Her idyllic life was shattered when her best friend, Xantha, burst in on her with the news that her younger sister had disappeared. Confused by her father's refusal to search for his daughter, Xantha asked Thekla to join her search for her sister.
Their search would take them from a life they had always known into a land with strange creatures they had only read about. Eventually it would lead them to the keep of an evil nobleman and an ill-fated battle.
From that day on, Thekla would be on a path of adventure and self-discovery that would be beyond her wildest imagination.
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By Mary Ann Dixon-Budnick
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Mary Ann Dixon-Budnick
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThekla had been friends with Xantha of the house of Anakietos for as long as she could remember, despite the fact that Xantha was nobility (Lord Anakietos was the sixth Earl of Kierney and sat on the high counsel of Glendora at one time) and Thekla's father, while a very wealthy merchant of the area, was considered a commoner and a step down on the social scale. Thekla had never been jealous of Xantha's nobility nor her great beauty. Xantha, although she was much shorter than Thekla, had all the marks that nobility enjoy. With her long flowing, pale blonde hair, clear blue eyes, and the complexion that would make the finest porcelain pale in comparison, Xantha was the kind of girl that men dream about. When she would meet a man for the first time, he would be, at first, so dazzled that he would be unable to speak. When he was finally able to find his tongue, poetry would fairly drip from it. Thekla, on the other hand, was taller and more slender, with dark brown hair that flowed downed to her waist, green eyes, and slightly darker skin, was a more sultry beauty. Her quiet unassuming manner would catch a man off guard and, before he knew what was happening, he was captivated.
Thekla had always been very protective of Xantha, coming to her rescue whenever she was in trouble. Xantha was the kind of person that would follow someone into a dark alley if she felt they were in any kind of trouble. At times, it was hard to say if she was very brave or extremely foolish. Thekla was much more reserved than Xantha, less giving of herself, less emotional and the type that rarely lost her temper. She was the more level headed of the two of them, she tended to think things through very carefully before she made a decision. Xantha, on the other hand, operated on her emotions, a quality that usually got her into trouble. The two of them had always complimented each other perfectly; they could even read each other thoughts and emotions, a quality that Thekla had always brushed off as not unusual.
Unlike Anakietos home, Thekla's home life was very cold. The estate that her father had built when he had married her mother was now more of a crypt than a warm family home like the Anakietos estate. Thekla's mother, Elena, had died when she was only a baby and all Thekla knew about her was that she was a great beauty. There was not a single portrait of her mother, something that Thekla had always considered quite odd. There were at least a dozen portraits of Lady Anakietos at the Anakietos estate, including a very large one at the first landing of the great staircase in the entrance hall that had Lady Anakietos, Xantha and , Dianthe, Xantha's younger and only sister, that had been painted about four years ago when she was fifteen.
Thekla began to show abilities in sorcery around the age of eleven, around the same time that her already distant father, Orien, became even more distant to her. He had never wanted to spend much time there, but when her presence in the house caused plates and cups to fly at the walls for no reason, he began to spend more time traveling. Thekla just shrugged and went to see old Holmsby, the sorcerer that lived in the hills just north of the village. It was there that she learned that her ability to read Xantha's thoughts and emotions was unique especially with someone that possessed no magical abilities, although he was unable to explain why Xantha was also able to read Thekla's thoughts. Thekla learned that in time and if she could find a mentor that would be able to help her; she would be able to communicate with someone that was miles away and maybe even transport herself to that person. She also learned how to focus and control her powers, and how to use them wisely. She had already split an ancient oak tree on the Anakietos estate by sending a lightening bolt crashing through the sky, and incinerated her father's favorite chair after he had ignored her last birthday when a fireball had hurtled from her hands and engulfed the chair. Thekla had developed rapidly under his tutelage, so much so that very soon she was spending her days with sorcerer training, lessons with her tutor at home, and lessons with the weapons master at the Anakietos estate. She also quickly became very good with a light crossbow, almost as good as she was with her magic.
Xantha had begun training with the weapons master at the age of twelve, the same time that Thekla began her training as a sorceress. A girl training as a warrior was very unusual, but as there was no male heir, Xantha and any future husband would someday inherits the lands and the title. She would need to be prepared. Early into her training, it was very clear that she had quite a natural talent with a long sword; it was almost an extension of her own arm. She could also hold her own with a light crossbow, but that was no match for her sword fighting. She far surpassed Thekla with her weapons; the training that she had received before Thekla had joined them had given Xantha a weapon's advantage.
Still, Thekla was not jealous of that. They had always said that in battle they would make a formidable pair. If one could not take a foe down with weapons, the other would be able to destroy them with magic.
