In the months to come, the people of the Aegean C came to the conclusion that they were not on the same Earth they'd left—they’d catapulted through either time or space and come to a different place. They eventually reconciled themselves with the fact that no one would be coming to rescue them and determined to make a life in this new world that was as wild and dangerous as it was bountiful.

The "Firstlanders," as they came to be called, soon realized that they were extremely fortunate to have landed on a plateau where the land was suitable for growing crops and the climate was moderate year-round. Had they crashed into the icy slopes above the plateau, many would have quickly succumbed to exposure. Had they landed in the vast jungle below the plateau, they would have died in a tangle of toxic plants, poisonous insects, and huge predatory creatures. The plateau, which they named Aegea, could be transformed into an oasis where future generations could live.

The people of Aegea knew their technology would eventually fail, so those in the First Generation set about writing down all they knew about science, medicine, technology, and the world they left behind. The spacecraft was dismantled so the materials could be repurposed.

The soldiers on the original mission had weapons and a mandate to "protect the passengers and cargo." Not long after they crashed, large predatory animals posed an imminent threat to the people and the livestock, and the military assumed a continuing command with the same general mandate. The professionals on the flight were considered on a social par with the military. The Genon, despite the fact that their labors made long-term survival possible, became a race of laborers. Over time, families from each segment of society started to hoard the knowledge of any useful skill in order to keep from slipping further down a system increasingly skewed in favor of the military and the professionals. The ways and means of life for the people of Aegea became a mix of early industrial technology and secret recipes.

During the second generation after the crash (sixty years ago), a few of the older Genon workers led a rebellion demanding equality in governing, assets, and living conditions. All who participated in the rebellion were rounded up along with their immediate family members while a tribunal was held. Military leaders knew a lasting example must be made, but they also realized they couldn't simply slay the rebels. Neither could they expend the resources needed to imprison and feed so many in a community still struggling to survive. After much debate and a divided vote, the General, the leader of all Aegea signed an order. Each of the rebels was brought out to the settlement's main plaza—one by one. Any of their kin who publically disowned them was cleared of wrongdoing. Any who refused to disown them would share their fate: Banishment.

The guilty, some with their small children, were taken down the mountainside, deep into "the poison forest," where even some of the most experienced among the Genon hunter/gathers had perished. The rebels were there with no weapons or tools and told that any of them seen attempting to return to the plateau by any means would be killed on sight. They quickly vanished and no one was ever precisely sure what happened to them. Even now, in the fifth generation, there are whispered rumors that descendants of "the Exiles" live on in the jungle. These stories inspire some of the Genon and cause the military concern.

In Book 1, the aging leader of Aegea, General Fairmont dies shortly after selecting a replacement. On that same morning a servant of the new leader, Shaye Penway, ran away from his home by climbing into a large wooden box that she believed would be transported to town. Also on that day the only daughter of the new leader, Jariel, was abducted. She was sedated and placed in the same wooden box where the servant hid, then secretly transported to the Poison Forest. But the men carrying the box through the jungle were killed by a giant predatory creature, leaving the women alone in a place of great danger.


List of Main Characters

Basil—Grandson of Old Menoh

Ben—one of the Exiles who discover Shaye and Jariel

Chessie—a gleaner (the lowest status) of Aegea

David—one of the Exiles who discover Shaye and Jariel

Dell—assistant to the inventor, Sage Dooley

Duana McClaren—Jubal McClaren's wife

Fiona—Old Menoh's wife

Jariel McClaren—the only daughter of Jubal and Duana McClaren

Jubal McClaren—the newest General of Aegea

Kosh—Son of Old Menoh

Lemon—former houseman and servant for Jubal McClaren

Menoh—"Old Menoh," considered the patriarch and Elder of the Genon workers in Westland

Mosely—Colonel Grayson Mosely was the chief rival of Jubal McClaren for the office of General of Aegea

Mosha—a cook in the service of Jubal McClaren for thirty years

"Mule"—Samuel, one of the Exiles who discover Shaye and Jariel

Nathan—a patriarch and Elder of the Genon Exiles

Pearl—of the Penway family, a Great Aunt to Shaye

Peony—Nathan's wife (Homeplace)

Sage Dooley—Chief inventor of Aegea

Shaye—daughter of Cpt. Frank Penway and his wife, Elle.

"Seph"—Joseph, General McClaren's aide

Tressa Dooley—Sage Dooley's wife

Ty—Tyrone McClaren, the only son of Jubal and Duana McClaren

Willow—Nathan's sister in (Homeplace)

Locations

The Aegean Plateau (Aegea)

- Oldtown—the location of the first settlement, now old

- Midtown—west of Oldtown with finer homes for officers and upper class

- The Outpost—an outpost with a small settlement and facilities for the military, in the central portion of Aegea

- Westland—a military post on the western end of the plateau. The Great House of Jubal McClaren is here.

The Poison Forest—the jungle below the Aegean Plateau, but known to the Genon people as the Great Forest or the Land of Cloud and Leaf

Homeplace—the home of the Exiles


CHAPTER 1 – First Flight

"It's possible to fear so much for your own life that you waste all of it in a safe place."Hal Dobbin, just prior to boarding the final flight of the spacecraft Aegean C, one hundred nine years ago.

