Isabel Deran only wants to practice archery with the castle guards, and that is the last thing expected from an elegant Princess. Living in the shadow of her late sister, Victoria, she is next in line to receive the royal armlet that is embedded with four stones: an opal, a sapphire, an amber, and a ruby. It is a revered family heirloom with the power of the elements passed down from mother to daughter.
However, an evil, once thought to be sealed away in a prison in which time does not pass, breaks free with an army that swarms the castle and wrecks havoc over the kingdom in search for the magical armlet. They are known as the Aeonians. When they kidnap Isabel and place their hands on it, the precious stones vanish.
Isabel is now trapped in a race against time to locate her stones of power with the head of the Aeonian army, Bence Brechenhad, stalking her like a shadow. With the help of her trusty weapon, the sai, she fights her way through seemingly impossible trials and fearsome monsters in order to restore peace in her kingdom.
Releasing a breath, Princess Isabel let her arrow fly. It struck just outside the bull’s eye. She tried to kick the dirt, but only managed to get her boots caught in her gown.
“Hey now, don’t be so hard on yourself. Besides, the Queen wouldn’t be too happy if you ruined yet another dress,” exclaimed an armor-clad man with closely shaven white hair. He twisted his mustache as he stifled laughter.
“Shut up, Benjamin. I had it yesterday. Four bull’s eyes. I don’t know why I’m regressing.” She pulled another arrow from her quiver and shot an icy glare at her target. Inhaling deeply, she focused on the scent of hay. Birds chirped rhythmically. Rays of sunlight spilled across the field. Pulling the arrow back against the string, she closed one eye.
As soon as she released her grip, Benjamin jumped up, waved his hands and cried out. The arrow flew past the target and into the woods.
“What the hell?” Isabel growled.
“In battle, you may encounter many distractions,” he said, falling quickly into a more serious disposition. “I’m not kidding around. You have already proven you can shoot an arrow faster and better than any female on this island, and you need to be challenged. Heaven forbid you ever need to use a bow and arrow to defend yourself, there will be chaos. Clashing of metal all around you─”
“I got it.” Isabel wiped sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. “Thank you. I should be more grateful. You risk suffering the wrath of my mother finding out about this.”
“And I have already suffered a few times. But I think she is softening up to the idea.”
Isabel crossed her arms and sat on a flattened rock. She played with the hem of her dress. “I’m not looking forward to tomorrow.”
Shining his helmet mindlessly, Benjamin said, “Why not? It’s the armlet ceremony! An honor. Although, I don’t think that our training sessions would be appropriate after tomorrow. You will be carrying such responsibility─”
“But my mother would still be Queen. I’m sure I can still find time to train with you and the others.”
“What I meant to say was, you should make better use of your time.”
When her mouth fell agape, Benjamin patted her hand. He locked eyes with her and shook his head.
Isabel jerked her arm away from his. “And who are you to tell me how to make use of my time?” Her words were laced with venom, then followed by a remorseful silence.
Benjamin’s head dropped. He struggled for words as he adjusted his helmet.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t speak to you that way. I just really enjoy my time here. I feel so carefree. You’ve taught me to wield a sword, maneuver with a hefty shield, and now fire an arrow. I don’t want all of that to go to waste.”
“We will see, kid.” The lines around his eyes grew deeper. “The sun has begun to set. I think it’s time to call it a day.”
Isabel nodded as she pressed the bow into his hands. “Want to know the next weapon I want to master?”
Cocking his head to the side, Benjamin smiled. “What?”
“The royal sais!”
“No one has touched them since your great, great grandmother Olivia during The Battle of The Storm. It’s a treasured relic.”
Her shoulders slumped. Isabel had eyed that weapon in its glass case in the chapel for years. The polished three-pronged silver weapon begged for some action, to be used again. Even if it was against a target stuffed with hay. Shaking her thoughts away, Isabel bowed. “Thank you for today. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.” Anxiety filled her chest like a flash flood.
Benjamin bowed in return. “The royal army has complete and unbending faith in you. Even if there are others out there who don’t. Remember that. See you tomorrow, Princess.”