Therefore, when Xantha burst into Thekla's room that day with the news that her sister, Dianthe, was missing, Thekla did not hesitate for a moment to offer her assistance. She told Xantha that she had seen Dianthe in the village a few days ago with a rather handsome, albeit very arrogant looking, young man. No, she had never seen this man before. When she had tried to talk with Dianthe and find out who this strange man was, she had acted very strange, as if she were very anxious about something. The man had seemed pleasant enough, but very much in a hurry. Thekla remembered, as she was walking away, that something had seemed very wrong, the man had seemed quite superficial, but she could not get a feel for exactly what was wrong. Unfortunately, Thekla's father had been home and his rude reception had made Thekla forget all about her friend and the strange man.
"Several days ago?" Xantha screamed. "Father said she was staying with a friend and that was why she wasn't home!" She had been furious that her father at her father's cavalier attitude towards his younger daughter's absence. When Xantha confronted him with Thekla's information, her refused to do anything. He simply thought that they were better off leaving well enough alone. His indifference to Dianthe's situation and the pale look on her mother's face before she had fled to her room were very confusing to Xantha. The last thing that her father had said to her before she ran out was that Xantha should forget about Dianthe and the entire incident. Of course, that had angered Xantha further. She was determined to find her sister and pleaded with Thekla to help her.
"Of course, I will help you. I have always helped you when you needed me or any other time for that matter, haven't I?" Thekla asked, trying to get her friend to laugh a little.
"Won't your father miss you?" Xantha asked, knowing full well what her father would do once he found out they were gone.
"No," Thekla said with contempt, "he won't even notice that I'm gone for at least a month." The look in Thekla's eye warned Xantha not to pursue the subject further.
They set out the following morning before anyone was up; their plan was to take the main road that headed to the south that led to Tarrington and the desert regions. Along the way, they would ask if anyone had seen Dianthe.
After wandering for the better part of a month, the girls were getting very frustrated. Not only had they seen few people that they could speak with, no one would talk with them about this girl. A few acted as if they knew something, but they ran away, as if they were terrified. The rest of the time, the girls only saw creatures that were unknown to them, the Kierney section of the country was solely inhabited by humans. They were getting very tired of walking and sleeping in the open on the hard ground and longed for the comfort of a real bed when they spied a small castle on the top of the next hill. Xantha decided they should go and beg for a night's shelter from the nobleman that owned this estate. Thekla, always the cautious one, asked if Xantha knew this nobleman. Xantha said that did not matter, one nobleman would always give another shelter in time of need.
They reached the castle and Xantha heralded their presence. The gates opened and the girls walked into the inner courtyard where they were met by a short, brawny man who introduced himself as Ciprian Talon, constable of the outlying areas of Tarrington, and steward of Lady Katriana's estate. He informed the girls of Lady Katriana's absence and asked what their business was in the area. Xantha told him of their search for her sister. She considered it great luck to find a constable of the area and hoped that he would be able to assist them in their search. Ciprian said that he had heard rumors of an evil lord in the region, half a day's journey from Lady's Katriana's estate. These rumors consisted of finding young girls that had been brutally beaten found in the immediate vicinity of his keep. The girls that were found told stories of such horrific torture that some never recovered and some died. The lord of the keep, Lord Danville, had been known to make some shady dealings and was very close to losing all that he owned.
"Perhaps we should ride into Tarrington tomorrow make inquiries into your sister's disappearance and also regarding this Lord Danville. Maybe I will have enough information to finally pay him an official visit," Ciprian said to the girls.
Anxious to find her sister before she was harmed, Xantha pleaded with the constable to leave immediately, but he explained that it was already late enough in the day that would not get to the city until after dark and they would not be able to get into the city gates after dark. "Best to stay here the night in a safe, warm bed and start fresh in the morning. I'll have one of the servants show you to a room and get you some supper," Ciprian said to them and walked towards the stable to arrange for the following day's journey.
Thekla could see the look on Xantha's face, she wanted to go now, regardless of the risks, but Thekla was able to persuade her friend to stay there for the night and start with the constable in the morning. A young girl appeared to show them to a small room that had one small window and a small fireplace. There was one large bed with dark red counterpanes on it that sat high upon a dais. The room was comfortable enough for the two of them for a few nights, at least until they had rescued Dianthe and returned to Kierney. Even still, Xantha appeared very nervous to her friend. "Something very bad is going to happen, I just know it," she said.
"No," Thekla said, "Tomorrow we will go into Tarrington, get the information that we need and we will find your sister. Before you know it, we will all be back at your house, in our nightclothes, and laughing about our adventure," she finished, with much more confidence than she felt. Deep down, Thekla also had a sense of impending doom.