In Aegea

The country's most important inventor, Mr. Sage Dooley, perches in a large basket near the edge of the precipice, his pulse racing. The draft of warm air rushing up the cliff face snatches up the giant kite carrying it aloft. The harness and basket attached to the kite lurch upward. The kite line shoots off the large spool of cord—one hundred feet, two hundred feet, and climbing. With his hands clenched on the rim of the creaking basket, Sage lets his gaze sweep over the widening vista. Trees on the plateau grow smaller. His lanky assistant, Dell, looks like a tiny stick figure in a child's drawing. Sage gasps with exhilaration.

He selected this very spot on the wall for the kite experiments for two reasons: First, because it's far from any populated settlement (away from nosey onlookers). Second, it's one of the few places where the wall sits at the very edge of the plateau. On one side of the wall, solid ground is just thirty feet away. On the other side, however, is a drop of several thousand feet!

In recent months, Sage Dooley and Dell ran multiple experiments on the updrafts here, using larger and larger kites. Last week, they used this rig with stones in the basket to simulate the weight of a man. Today, he told Dell they were only going to test the kite again, but at the last minute he got into the basket and told Dell to push the large kite off into the updraft. Even though Sage is a small man and the kite is capable of carrying him, it's a risk that no one in the military would have let him take. Truth be told, he's been plotting to do it for months.

Sage knew his window of opportunity had arrived last night when there was a flurry of military activity and all high-ranking officers were called to gather at General Fairmont's house in town. Although no one said so, Sage was relatively certain it was a "death watch."

With everyone's attention focused on the final moments of Aegea's current leader, Dooley knew it was his best chance to slip away from his guarded home, travel to the northern edge of the plateau with Dell . . . and attempt to fly! It was an opportunity he couldn't pass up—after all, he would be thirty-three years old in a few days. Shouldn't he be able to celebrate it in a grand fashion?

Although he's only a few hundred feet above the plateau, the jungle at the bottom of the cliff is nearly a mile down. Does he dare lean forward in the basket and look down to see what it feels like to dangle from a kite thousands of feet in the air? Not yet. Instead, he turns around to look at the vast expanse of wild green jungle that the soldiers call the Poison Forest. It stretches out from the bottom of this cliff as far as the eye can see.

He thought he would be frightened, and he knows he probably should be, but he's not. Never in the entirety of his life has he felt so energized . . . so free! He would be willing to continue his ascent if not for the limitations of the line keeping him earthbound. He turns again in the basket and looks at the line.

It's like a navel string, an umbilical cord, he tells himself. I wonder what would happen if it broke . . . or if I cut it? Several scenarios spring to mind—none of the imagined endings involves a safe landing on the plateau.

A wisp of a low cloud briefly engulfs him and he whoops with delight. When it moves on, he dares to glance down the cliff that drops away for thousands of feet and he's almost dizzy. Then he looks back up to the expanse of the plateau and a realization hits him. He is the first person to see such a view from the air in more than a century! The last time anyone saw the world from the air was the day that the spacecraft Aegean C crash landed there with his ancestors and nearly 2,000 other people. The revelation is both inspirational and sobering. I wonder if anyone on the craft thought they'd survive while they were streaking toward the ground.

A hundred years ago, the plateau was mostly covered with stands of ancient trees, meadows, and boulders that had tumbled down from the mountain peaks over the eons. Today the plateau is crisscrossed with fields, pastures, orchards, and roads etched into existence by five generations of people. To his left, at the eastern end of the plateau, is a sprawling tangle of buildings, alleys, fountains, and streets that were built not far from the wreckage site of the Aegean C. Over time, the settlement became so large that it spilled out beyond the original wall (built to keep inhabitants safe from the large predatory creatures that killed more than a few Firstlanders). The site of the oldest dwellings on Aegea is called Oldtown—a jumble of crumbling structures that are mostly occupied by Genon people now. The newer part, called Midtown, is a sprawling settlement of larger homes with private gardens where military officers and professionals of high standing live.

The basket jostles in the wind and the small telescope fastened to a lanyard around his neck swings back and forth. Oh yes, he remembers, I have a spyglass!

He braces his feet against the sides of the basket and slowly loosens his grip on the rim to hold the spyglass. He looks to his right, out into "the country" out where there are orchards, fields and pastures—flanked by the military outpost of Westland. The bright golden hue of the Great House of Westland is easy enough to spot. Far behind the post he can see a great waterfall cascading down the mountain, but he cannot see the mill his father designed, churning away at the base of the falls. As he slowly sweeps the lens of his telescope across the view before him, he sees several of the aqueducts which now provide water for people, livestock, and field irrigation—even during the dry seasons. His great uncle was the one who planned the aqueduct project.

What else can he see? Sage turns his head to the left and focuses the lens toward town. The movement of the kite makes it difficult to use the telescope, but he finally manages to spot the three-story, bright white house of the general, standing out against the earth-toned houses and green trees that surround it.

And, what is that? The basket bobbles. He repositions himself in the basket and braces his feet again before he can give it a better look. A large flag flaps in the breeze above the general's house. It's a black flag. The general must have died.

The tense voice of his assistant, Dell, drifts up on the breeze and interrupts his thoughts. "Are you all right? Should I pull you in now?"