She bit her lip and nodded. Picking up the hem of her gown, Isabel scurried through the royal barracks. Her heels tapped against the cobblestone flooring until she reached massive mahogany doors. Pulling the copper handles, Isabel peeked back at Benjamin, now a speck in the distance, before she took a deep breath and entered the castle.
The cold air shocked her back to reality. With only lanterns hanging from the stone walls, the west side of Deran Castle looked plain compared to the other areas. As she made her way towards the main hall, Isabel observed her tattered dress, trying to come up with an excuse for its condition. All her tunics were ripped beyond recognition, so she had to train in a formal outfit.
An idea popped into her head. She quickened her pace and took the stairwell up and around the main hall towards her room. She called her maids, who were sewing her tunics. The foremost maid clasped her hand to her mouth when she laid eyes on Isabel.
“I know, I know. I went practicing in a dress. Is there a spare I can change into before dinner?”
“Yes, yes. Here’s a green taffeta gown. Let’s get you dressed quickly.”
While the other two maids fussed over Isabel, her line of vision fell onto a satin dress with lace trim that hung prominently on a wooden mannequin. This lilac gown dripped with pearls. It was the gown she would wear for her armlet ceremony. Isabel dreaded the corset that would soon suffocate her. When she had first tried it on, all her mother and her maids could do was coo at how it complimented her hazel eyes.
She snapped from her reverie as the maid yanked a ribbon around her waist. “Thank you,” she said.
“Of course, Princess. We will, uh, see if we can fix this up for you,” the second maid said, trying to disguise her cringe.
With a wink, Isabel whispered, “It’s pink. I will be fine if I never see this dress ever again.”
The two maids glanced at one another, faces blank.
“Okay. Thank you, ladies,” Isabel said, backing away slowly. After a quick curtsy, she rushed out the door.
A burst of giggles erupted from her room. Isabel paused. “What a joke, Christiana,” whispered one of the maids.
Isabel balled her hands into fists. She inched back against the wall and leaned towards the door.
“Hush, Agnes. It’s true, Isabel isn’t very… ladylike, but it’s not our place to pass such judgments. What if someone hears and tells the royal family!”
“Just look at what she did to this dress!” Agnes huffed. “Victoria was so different.”
Biting her lip, Isabel’s heart twisted with guilt. Her sister had passed away a year ago, and even to this day, she lived underneath her shadow.
“But it doesn’t change the facts. We have only Isabel now, and tomorrow, the family heirloom will be passed down to her instead─”
“The armlet should not be given to someone as careless as her. Isabel is not fit for the title.”
Tears welled in her eyes as Agnes’ voice faded into the back of her mind. Last year, Victoria was elected to receive the armlet by the four tribes when she turned eighteen years old. She was a quiet, graceful young woman. She also was very calculating, excelling at the art of diplomacy.
Isabel looked down at her callused hands. A frown stretched her lips. Even as the older sister, she had always been second in line, destined to marry some lord, bear children, and oversee insignificant duties within the castle walls. While serving her sister, of course. That was the plan until the day Victoria fell.
Each time Isabel blinked, a tear drop fell, and the image of her sister reaching out to her flashed before her. Isabel wrinkled her nose, trying to push the memory away. Victoria had been cared for by the family nurse for weeks, but nothing stopped her fever. She recalled visiting her sister every day since the accident, watching over her bloated, unpleasantly warm body. When sepsis had set in, it was only days until she witnessed her sister’s last rattled breath.
Chewing on her fingers, Isabel winced as images from the funeral played before her eyes. It was a blur, but guilt and sadness pricked her skin as strongly today as it did a year ago. And ever since then, fear of failing to fill her sister’s shoes never left her. While the responsibility of the armlet transferred from Victoria to her, she never got used to the idea of it.
Giggling broke her train of thought. The two maids waltzed from her room. Agnes held the dirtied pink gown against her and twirled. When Isabel locked eyes with her, Agnes froze. Christiana swallowed and bowed so low her hair touched the ground.
