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WIP Spotlight: Shadow and Shade

I’ve been scrolling through my current Works in Progress, to see what I might be able to share with you. Shadow and Shade began as one page of note and became an epic fantasy that I had to split in two because keeping it as one book would have meant that it was unlikely to be published, at least in paperback.

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King Lennox Mortas has struggled since childhood. His father was murdered before his eyes by the then Steward and friend to the throne, Jerrell Loflin; his pregnant mother was kept to provide a new Queen to the usurper, only to die with her stillborn son. Protected by the Captain of his father’s Guard, disguised as a peasant child and whisked to the dark, cursed forest land of Sanelma, Lennox had to grow up fast.

Prince Eucen was born into hate. The true born son of King Loflin; stolen by King Mortas on the first night of his existence and taken by his Captain of the Guard to live in a secret, undisclosed location. Never to know the truth of his origins, Prince Eucen is the missing heir to the Solrun throne.

Years later, Lennox will use Prince Eucen’s return to his life as the catalyst for war against Jerrell the usurper and regain his rightful throne. But can a simple peasant boy change the course of history? Can a young man, barely twenty, not only unite the kingdoms under its once title of Sanelrun but also save the people from two Kings with a personal grudge?

Every action had a consequence. Can Lennox see his, before it’s too late?

~

* PART 1: In the Beginning *

Chapter 1

As thunder cracked outside the nearby window, King Lennox Mortas paced within his castle. It shared his sense of tension and anticipation, while the sky remained suspiciously clear and bright. Knowing it wasn’t the doing of his own hand, that even his inert magic hadn’t run loose for nearly a decade, he contemplated the possible cause as being planetary.

After all, the stars were aligned this night, for the first time in near a hundred year.

Most importantly, it was nearly time. The prince would be born any minute and he did not want to miss his big entrance. If the weather didn’t abate naturally, he would use his own talents to keep it at bay.

“Master.”

A gravelly voice interrupted his contemplation, whimpering when Lennox turned to evaluate the creature. Willian, the one he least had time for. “What is it?”

“The caretaker is here,” he announced, bowing low and backing away, with his body still bent nearly in half. He bumped into the corner pillar of Lennox’ sanctuary and the Katana displayed on top wobbled precariously.

Willian spun on his heel and grabbed for the small, clear stand that cradled the tip of the sword.

Lennox let out a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose, while raising his free hand and curling it into a fist, with a flourish. The Katana spun out of Willian’s reach and levitated above the pillar, while the stand moved into position below. The sword gently dropped into place and sat where it had always been.

“My apologies, Master.” Willian grovelled, bowing over and over again. It was quite ridiculous for a man of his bulk and near seven foot of height to keep bowing and scrambling along on his knees.

“Just show Eusebio in,” he snapped, having no patience for the pitiful creature. While Willian scarpered quicker than he had ever moved before, Lennox resumed his pacing.

He was frustrated by the ineptitude of his servants. Willian wasn’t entirely at fault for his own failings; he’d been born a perfect specimen of health, but had suffered a near fatal head injury in his youth that limited his cognitive and mental growth.

Lennox really shouldn’t be so short with him, but it pained him to constantly fix his innocent mistakes. Especially on a night when his patience was already worn thin. He should have lived in the grand castle of Solrun and had the staff to give Willian the medical care he required and the attention he deserved, but was relegated to the forests of Sanelma through no fault of his own. Solrun was the bright, shining city of laughter and joy, while Sanelma was the dark shadow creeping into the souls of his people. Maybe if he lived in Solrun instead, he could take on a better calibre of staff to maintain his crumbling property and see to his wishes.

“Master.” Eusebio’s voice was clear and authoritative, where Willian’s had been dripping with desperation. “I am here, as requested. How may I serve you?” he asked.

Lennox turned slowly, evaluating the many answers to that question. He was humming with need, but no one like Eusebio would ever be capable of quenching it. Eusebio was of a rare ilk; damned ugly, but indispensable. With scars and pock marks all over his face and arms, from a childhood disease and many years of fighting in Lennox’s father’s Royal Army. Short and stout, he had very trollish features, though the creatures themselves had died out long ago.

Regardless, there was only one who could satisfy his needs and he would have to wait a very long time for that to happen.

“The child will be born this evening. When I bring him here, I trust you to ensure he is raised properly. He will remain in this castle, as your ward, as you know. I expect him to grow into the kind of young man I can be proud of. Do you understand?” he asked, wanting reassurance that Eusebio would know what was required of him, before he went any further.

The caretaker nodded and bowed deeply, but otherwise kept silent.