Dooley lets go the telescope and grabs the lines of the harness.

"Yes!" he calls back, "Reel me in!"

Dell is understandably nervous. Sage Dooley is considered "one of the most valuable living assets" on the plateau. Beginning with Hal Dobbins, a scientist who survived the crash of the Aegean C, Sage's talented ancestors were among the small contingent of technicians and scientists who vastly improved the living conditions (and survival chances) over the generations, and Sage seems to have inherited their genius. Years ago, when he crushed his left foot in an experiment that went haywire, the military decided that he must be "protected" so that he could live a long—and hopefully inventive—life. They are now doubly concerned because the line of Sage's family may end with him. He and his wife, Tressa, have been unable to bear children.

That's his lot in life: a hobbled foot and the constant presence of guards. Often, Sage feels as if he's trapped—and it drives him to take risks. Dell understands. That, in and of itself, would be enough to make them friends. Add to that Dell's loyalty, physical strength, and his rarely given (but generally practical) advice and the two men are less like professional and assistant, more like brothers who alternately try to get each other into—or out of—trouble.

Sage wrote a letter early this morning stating that he alone was responsible for his actions—that Dell was unaware of his plan and therefore not accountable for the outcome of the flight. Even so, if he got badly injured again or died in an accident, Dell might stand before a tribunal and face consequences. The look on Dell's face when Sage jumped into the basket communicated that he knew it could be trouble . . . but he didn't refuse to help. He understood.

Dell is heaving on the crank with all his might to wind the line for the kite back on the large spool, but the increased tension on the line causes the kite to momentarily rise.

Sage wants to observe the operation of the ratchet on the side of the wheel, but something in the distance catches his eye. He turns his head and squints at it. Yes, there is definitely something moving at the top of the wall that surrounds the plateau. It's only because he's up in the air that he can see it at all. He raises the spyglass and tries to quickly focus in the correct location. There it is.

It's a tram car leaving the wall and swiftly gliding down its cable into the jungle below, carrying one of the large crates the military uses. He can see there is an insignia on the crate, but from this distance, it's just a smudge. He wonders, Who would be doing this? And why would they be doing it today? His focus travels back up the tram cable to the wall. At least two men are there. Possibly in uniform. The kite bumps him around again and he loses his sighting.

Although test runs of the tram he invented to transport people and goods down to the jungle were successful, General Fairmont changed his mind and shut it down within a week of its completion. Like so many other of Sage Dooley's inventions, the tram will remain a secret project that will collect dust unless an "urgent need" for it arises.

Dooley frowns and looks again. The tram car has disappeared out of view . . . and he can no longer see the two figures who were watching it from the wall. Perhaps someone else is using the events unfolding in town to do things unnoticed.

CHAPTER 2 – Runaway Servant

"Your fortunes can change in a single day. Who knows? Be faithful, for today may be your last day of mourning, or your last day of prosperity."—A proverb of His own People.

Westland, on the Aegean Plateau

Her questions rush out in an angry torrent. "What do you mean, 'Shaye ran away?' Didn't I tell you to stay with her? How could she have run away? Why didn't you stop her?"

Raymond stands, rigid as a wooden post in the center of the salon, knowing his fate may hang on his answer. Sweat from the back of his head trickles down a crease in his leathery neck, past his loose collar, and down between his shoulder blades, but he doesn't dare move. If Duana McClaren, the ishi (the matriarch) of the Great House of Westland would persecute Shaye, a servant with many years of service, what could happen to him? A dismissal and a dis-recommendation from Duana could echo over the entire plateau with dire consequences. He might very well end his days as a gleaner, living in temporary shelters, surviving only on food that could be scraped out of orchards and fields already harvested.

Wringing a tired old hat between his hands, he clears his throat and begins. "Well, ma'am, I took her to her room just like you said, and I stayed right there by the door, and I didn't go anywhere while she packed her things." He pauses to clear his throat again, and she takes a step closer to him.

Sensing the very air around him filling with the static charge of her ire, the cadence of his speech speeds up and words fly out of his mouth in one long sentence. "And after a while I felt some concern, so I knocked and then I opened the door, but she wasn't there and I saw how she must have gone out the window on the other side of the room and I never would have expected anyone to do that and she was gone like a bird and," he stops, to swallow and inhale. "Of a truth, ma'am, Shaye is vanished and I don't know where she went."

He pulls his elbows even closer to his body while he waits, eyes shut, head already tilted against the expected volume of her response. Who would have thought he could be in so much trouble so early in the day?

But she doesn't say a word. Instead, her eyes search the room until she sees a vase on the table between the two upholstered chairs, not far from the fireplace. It's only inches away from her hand. She slowly leans over, wraps her fingers around the slender neck of the container, then hurls it with all her might into the empty hearth.

Raymond's eyes pop open and his shoulders involuntarily jerk up at the sound of the delicate vessel crashing against the cold stones. But he doesn't leave his spot—even though several shards of the vase have flown out, striking the legs of his baggy work pants before bouncing to the floor near his sandaled foot. His gaze remains riveted to the floor, but within his field of view are two additional fragments near the hem of the ishi's long, dark dress. He makes no move to retrieve them, while his anxiety intensifies with each passing moment.

