Hoping to escape an arranged marriage, Deiji is all too eager to accept Mowats proposition. She leaves her simple village life behind and is thrust blindly into distant regions of the unmapped, uncharted world. She must enter the elements of fire, water, earth, and air, where she subsists on a desert island, tracks her way through the deep forest and even explores the ocean as a mermaid. She battles tigers and giant squid, all leading to the final struggle against the evil Relant himself. Only time will tell if Deiji has what it takes to meet the challenge and save her world.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.64(d)|
About the Author
Davina lives in the northern California redwoods with her husband Lu Liberty, and their dogs and horses. This is her first novel.
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It was dawn when Deiji J Cu of Mount Odel awoke from her pleasant dreams of the sea. She smiled and shoved aside the threadbare coverlet and threw her feet to the dirt floor of the hut.
She hurried toward the door, stopping briefly to peek at her ailing mother who was still asleep.
The girl ran outside, not wanting to miss the sunrise, and sprinted across the cool green grass. The fresh dew was heavy that morn, and the hem of her sodden nightdress slapped sharply against her ankles.
Deiji laughed loudly as she stopped at the edge of the cliff. "Wandelen si um mi ha!" she sang out to no one, and she lifted her arms to rejoice in the sunrise, the burning white sun with its luminous edges that lit up the valley below, bringing the distant trees of the Deep Forest into daylight.
Rarely was she free from her stiff, old-fashioned, fat, and ultimately proper aunt Micid, who constantly pushed her toward becoming a well-mannered and virtuous young maiden. Micid, who kept her on a short leash and governed the girl carefully. Micid, the short-tempered spinster.
In fact, her aunt had left the farm the evening before to search the royal courts of Nigh for a profitable marriage arrangement for Deiji.
In these troubled days, the worth of a bride, a young and healthy bride, had nearly tripled, making any young woman un-afflicted by the fever eligible as a tool to gain some wealth for her family.
The small farm that they lived on wasn't producing enough to support them, and Deiji's mother, J, needed a frequent doctor in her illness. As much as they strained in labor to draw the fruits from the earth, the money simply didn't exist.
The courts of Nigh were over one hundred miles away, on the southern tip of the Known World. Every royal person in the world resided there, and many of them, fearing the end of their royal bloodlines, were willing to pay quite a sum for such a one who would produce an heir. Especially a beautiful one.
And Deiji was beautiful. She had been accounted as beautiful for as long as she could remember, in all of the region and neighboring villages.
What a silly thing to see in a person! She only ever saw her reflection in the gaps between the clusters of scum on the pond, so perhaps she did not quite see what they meant. But still ...
Due to her long dark hair, mysterious eyes and bright smile, many suitors came to present marriage proposals to her aunt Micid. Enough men in fact, that Micid quickly came to recognize the opportunity living under the straw roof of her very own hut.
Deiji had no qualms against propriety, no complaint toward virtue, but it wasn't a life she would have picked for herself. Her spirit yearned for freedom.
She was predisposed to loathe the notion of prearranged marriages, or even marriage at all, having seen her childhood friend Maia take vows in the village church the year before to a complete stranger. Maia's parents had arranged the affair, a marriage to a man of a better position in the town, easily fed and well-to-do.
Maia had seized the life eagerly, and with good cheer; for she had waited with an intense patience for such an arrangement, and had played out many silly daydreams that Deiji found tiresome. She was able to live in the neighboring town of Sartica, and her husband was master of that whole region. With her new allowance she was able to care for her family, who remained behind in the Odel Village.
Deiji waited in fear and displeasure for her turn. Her aunt had taken Deiji and her mother in after Deiji's father died of the mysterious illness. J was already in the first stages of the sickness when they moved from the base of the mountain to the middle. Deiji had been seven.
On this new dawn she drank in the fresh, early morning air, a renewal to her very soul. She stretched onto her tiptoes, letting the wind tease her rough, un-brushed brown hair.
She turned and walked back toward the hut, and skipped a few small stones across the top of the green pond they used to water the livestock. After the ripples faded she went into the barn to prepare feed for the animals.
The day passed uneventfully as usual. Deiji worked around the property, smiling sometimes in her daydreaming and humming an idle tune.
Around noon she looked up from where she knelt pulling weeds from the lettuce bed. She quickly examined a few of the wilted heads and sighed. Brushing the dirt off her hands, she headed into the hut to check on J.
"Ma? How are you doing?" she asked as she entered quietly.
She helped her sit up in bed to drink from the basin.
J swallowed once, twice, then sat back against the headboard, her eyes closed. Her nose and mouth were lined by flaky red scabs, the telltale sign of the fever victims. "I am only tired, Ju Ju," she said softly and coughed a little.
Deiji stood to go.
"Wait!" J's eyes opened suddenly. She frantically flailed her arms about, trying to get a hold of her wrist.
Deiji quickly set down the basin and water sloshed onto the dirt floor.
"Mother, what is it?" She sat down next to the writhing woman and took her hand.