“He must be raised a passionate, loyal man, capable of great deeds,” Lennox continued. “You will keep him far from the castle, raised as a peasant with no idea of who he really is. He must understand the politics of our happy home and most of all, he must be raised to have no love for his own people.”

“I understand, Master.”

“Oh, and there are two small things that I must insist on. The prince may fail at any of these hurdles, but he must never leave our forest and he must never be allowed to develop romantic feelings for another.” Lennox made his last order and watched Eusebio carefully for signs of reluctance or disobedience. There was not one to see. His caretaker was loyal as always.

“Of course,” he agreed, with a bow of his head. “Everything is prepared. There is a peasant family who can care for the child immediately. They are well prepared and will follow my directions,” he said, though he remained waiting, refusing to leave until dismissed. It was exactly the type of loyalty and servitude he wanted the prince to learn.

“Then you may go.”

Lennox watched Eusebio leave and smiled, for the first time in a long time. His plan had been in fruition for nine months and now it was finally coming together. Ever since he learned that the Queen was carrying a child, he had intended to take it from her. As soon as he knew it was a boy, his resolved had hardened.

He would take the prince, raise him as the lowest commoner, unaware of his origins. He wanted the little prince to see the ineptitude of his father’s reign, feel the pain and suffering of the lowest creatures of society and then fight for their freedom against his own father, the King of Sanelma. And then, perhaps, he would allow the boy to actually rule his Kingdom. If not, he would make a useful puppet to torment King Loflin.

Lennox could only imagine the heartache the King and Queen would suffer, once their little baby was stolen from them. Then, as the years went on, and there was no sight or sound of where he may have disappeared to, Lennox would rejoice in watching them gradually lose hope for his return.

No one but Eusebio would know the child’s adoptive parents and so no one but he could spill the secret of who the prince was or what had happened to him. One day in the future, Lennox would need to know the true identity of the prince, while he sat by and watched his new protégé charge Solrun’s castle and kill his own parents, with no knowledge of what he was doing.

It would be the perfect revenge. Solrun was his to govern and had been stolen from him. Now he would steal something just as precious from King Loflin. He knew that Jerrell would not fight nearly as hard as Lennox had fought to regain what had been taken from him, but that was his choice.

Lennox would kill for what he wanted, and he intended to.

“Master.”

Lennox sighed when he heard Willian’s whining voice again. “What? It has only been a few minutes,” he complained, wanting a few moments of peace and quiet to enjoy his revenge coming to fruition.

“Your spy has returned. The child is born,” he explained.

Lennox whirled on his servant, his eyes glistening with glee.

“Will Master be requiring his horse?” Willian asked, ready and willing to serve him. But he did not want such a mundane entrance. Besides, as soon as the guards saw him at the gate, he would be denied access to the city and his surprise would be ruined.

“No. I have other plans,” he confessed.

Eusebio’s preparations, and the humble future of the child, would make sure that Jerrell could not sneak the child out from under his nose. If the boy did not leave the kingdom, he could never meet anyone from Solrun, who were all too chicken-hearted to ever step foot into the forbidden forest. And if he was warned never to have romantic feelings for another, and raised to obey that order, there would be no happy ending for the King and Queen. The prince would never betray him for a woman from Solrun or be tempted away from his kingdom.

His plans would be secure, as long as the child was raised correctly.

Lennox planned to step in as the boy’s mentor, eventually, but the majority of the work would be in Eusebio’s hands. He had a much bigger task to prepare for.

***

Lennox secured the fastening of his cloak beneath his neck and adjusted it until he was comfortable. He ran a steady hand over his short dark hair and approved of the vision of power in his mirror. He looked every inch the King.

If only his castle and servants reflected his true status.

His poor castle; the stones were crumbling from the harsh weather of the clearing within the forest and his favourite tower trembled every time there was a gust of wind. Once he had the prince, he could focus on rejuvenating his empire.

He had wasted too much time and energy on King Loflin.

With a smile and a swish of his hand, he disappeared from his chambers and appeared just outside the double doors of the main hall of Solrun’s castle. The child, as was custom, would be presented to the people of Solrun shortly after his birth. Since the message had arrived to tell him of the child, he could be certain that it had been at least an hour or so since the blessed event.

Lennox pushed open the doors and strolled into the room, twirling a ruby red stone in his right hand. The room was full of people, peasants and nobility alike, all vying for a view of the newborn. No one noticed him walking into the room and carefully slipping between the mulling crowds, until he was safely planted at the side of the room, observing discretely until the moment arrived.

King Loflin stood on the podium raised above the masses, holding his hands up for quiet. The royal ring on his finger was an insult, but all he could do was grind his teeth against it; he would reclaim that ring eventually. One day. And the pompous ass who had ripped it off his father’s cold dead finger would pay with his life. His golden hair might have turned grey by then, perhaps his tanned skin would be paler and wrinkled with age or maybe he would be the same picture of forty-year-old perfect health and attractiveness that he presented now.