She folds her arms and slowly inhales. It's been years since she last gave into the urge to smash something . . . but it's so satisfying, she must fight the urge to find more objects to throw. Fortunately for Raymond, another idea pops into her mind and she turns to ask him, "Where is Shaye's roommate?"

This is a totally unexpected turn in the interrogation. She might as well have asked him to lay an egg! Completely dumbfounded, he shrugs. "I don't know, ma'am. Keepin' track of her isn't part of my job."

"UHH!" she cries, throwing her hands up in exasperation. "Go across the road to the office on the post and tell the duty officer I need to speak with him right away."

It's almost as if her words are bouncing around in his head. He needs to slowly replay them in his mind so they can sink in. He starts to nod, but Duana continues.

"And once you've done that, go and bring that girl back here."

His mouth drops open. "Shaye? I told you I have no idea where—"

"No! Her roommate, Raymond, her roommate! That round, sort of ugly little woman. What's her name?"

"Chessie?"

"Yes, that's it. After you tell the duty officer I need to speak with him, find out where Chessie is supposed to be today, then go fetch her and bring her back here."

"Yes'm." His head bobs up and down, but he's waiting to see if there are further orders.

Duana closes her eyes. "Now, Raymond. Go right now."

Once he's absent from the scene, one could imagine that the elegance of the room would reassert a sense of dignified serenity there. Situated just beyond a lavish dining room, this dark-paneled salon, or "sitting room," has wide windows, a high ceiling, fine furnishings, and a large fireplace. Indeed, Duana herself reflects as much refinement as anything in the room. Everything from her perfectly coifed brown hair, to the beads hanging from her slender neck, to the embroidered shoes peeking out from under the hem of her dress bear testimony to her high standing. But elegance and serenity aren't partners here. Not today.

After a minute of steaming back and forth across the rug, mumbling arguments to herself, Duana walks to a window. Her feet have stopped moving, but her clenched right hand continues to strike an angry cadence against the window sill. Staring at the trees in the distance she wonders, Where could Shaye have gone? She can't have gotten far, and certainly nobody will dare help her once word gets out. We'll find her wherever she's hiding and she will deeply regret laying a hand on the daughter of a colonel.

For seven long years I've waited. She turns away from the window. Certainly no one could accuse me of being unkind. When I moved her out, didn't I arrange for her to share one of the rooms in the new building where other servants would gladly sleep? Perhaps I was too kind.

Duana now replays the words of her written communique, already on its way to her husband at the other end of the plateau.

Jubal

You need to know that something happened which requires your immediate attention. If I had been allowed to signal you about the situation, it might have been resolved by now, but the captain left in charge at the post wouldn't allow me to have a signal relayed through the tower, so don't be shocked that you are finding this out via a written message that will have taken hours for you to receive via a rider.

This morning, Shaye attacked Jariel, struck her, and knocked her down! Jariel was very traumatized.

I know that you and Mosha both have a sense of duty regarding Shaye, so I decided to simply trade the girl instead of punish her.

Remember when Nob the butcher approached us and asked to have her as a match for his son? I know you opposed the trade, but under these new circumstances, I thought it would be the wisest thing to do. I was willing to set her transgressions aside and let her walk away. I sent word to Nob, but as soon as Shaye was informed of the trade, rather than being grateful, she ran away! Now that she's thrown off all restraint, she may very well be plotting some sort of vengeance upon us.

Shaye's years of privilege have led her to think she is above all rule, and her open rebellion sets an example for others that cannot be tolerated. She knows you are away, and if we don't mount a search for her, I fear she will return to the house and attempt to inflict harm on us. I want your men to help find her, and I want you to draw up charges against her. Please come home as soon as possible.

Duana

CHAPTER 3 – A New Leader for Aegea

"There can only be one leader. It is, therefore, decided on this day, exactly four years after the crash of the Aegean C according to the calendar of Earth, that in order to insure our continued safety and survival, the military shall retain the right to protect and govern all people through a central command while we continue to hope for rescue. There shall be one general, with four colonels who will serve directly under him. If the general, with witnesses present, selects one of the colonels prior to his death, that colonel shall become the next general. If a ruling general doesn't select a colonel, there shall be a vote from among all officers from the rank of captain and above, to determine which colonel will serve as the next general."—From the Official Constitution of the Aegean Plateau, duly signed one hundred seven years ago.

Ty McClaren is awake early. Again.

Was it the chilly night air that woke him . . . or the dark dream he knows he's had before, but can never quite remember?

Giving up on sleep, he stands, but stops to wrap his blanket around his shoulders before he closes the shutters on the window to his room. After lighting the lamp on his desk, he sits down while holding his hands near the flame to warm them. The leather-bound book he was reading earlier is still on the desk and he opens it, but he has no desire to think about his studies right now. After several minutes of staring blankly at the words, his eyes gravitate to a small wooden box sitting just within the circle of lamplight, at the far right-hand corner of the desktop. He purchased the intricately carved container at the market of Oldtown after he didn't make it home for his first leave from the academy. It sits there like a fancy little fortress, guarding a small symbol of hope.

He rubs his eyes and endeavors afresh to concentrate on the book, but a conversation he overheard between two cadets last week starts to replay in his head the same way it has a multitude of times.