"My child, your name ... never forget your name ..." "Okay, mother," Deiji replied, nodding. This was not unusual.
J often launched into a flurry of senseless words and instructions in her delirium. At times it could be quite scary. Deiji, however, was ultimately sympathetic. She was aware of the effects on the victims of this great plague, and had heard rumors of it having spread as far as Rint City.
"Whatever happens to me, just don't forget," her mother gasped. "You have an important name. It is your middle name, J, it is my name. It ..." Her voice faded away and she moaned, her head falling to one side. Her eyes fluttered and closed. She was asleep.
"Okay, mother," Deiji whispered, and she kissed her forehead gently, picked up the basin and left.
* * *
The Nigh court
Micid Nun Cu stood before King Jebhadsen as a group of doctors and herbalists shuffled out from the grand entrance hall of the Nigh Court.
"She is the daughter of my deceased brother, Your Highness," she explained to the elderly king. The wide door closed with a bang that echoed throughout the hall.
"That is well. I have heard rumors of her astounding beauty."
"A vision from heaven, my lord," she said slyly.
"And is it well that she be so far from her family? The consequences of no dowry state that after our agreed purchase fee, there will be a cut in ties. You will be unable to depend on her for support, or food during famine."
"It is well, my lord." Her smile grew slightly.
As she bowed to show her graciousness, her eyes caught sight of an older, thin man lurking in the shadows off to the right hand side of the throne. He was watching her and listening intently.
"Then we are agreed," King Jebhadsen said sharply, catching her attention. "One hundred Emeralds, square."
Micid flushed with pleasure, and could barely speak forth the word, "Agreed!"
Telius stepped out of the shadows. "Please, sire, may I?"
The king nodded and waved him forward. Micid's eyes shot from the king to this new man with uncertainty.
"I need to know," Telius said gruffly, "about this girl."
"Yes, good sir," Micid sank into a curtsy. "She is sixteen, talented in her work, extraordinary in her embroidery -"
"Please," Telius sneered, cutting her off. "I don't need the seller's pitch. Just tell me she is better-looking than you, milady."
Micid stood as if she'd been slapped and her expression froze, then darkened.
"Why, yes. Indeed she is." She stared at the weathered man's face for a moment. "Quite," she added coldly.
Telius smirked for a moment; then his expression turned serious. "Then we have much to talk about. Tell me of her family. Her history. Tell me all you know of her."
* * *
Over the days while her aunt was gone, Deiji tended to the two pigs, three chickens and the donkey. She drew water for the washing, cared for her mother, and went into the nearby village to buy a bit of bread for aunt Micid's return, as was the custom. With her basket on her arm and her shawl around her shoulders she set out one morning on foot.
She enjoyed her weekly walks to the village, because it was a peaceful, inspiring walk and she savored the time alone. From the ridge that wound down Mount Odel, she could see for miles around; even a tiny sliver of the sea, which always made her smile, for she had never been to the shore.
Glancing into her purse, she saw the monies Micid had allotted her for food and medicine during her absence. She had but three white Pearls and two black ones. Most of it would go toward the medicine for her mother, and there would hardly be any left for the bread. She sighed.
Odel Village was nestled into a little crook in the green valley below, and the snow-capped mountains of the Eastern Ranges that loomed above them seemed to reach the heavens themselves. Mount Odel was a quiet volcano, and though smoke often loomed out of its top, it remained silent.
Looking out above the lush-green tree line, she saw a falcon rise up and up, and farther still, until he was nothing but a speck in the sky above.
"I wish I could be up there with you," she said wistfully, envious of his freedom.
As she lowered her gaze, her eyes caught sight of something black and ominous clinging to one of the mountains across the valley. She shielded her eyes against the sun and peered at the thing.
It was a deep black, and she could almost make out two wings folded at its sides.
Her heart began to pound as she thought of what this creature might be, what it could mean. She blinked and it was gone. She scanned the skyline and the mountaintops, but there was nothing.
"Maybe it was a Dragon," she thought excitedly.
An odd girl in her time, she spent much of her childhood years eagerly listening to the village elders and other townspeople tell folk stories of Centaurs, Elves and Merpeople. She loved these tales and ideas of this mystical world they spoke of. And well she knew there were undiscovered parts of this world. It only seemed logical that there could be undiscovered peoples as well.
The Unknown World was a thing they were aware of in its existence, but not of its content. No one seemed much interested in fording the Longest River and venturing into the Deep Forest. Rumors of terrifying social separatists, barbaric heathens who ran amok were the common explanations given to those who questioned.
But Deiji imagined she knew. She believed that all the mystical creatures in the stories that were so amazing were there, on the other side of the river. Where a better place for them to be, than on the other, quieter half of the divided continent? And where would the stories come from anyhow, if they had no basis in fact?
Deiji was constantly pouring over the world maps, sloppy as they were, in the blacksmith's shed. She spent much of her childhood memorizing its simple geography. She had many questions about its uncompleted half, more questions than answers given.