It wouldn’t matter.

Lennox would wait forever, if he had to.

“People of Solrun, the Gods have surely blessed us this evening. My lady, the Queen of our glorious Kingdom has borne not one but two children!” Jerrell announced from his place on the raised podium.

Lennox raised an eyebrow; why had no one notified him of this? He tilted his head and gazed down at the ruby stone in his hand. It pulsed and throbbed, to tell him that his quest was still ahead of him. He turned back to watch the King, folding his arms over his chest as he leaned against the column beside him.

“Allow me to present to you, Princess Otelia and Prince Eucen,” Jerrell announced.

Lennox rolled his eyes at the terrible names the ‘King’ had chosen for his offspring. He intended to correct that mistake as soon as possible. He continued to watch, with an eagle eye, as two nursemaids approached the King, each carrying one child in their arms. “Is the King so mighty that he cannot hold his own children?” he asked, calling over the hustle and bustle of the audience to be heard.

The room hushed and every eye turned his way. It made him smile to see the look of utter hatred pass over Jerrell’s face.

Lennox pushed himself from his leaning post and moved forward, revelling in the way the crowd parted to let him through. “It was very noble of my good friend to invite me to the celebrations, but I was unaware that you were having two children.” He felt that something needed said about that, since his spies were never wrong.

“You were not invited. And how many children I have is none of your business,” the King replied, with a patented sneer that Lennox was more than used to.

“My apologies.” He pushed his cloak from around his arms and bowed in a flourish. “If you would allow me to impart my gifts to the newborns, I will be on my way.” He made an offer that he knew Jerrell could not refuse. Too much had been stolen from him already and everyone in the kingdom knew how dangerous he was.

Twelve guards moved from their posts at the side of the room and made a barricade around the nursemaids, as he expected. It would have been easy enough to use his powers to remove the obstacle, but he did not have to. Jerrell was the benevolent King who turned no one away from his kingdom.

An unspoken pact had been made between them, allowing his lies to trickle down through the castes, until the entire kingdom knew Lennox was not welcome in Solrun. It suited his plans to leave it that way. And it meant that no stupid Solrun resident ventured into the Sanelma lands wittingly or unwittingly.

Jerrell looked over his guards and the expectant faces of his people. Lennox knew what decision he would make, even before he sighed and signalled for his guards to step back. The King was no match for him, with or without his magic.

“You may impart a gift to each child. As long as you do not cause harm.” The King made his compromise clear, raising his voice so that all in their presence could hear him. But Lennox did not need cheap tricks to get what he wanted. He would get it either way.

He gave his liege another bow and walked calmly to the children.

The girl was an unexpected complication, but it was a matter easily solved. He did not doubt that Jerrell had kept her a secret to ensure that he could not steal the princess to marry her and gain his kingdom back in such a way. But that was tasteless and he had no interest in waiting twenty years for a marriage to give him what he could easily take. He had waited long enough to grow into an adult; waiting any longer would drive him insane.

Lennox made his way to the princess and bent to whisper in her ear; “Per silentium noctis venit in saltum vestrum mortis.”

One day she would do as his charm required; she would venture into the forest, in the silence of the night. There, she would die. With a smile, he pulled back from her newborn ear and brushed the pad of his thumb over her tiny forehead. Blonde curls peeked out of the pink blanket swaddling her. Her cheeks were ruddy from screaming and her eyes were blue; she was quite an unattractive child. But eventually she would fulfil his curse.

Lennox turned to the boy; dark haired and dark eyed. He was thinner than the girl, and his instincts told him that the girl had taken the most nutrition in the womb, making the boy weaker. He would take care of that, as soon as he had a hold of the prince.

“Sleep my beauty, until we meet again,” he whispered to the child, discretely slipping his hand into the swaddling clothes, as if blessing the boy in the same way he had the girl. He dropped the red stone into the blanket folds and smiled when the small black eyes gazed up at him. “Soon,” he told him, stepping back and turning to bow to the King.

Jerrell visibly gritted his teeth and bobbed his head, to keep face amongst the peasants. Lennox knew why. He had spies and supporters of his own and of his father still in the lower classes. Jerrell would never openly disgrace him or show his hatred, for fear that there would be an uprising.

“Is that your great gift?” Jerrell sneered, keeping his voice low so that only the two of them could hear.

Lennox ignored him; he would not lower himself to reply. He gave a nod and, with his next bow, he disappeared from the castle and returned to his chambers in Sanelma.

His task was almost complete.

~

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