"No, I'm not going anymore." One of them says, lowering his voice. "Can you imagine what our parents would say? What they'd do to us?"

"What do you mean 'our' I'm just having a good time, you're the one who let that girl think she actually meant something to you. And now you're as dull as geometry while you hole up here avoiding your Genon girlfriend."

"She wasn't my girlfriend and I'm never going to see her again."

"Come on. We can go some new places. Even if we see her, just ignore her. You didn't promise her anything, did you? Even if you had, what would it matter? What can she do to you, what could she say that would matter? How many times do you think this very scenario has played itself out since the beginning? Unless she's really stupid, she knows how it works. Just move on, man."

In an effort to stop the replay, he pushes his hands forward and accidentally knocks the box off the desk. He drops to the floor and crawls toward the box. It opened upon impact and the hand-carved comb it held is nearly a foot away.

He lunges to pick up the comb, and inspects it for any damage. Holding it in his hand, he wonders, Why didn't I insist on going home? What must she think? That I lied when I said I loved her? That she doesn't matter? For a moment, he pictures her in his mind—her long black hair and the golden eyes that captured him, even as a young boy.

He places the comb in the box and sits on the floor. "I must get home."

And do what? What possibility is there that this could ever end well? How can I make this up to her?

###

Two hours later, all the cadets waiting for morning classes gather in the open courtyard that occupies the space between the dorm and classrooms where instructors are preparing for another day of lessons. Several young men employ their energies kicking around a small ball made of animal hide. Onlookers watch two cadets engage in a wrestling match that may or may not remain friendly.

Brilliant sunlight breaks into every crevice of the stone courtyard while Ty McClaren leans back to stretch out along the top of a short wall near the front steps to the dorm. It's one of the few places freshmen cadets are allowed to sit in the courtyard.

"Hey, move your feet," his friend, Carl, commands.

Ty doesn't move or open his eyes. "My feet were there first."

"Tough."

Ty looks up, squinting at the silhouette of his friend in the bright light. "I just got comfortable."

"Tough."

The young McClaren swings his legs back over the wall, and as soon as he does so, two more cadets hop over from behind and perch in the space.

"Hey!" Carl complains.

Ty shrugs. "Tough."

Soon, the bell signaling the start of the day's classes will ring. Ty turns so he can straddle the wall and lean against the end post. His head finds a perfect balancing point on the stone cap topping the post, and he closes his eyes again. His lack of sleep and the warmth of the sun quickly melt into sleep.

He's walking out of the back of the house in Westland, Shaye and Mosha are buzzing about in the kitchen, planning their day. Outside, fresh laundry is flapping on the lines, ready to be gathered and folded by women sharing the day's gossip. At the tables behind the house, the workers are sharing a meal. He and Basil will soon be off for a day in the woods and fields . . .

Ty jolts when Carl shakes his shoulder. "Ty!" he says in an urgent but low voice, "Have you heard?"

The two cadets nearby stop their conversation and turn to listen.

"Heard what?" Ty asks. Looking around, he realizes that all the activity in the courtyard has stopped. Cadets are milling around in groups having serious discussions—and many of them are glancing in his direction.

Carl brings Ty's attention back into focus when he speaks again. "All the colonels have been summoned to the old man's house. Robert says it means Fairmont is dead or dying."

An older man in uniform comes out of one of the classroom buildings and rings a hand bell, shouting, "Three minutes to get to class!"

The collective groan usually heard at First Bell is absent. Instead, the cadets slowly move toward the classrooms, still speaking quietly in small groups, occasionally turning to look at Ty. They all stop talking and watch when the teacher of his first class enters the courtyard and walks directly up to Ty.

"Your father has requested that you return to your room until further notice," he says.

###

All he knows for certain is all senior officers have been summoned to the home of General Fairmont, and he and Liam Wexler (the only other son of a colonel at the Academy) were both told to return to their quarters during morning classes. He assumes rumors of all sorts are swirling around the campus by now.

As much as he'd like to be able to walk about outside and find out more, he understands the reason for seclusion. Truth be told, he isn't sure that he could stay out of all the speculations that are surely growing by the moment. Cadets would all be fishing for any tidbit he might know, asking for his input. He can imagine their questions.

"Is it true that your father is at the General's house?"

"Do you think the General is dying?"

"Will your father be the next General?"

"If no one is selected as the successor, what do you think will happen?"

No matter what happens, he's aware of the real potential for trouble. There are four colonels, and only one of them can become the next leader. If General Fairmont selects Ty's father as successor, the supporters of Col. Mosley, his father's chief rival, may make trouble. If the general selects Col. Mosley, those who support Ty's father (including most of the officers and cadets here at the Academy) will be up in arms. If one of the two "weaker" colonels (Wexler or Krayton) is selected, there will be a power struggle. The worst-case scenario would be if the general names no successor before he dies. There could be civil disruption on a large scale.

Ty sits down at his desk, but it's impossible to think about his studies right now. His eyes gravitate back to the wooden box, and he lightly places a hand upon it. If Father is made General, who knows what might become possible? The thought gives him a hope that he hasn't dared to feel until just this moment.

His door opens and Carl leans in. "Ty!" the young man yells breathlessly. "They've raised the black flag at the General's compound! He's dead! What do you think will happen next?"