The blacksmith humored her, for the most part, and even let her have a go with his carefully crafted swords sometimes.
But most of her questions were left unanswered, silenced angrily by those around her, and after emerging from the frustrated frenzy of childhood she stopped asking. But secretly she still wondered. There was a kind of hope in it, a hope that maybe she was right, and the world of Nigh held more than anyone knew.
Deiji smiled at this thought as she made her way down the mountain, watching the falcon return to earth.
She paused at a nice flat spot on the trail and opened her basket. Digging to the bottom, she pulled out a scrap of her father's old leather coat.
Wrapping the piece around her arm three times, she held it out and let out a wild screech that echoed across the valley. The falcon answered, playing their little game.
Looking up, she saw him spiral downward until he was near her. He circled her a few times suspiciously, as if assuring himself that it was, in fact, Deiji. The falcon slowed, and swooped onto her outstretched arm.
"Hello, Polk!" she laughed, and stroked his feathered breast with two fingers.
Polk leaned forward and caught a few strands of her hair, clipping at them with his beak.
Deiji laughed. "Okay, okay!" she cried in mock exasperation. She had rescued this young falcon from beneath a tree in the middle of a rainstorm the previous season, where he had fallen from his nest. Deiji had taken him up in her apron and hid him in the corner of the barn, feeding him dead mice and moles. He had come to trust her.
Polk fluffed his feathers and gently snipped her ear. She reached into her apron pocket and unwrapped her handkerchief to reveal a dead field mouse. He snatched it up in his beak.
Just then, something to the left of the trail moved and she saw a flash of red. A tall feminine figure in robes of green slipped from a brushy goat trail onto the path.
Startled, Polk spread his wings soared up and over the tree line out of sight.
"Hello, Maia," Deiji said heavily. It was her friend, with her long and unusually red hair. She stood tall and proper, wearing jewels in her ears, as her status allowed. A maiden wearing a white smock stood beside her. They watched Polk fly away.
"Hello, milady," Maia said curtly, and she sank into a slight and graceful bow, her stunningly silky hair falling over her ears. "I see that Polk has come to you once again. He will never come to me." She sighed dramatically.
"We're old friends," Deiji said tolerantly, tucking the leather strip back into the basket. She honestly wasn't sure if she was referring to Maia or the falcon.
"Are you on your way to the village?" Maia asked pointedly.
The girl in the apron cleared her throat.
Deiji glanced at Maia's escort, who was staring politely at the ground, and she sighed inwardly.
Since the day her parents signed the betrothal papers Maia had become quite proper, embracing and observing all social niceties eagerly, as was fit for her new station.
When they were children they had ran about the hills and the villages in all manner of disregard and messiness. They had both loved to laugh. Even when Deiji moved up the mountain they still maintained their friendship, enjoying little adventures and make-believe stories about Dragons and the Pegasus. And now, ten years later, things had changed. Deiji wasn't sure if it were for the better.
"Yes," Deiji said finally, breaking out of her reverie, "I am." In seeing Maia's somewhat indignant glance she continued in haste, and much in her own defense, "my aunt Micid is due back from her journey sometime this week. I am buying fresh bread for a meal upon her arrival. Are you going to the village as well?"
"No, I am not. I am off to see my brother at my former residence before the noon sun shines. He has the fever."
"Ah. My best wishes for his health," Deiji replied courteously, but inside her heart nearly broke for her friend, and for the realization that she could not outwardly show her compassion.
"I thank you, milady," Maia curtsied briefly. "My best to your mother," she added.
"My thanks," Deiji bowed, and turned to go.
"One would think," Maia called back haughtily, stopping Deiji in her tracks, "that one would dress a bit more ... carefully ... the month when they are about to make their debut into society." She looked Deiji up and down, her lip curled in distaste.
Deiji glanced down at her torn and dirty dress, her shoeless feet. She saw her friend's perfectly pressed emerald robes and her sleek leather shoes and she blushed. Maia smirked.
"Well one would think," Deiji snapped, her embarrassment turning quickly to anger, "that one could do as they wished and not be subject to nonsensical social ridicule!" She glared at her old friend.
"Very well," Maia said decently. She turned to her servant with a curt nod. "Come." The girl and her matron disappeared beyond the path.
Furious, Deiji made her way to the village muttering obscenities under her breath. By the time she arrived at the gates, however, she was somewhat calmed. There were more pressing matters at hand.
She peeked around the corner of the wall and saw exactly what she expected: village boys. Ruffians. Idle, rude younger boys of no apprenticeship who harassed those in and around the village, mostly in fun and games, but these ignorant little boys knew no limits.
She looked about and saw a cart loaded down with produce – a farmer on his way to market his cabbage and carrots. As he passed through the gate, Deiji crouched and walked hurriedly next to his cart, shielding herself from the mischievous boys who often threw handfuls of mud at passersby. She grinned as she passed through the gate undetected.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Keeper of Fire"
Copyright © 2018 Davina Marie Liberty.
Excerpted by permission of Archway Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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