They were both distracted by sounds of a distant battle and were drawn to the small window. They could see in the distance a man in very menacing looking spiked armor standing in the middle of the field, swinging his sword, with several strange looking creatures around him. "They must be practicing," Xantha said, "else we would hear a greater noise from the field."
As they watched, they realized that the battle was much farther away than they had thought, the creatures that they had thought were very small were actually giant ogres, wretched looking creatures that stood nine feet tall, with horribly disfigures faces and bodies, but all with the strength of ten oxen and the disposition of a demon having a very bad day. The man in the armor wasn't merely a man, he had to be around eight feet tall himself and the sword that he swung with such grace was actually a great sword that was the largest that Xantha had ever seen. They counted at least ten ogres still standing and several bodies already on the ground. The man in the armor was able to take care of the rest quite easily and, after he was satisfied, he mounted the giant horse that he was riding and headed towards the northeast, towards the city that they were going to in the morning.
Xantha sighed, "Maybe he will go into Tarrington and we can find him tomorrow. Someone like him would come in very handy with a man like this Lord Danville."
"We should look for him in the city," Thekla said. "A man like him shouldn't be hard to find." She was hoping that would at least make her friend laugh or at least smile a little, but Xantha was too concentrated on her sister. She barely touched her supper and did not speak to Thekla the rest of the night. The girls laid in bed that night in silence as Thekla lay staring up at the dark colored fabric that was stretched across the top of the supports. Her mind was filled with the giant man in the spiked armor. She could not help wondering who he was and why she felt that he was going to be of some importance in her life.
The next morning, the girls awoke before dawn and dressed in the simplest gowns that they had brought. After a light breakfast, they went down to the courtyard where Ciprian was already waiting for them. Ciprian told them that if they left at dawn, they could be in Tarrington by mid-day. Again, in total silence, the girls followed Ciprian out of the gates and onto the road to Tarrington.
The group rode in silence that day, much to Thekla's dismay, she desperately wanted to talk to her friend and try to calm her nerves. She knew that Xantha was optimistic about finding news that her sister was alive and well, of course, and very easy to rescue. She feared for her friend if the tidings were not that good.
Around mid-morning, the girls began to see in the distance a large walled city, much bigger than anything they were used to seeing. Ciprian was warning them was Tarrington was like. "It is a dangerous place, especially for two young girls. Be alert at all times. I will talk first with the town constable and then I will go through the taverns. They are the best place for this type of news. The thieves that usually frequent places like that and I may find someone with knowledge of a young girl that was abducted. It would be best if you get your supplies and meet me back at the gates around mid-afternoon."
They reached the gates of the city right about when the sun was at its highest point. They were hailed by the guards to state there business in town. Ciprian replied that he had business with the town constable and the girls were travelers needing supplies. They heard the gears grind as the large gates swung open, allowing them to pass through. Thekla and Xantha were in no way ready for the sight that met them. Tarrington was indeed like nothing that they had ever seen before. The crowd was bigger than their entire village, even on fair day when all the outlying farmers came into the village to shop. They could see small boys in ragged clothing dodging in between the well-dressed people. The girls had heard that larger cities had boys like this, orphans that made there way in the world pick the pockets of the unsuspecting wealthy citizens, but this was the first time they had actually seen what was know as a pick-pocket. On each side of the very wide street there were men and women both, standing behind tables laden with all different kinds of goods, from jewelry that sparkled in the sun to ready made skirts and blouses down to fruits and vegetables. All of them were shouting to get the attention of the people that were walking by, and, in general, causing a great racket. Farther down the street were the established shops that sold the real jewelry, weapons, armor, and healing herbs. At the end of the street, on a slight rise, stood a large stone building. On either side of the building, there were two very seedy looking, run down buildings, each of which had several men in hooded robes standing outside. The girls could almost feel the danger seeping out of the buildings, that was both frightening and exhilarating at the same time, but is was very easy to see why Ciprian had warned them of the dangers. He turned to the girls and said, "Stay away from the street vendors. Do not listen to their cries no matter what they say. If they were respectable, they would have regular shops. Hurry past them as quickly as you can and go to the regular shops. We will meet back here at mid-afternoon," he finished.
Thekla was suddenly skeptical of the whole plan, but she was determined to protect and help Xantha no matter the cost. She was completely frightened by the determined look on her friend's face and knew that look could get them into trouble. The first shop they went to, the weapons shop, they both bought more arrows and Thekla bought a small dagger. They also stopped in a clothing shop to buy travelers outfits to replace the gowns that they had brought from home.
Excerpted from Thekla's Promise by Mary Ann Dixon-Budnick Copyright © 2010 by Mary Ann Dixon-Budnick. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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