Ty tries to appear calm. "Have you heard anything else?"

"No! But Frank says that the flag went up just minutes ago!"

There's a sudden surge in commotion. People run past Carl in the hall. They hear loud shouts on the stairs and outside the window.

"I've got to go see," his friend says before he bolts from the doorway toward the stairs.

Ty runs to the door. Cadets continue to pour out of the building and he can't hold himself back from finding out what's happened. He joins the throng rushing down the stairs. It's an old building, dating back to late in the Second Generation, so the whole staircase bounces with the footsteps of dozens of cadets.

When he gets to the ground level, Ty joins a sea of young men streaming out the door toward the large courtyard where many of them hang out between classes and after hours. He can hear a rising chorus of male voices singing the anthem of Aegea as he exits the building. Hundreds of cadets and soldiers are there.

"There's Ty McClaren!" somebody shouts and fellow classmen rush in to surround him. Some of them are giving him playful shoves, others are shouting excitedly. He has no idea what to make of it.

Carl presses through the crowd and shouts above the din, "They've sent for our battalion flag! They're taking our flag to the general's house!"

The blank expression on Ty's face says he has no idea what this means.

"Your father is general now! The riders have been dispatched and they're going to raise our flag—your father's flag—at the general's house!"

The Academy is Jubal's stomping grounds. His battalion headquarters are here and he has oversight of everything that happens here. His appointment may not be met with joy throughout the land, but for the vast majority inside these walls, it is welcome news.

Amidst a frenzy of shouting, the anthem starts again. They hoist Ty up on their shoulders and begin marching around the courtyard with him aloft while they sing.

Of course, Ty realizes. That's what happens. They raise the flag of the new general.

CHAPTER 4 – Missing Daughter

When loyalty holds the highest rank—above truth, love, and justice . . . calamity is sleeping in your house.”—Cora McClaren, great-grandmother of Gen. Jubal McClaren

She hears voices on the bottom floor of the house, then the sound of someone coming up the stairs from the kitchen. Duana looks over at the landing, expecting to see the girl Raymond was supposed to fetch—Shaye's former roommate, Chessie. But it's not Chessie. It's Mosha, the cook who has worked for the colonel for more than two decades.

Certainly Mosha will have heard the news about Shaye and Jariel, and she will now attempt to plead Shaye's case in the matter. The old woman takes several steps toward the salon but doesn't cross the threshold. She stands in the dining room, hands smoothing the front of her old apron. "Ma'am."

The ishi wants to make her point first. "I suppose you've heard that Shaye attacked my daughter."

"That's not exactly what I heard, ma'am. Is Miss Jariel all right? Where is Shaye?"

"Jariel is in her room and she'll recover . . . eventually. As for Shaye, she is hiding someplace, but we'll find her soon and she's in serious trouble when we do."

Mosha's brow furrows and she opens her mouth to speak, but Duana quickly fills the silence. "I tried to be kind to Shaye—for your sake more than anything else. Nob the butcher asked me to trade for her months ago in order to make a match for his son, and I turned him down. Even after the incident this morning, I still wanted to be mindful of you, so—rather than having her detained and charge her with striking Jariel—I accepted the trade."

Mosha gasps, but the ishi forges ahead with her statement.

"Of course, she wouldn't have been welcome at the Great House any longer, but you would still have been able to go and visit with her on occasion. However, despite the continuing mercy I've tried to show to the girl, she ran away. Who knows what sort of thing she might be planning. It was the final stroke, Mosha. I sent a message to the colonel and when he gets here, I will bring charges against her."

The happy demeanor normally radiating from the old cook's countenance is gone. Mosha takes another step forward. "Whatever has happened, ma'am, I'm sure there has been some sort of misunderstanding. Shaye has seen a lot of changes in her life recently and she's not been quite herself."

"Oh! So now it's my fault for moving her into a nice room in the new building?"

"That's not what I was—" Mosha blurts out before stopping. She makes an effort to sound reasonable. "She's a good girl, ma'am, and I find it hard to believe she would 'attack' Miss Jariel. Maybe we could all just cool down and talk about what actually happened."

"Are you calling me a liar?" Duana barks.

Mosha lowers her eyes. "No, ma'am. . . . I'm asking you for a personal favor." she says, her voice starting to quaver. "I'll never ask for another. Please don't harm my girl like this."

"But she's not really 'your' girl, is she? She's a cast off, an orphan who should never have been allowed to live in this house in the first place. She never understood her position in life and if she's been harmed, she's done it to herself." The ishi turns her back to the cook, before saying, "Shaye is responsible for this mess, not me. My mind is made up and the message has been sent. There is no more to discuss and you need to go back to the kitchen."

The old woman steps into the salon and speaks again, but this time there is a tone in her voice that the matron of the Great House has never heard before. "You've poisoned Miss Jariel's heart against Shaye for years now . . . and this is going to end badly for everyone if you don't stop."

Duana spins around. "What are you saying? Are you making some sort of threat?"

The old woman straightens her stance and she looks Duana in the eye. "No ma'am. I'm saying your poison will harm us all."

Duana points at the stairs and says, "Go downstairs where you belong. You can look for a trade if you'd like, but you're not going to be able to play on anyone's heartstrings. Not this time. Your days of petitioning for Shaye are over."

###

An hour later, Duana is still in the small salon, sitting in a chair. Nothing seems to be going her way today. No one can find the runaway, Shaye. The girl's roommate, Chessie, was of absolutely no help at all in figuring out where she might be hiding.

There's an eerie quiet in the house.

She turns to look toward the window. The patch of sunlight on the floor doesn’t seem to have moved from where it was the last time she looked at it. She turns back around in her chair and stares at the broken vase in the fireplace while she waits for her daughter to come downstairs. The shards fade from her focus as she recalls the argument they had last night.

"How do you know that Gilbert Lot is 'never' coming to visit me?" Jariel blustered. "He said he would be back and he was quite sincere! He cares for me."

She took Jariel's hand. "Your father thinks the young man is anything but sincere. He's forbidden Gib to return to Westland or to court you."

"And I suppose you're taking Father's side."

"Well, I heard recently that he has been chasing a number of girls in town."

Jariel began shouting. "How would I ever know for sure? You keep me trapped out here where no one will ever visit me! If you and Father had your way, you'd lock me in this house and never let me escape until you made some sort of political match for me! Then I could marry some awful man and be as miserable as you are!"

Duana stood and slapped her daughter. "How dare you! You won't leave the upper floor of this house until you apologize."

Jariel crumbled into a chair and began to sob.

After Duana left the room, the girl ran to the doorway and shouted, "You just proved it! I am a prisoner here!" before she slammed the door.


As the memory of her daughter's accusations rumble around in her head, Duana lets out an exasperated sigh and leans back in her chair. Right after the incident with Shaye would have been a perfect time for Duana to gloss over their own little tiff and let the demand for an apology slide.

That may have been a tactical error, since we need to present a united front to Jubal. She tells herself. But we'll work things out before Jubal comes home.

The servant went to fetch Jariel quite some time ago. What could possibly be taking so long? She glances again at the patch of sunlight on the floor and then at the wide entrance to the room and mutters under her breath, "Beth where are you? It can't have taken that long for you to waddle up the stairs. How long does it take to fetch my daughter?"

Looking back at the window, she tells herself, Jubal could be on his way home within another hour or so.

With one hand on her back and the other under her large belly, Beth enters the room and says, "Excuse me, madam."

Duana cannot help but stare at the huge bulge in Beth's dress. Soon we'll be so shorthanded, I'll have to get more servants for the house and the kitchen . . . although there is that little girl . . . what's her name? Ana. Perhaps Ana might do as a replacement helper for Mosha. She's about the same age that Shaye was when she started working. . . . But who knows what we'll do for a few days when Beth delivers her baby. ANOTHER one! What will I do?

"Excuse me, madam," the servant says again.

"What is it?"

"I cannot find Miss Jariel."

Duana rises from her chair. "Where did you look?"

"Everywhere. I looked in her bedroom and in her weaving room. I even looked up on the roof, although I know she rarely goes there. And when I came down the stairs, I noticed that the door at the bottom of the stairwell at the back of the house on the ground level was left open. Should I look outside?"

###

The young captain re-fastens the top button on his double-breasted uniform tunic, then sweeps his fingers through his sandy brown hair before he places his hat squarely on his head. As a matter of habit, he looks around. Does he need anything else? No.

"Okay," he says to his fellow officer. "Let's go then."

They step outside and stride in the direction of the home of Col. Jubal McClaren, also known as the "great house of Westland." This is the second time this morning Capt. Fleming has been summoned to the home. Sensing some sort of power play in the works, he's bringing his friend Lt. James Bowes. James can serve as a witness to what is (or is not) said.

As the two men walk across the smooth, stone-paved road that separates the cluster of soldier's quarters from the colonel's compound, Captain Fleming squares his shoulders and rolls his head around to ease the tension in his neck. Both men pause at the gate and glance at each other before they return the salute of the soldier posted there.

Fleming steps up and pulls the gate open without waiting for assistance. Might as well get right to it.

Once they're through the gate and around a corner in the pathway through the hedge, Fleming squints in the direction of the enormous house. A row of large, arched windows with shutters on either side are the only break in the golden yellow color of a building which is so bright in the morning sun that it actually hurts his eyes. It's been said that the idea for the structure was copied from a plan for a grand edifice that the colonel saw in the archives, and then spent nearly a decade building. Towers at either end extend beyond the roofline and give it a fortress-like appearance.

The two men travel through the garden surrounding the house, and Fleming leads his friend along the path past giant ferns and a pool where water lilies serenely stand in dark water. When the two men round a corner, brilliant-feathered birds from the Poison Forest squawk at them from fancy cages, and continue their clamor until the men are quite a distance away.

Fleming stops once he arrives at the main staircase for the home, waiting momentarily for his companion to catch up. Normally, he'd bypass these stairs and follow the path on around to the right of the building where the colonel has offices for staff and several meeting rooms, but the colonel isn't here . . . and the summons came from inside the home.

The two men ascend the stone steps to the home and Fleming knocks only once before a male servant opens the door. They are escorted past a spacious, paneled entryway with a vaulted barrel ceiling then beyond a formal dining room to the home's smaller salon. The colonel's wife is standing near the fireplace. At their earlier meeting, she acted as if she had the right to send a signal to the colonel, but he knew better. He reminded her of the "rules" regarding signaling and politely refused her request to ignore them, then offered to send a swift rider to town with a written message. The vexed ishi made him wait until she wrote one and sealed it, handing it to him with a hand as cold as it was pale.

Her eyes dart from one man to the other. "Captain Fleming . . . and Lieutenant Bowes is it?"

"Yes ma'am," Fleming says as they remove their hats in unison and stow them under their left arms. "I'm sorry but we haven't received any response from the colonel yet."

"That's not why I requested your presence. We have an urgent situation here which requires that I send a signal to town."

The captain's brows come together. "Is someone gravely ill?"

"No."

"Is this a life-or-death situation?"

She considers the two uniformed sentinels standing several feet apart before she focuses her attention on Fleming. "I'm not sure what to call it, but I assure you this is very serious. The colonel would want to be informed of this situation as soon as possible."

Fleming makes an effort not to roll his eyes. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but as I told you earlier, I've been given the strictest orders about signaling. Unless somebody is 'dead, nearly dead, or the compound is under siege,' I cannot authorize a personal message to be signaled from the tower."

"I'm certain," she responds, "that if Major Ratliff were here, he'd send the signal."

She has a reputation for steering into areas where she doesn't have authority and Fleming has been warned not to ever let "the colonel's missus" manipulate him into a career-altering breach of protocol.

He keeps his firm posture. "But the major isn't here, ma'am. He was called to town at dawn, and he still hasn't returned. Perhaps, if you could tell me what the problem is, I could better decide."

Duana doesn't move for several moments while she weighs the embarrassment of laying the family's private life open (possibly to be repeated around the tables in the soldier's mess hall) against her mounting panic. "My daughter—the colonel's daughter, Jariel—isn't in the house."

Fleming can't grasp why this would be such a big deal. He knows the colonel's daughter is pale, skinny, and not often seen—but then, the compound is surrounded by a very tall hedge so who would ever see her anyway? Who would know what the girl's habits were? Given the girl's plain looks, who would care? A look of skepticism settles on his face before he asks, "And . . . she never leaves the house? She couldn't be out in the garden or taking a stroll somewhere on the grounds?" He can see a vein beginning to pulse on Duana's temple so he stops talking. He should take care not to annoy her, but he can already imagine the grilling he would get from the major and the colonel if he caves in and gives this woman what she's demanding without a very good reason. He must have evidence of a genuine emergency.

"Well, it's not just that she's out of the house," Duana says, standing taller. "I didn't share this when you were here earlier, but she had a violent altercation with a servant this morning—"

"Was your daughter seriously injured?" he quickly asks.

"Well, no. But then the servant ran away."

In his frustration, Fleming squeezes one eye closed as he makes an effort to connect Duana's rambling trail of logic. "So . . . you think your daughter might have gone out to look for the servant?"

"No! I think the servant may have come back in the house and . . . done something."

"Is the servant a large man? Could he have carried her away?"

Duana's chin drops to her chest. "No. The servant is a young woman about my daughter's age and size—"

"Don't you think your daughter would have made a lot of noise and struggled if she were being dragged out of the house against her will? Wouldn't someone have seen or heard this and intervened?"

The ishi splays out her fingers and pushes her hands down as if she's attempting to keep a lid on a wildly boiling pot. "I know it sounds like a silly thing, but I forbade my daughter to leave the upper floors of the house last night and I know she wouldn't have left without my permission."

It only takes a split second, but she sees the Aha! gleam in his eye and the short glance he shoots at his fellow soldier, before he asks, "And . . . was this the result of some sort of disagreement you had with your daughter?"

Duana knows that Mosha, Raymond, and Beth were all in the house last evening. An interview might yield the fact that she and Jariel argued, and Jariel shouted down the stairs about being a prisoner here. "Yes."

"And you forbade your daughter, a young woman of seventeen seasons, to leave the upper floors of the house?"

She exhales, "Yes."

"And you still maintain that she didn't decide to . . . say for instance, go for a walk without telling you?"

Rapidly closing the distance between them, she leans into his face. "Listen to me! I'm her mother and I can sense something is wrong! I want you to send a signal to my husband and I want you to help me find my daughter. Now."

He considers his answer before he locks his gaze on the far wall and says, "I'm sorry, but I'm not authorized to use the signalman in the tower to send a message unless something more substantial has happened than that your daughter 'isn't in the house.' I can send another rider to town with a written message and we can organize a search of the house and the grounds, but that is all I will do until we have some sort of evidence that this is more serious or unless the colonel signals us from town ordering us to do more. Meantime, I will be happy to have several soldiers check the grounds for your daughter."

###

Young Capt. Reginald Fleming is back behind the desk, and so far, it's been a tough day to be the one left in charge—certainly, he isn't in the mood for any more teasing from the likes of James Bowes.

"I did what was necessary given the circumstances, Jimbo," he says, squinting at his sometimes friend. "So just drop it. Okay?"

The wooden chair creaks as James suddenly takes his feet off the other side of the desk and sits up. "Don't call me Jimbo, and no you didn't. You caved in. She wanted you to devote some troops to finding her daughter, who—as far as anybody knows—could just be out for a stroll, and you couldn't find a way to say 'No.'"


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-30 show above.)