Isabel’s heart pounded loudly. She could barely hear the gibberish Agnes was spewing. The guilt and uncertainty that simmered beneath her skin transformed into boiling anger. She snatched her dress with lightning speed and clutched it to her chest. “I am not the perfect royal heir like Victoria was, but I’m the one alive,” Isabel said, voice wavering. Her hands trembled violently. “After tomorrow, I will prove to everyone that I can handle the powers of the armlet.”
Casting the dress onto the floor, Isabel rushed past her maids and headed towards the castle chapel, the room where the royal sais were kept.
By morning, the sun had chased the gray clouds away. Ribbons of purple, silver, blue, amber, and red flowed down the receiving hall. The smell of roasting turkey wafted everywhere. A golden chandelier, holding hundreds of candles, dangled from the vaulted ceiling. The stone walls displayed relics and paintings that celebrated the different cultures of the tribes. The voices of Isabel’s parents flowed through her ears.
“My maids have picked up some lovely tapestries on the West Royal Trade Post. I think the receiving hall should have a touch of elegance to balance the hall out. Make it feel more welcoming,” Febe whispered.
Hadi grunted. “Whatever you wish, my love. I took your last name, didn’t I?” He released a chuckle and placed his hands over Febe’s.
Isabel rubbed her eyes. When she had reached the chapel last night, all she could do was stare at the legendary sais, wishing her life was different. For hours. She just couldn’t sleep. As servants bustled about, she tried to focus on their small talk and quell the bubble of anxiety that expanded in her gut.
“Yes, I don’t think your family appreciated that.”
Slurping the wine from his goblet, he tapped his ring finger against the armrest. “Ah, yes, I recall the look on my father’s face. Typical Norelander. So much pride in passing down the family name. But I think he forgave me after realizing I would rule a country of my own.”
“And that’s why I love you. Thank you for respecting our tradition. You know, we should make a trip up there soon. It’s been a few years since we’ve been to visit your family.”
Thoughts of sailing on the open ocean beneath the two moons inched into her mind. Isabel hummed as her people, the Deranians, milled about. Their chatter created a low buzz around the room. A person would occasionally glance at her, redirecting her anxiety.
This is it, sis. This was supposed to be your big day.
Heat flushed up her collar as guilt grasped its hands around her neck. A soldier clad in leather armor and chainmail marched forward and saluted them.
“The first of the tribes have arrived, King Hadi and Queen Febe.” After bowing, he looked up and winked at Isabel. “How are you feeling today, Princess?”
“Alright, Benjamin. Although I would rather be at archery!”
He chuckled and stroked his mustache. “We miss our little tomboy, but you are far from that now.”
Glancing down at her dress for a moment, she sighed. “I guess so.”
“Bring them in,” her father boomed to her left.
With the clang of his armor, Benjamin puffed out his chest and cleared his throat. “Presenting the Tuuli from the district of Buryan.”
Isabel stood with her parents. Nearly tripping on the hem of her dress, she swung her arms to steady herself, cursing silently as the weight of the gown strained her shoulders. Febe threw her a sideways glance.
As soon as Hadi raised his hand, trumpets sounded and both doors opened. A tall, slender figure appeared, followed by a sizable crowd. Isabel craned her neck to get a better look at everyone’s silver and blue garments that seemed to sparkle in the rays of sun that shone through the high windows. They glided forward as if floating on air. Despite the easy, effortless grace with which they moved, it was hard to believe they weren’t human, like the Deranians. Isabel searched for their only distinguishing feature: wings. When she didn’t spot any, she sighed.
I wonder how many of them still have them? There must be some. Maybe they are hidden beneath their outfits.
It was a mystery to Isabel as to why they would hide such a beautiful trait here in Deran when the Tuuli on the mainland displayed them proudly. She always daydreamed of having wings.
When the foremost figure reached the steps, Isabel’s heart raced. Despite the fact he was only one year older than her, his face was boyish. He looked far too young to be the leader of a whole tribe. Yet, there he stood, head high and shoulders back.
His hand floated to his smooth chin as he bowed to Hadi and Febe. “Dante Roril. My people and I are honored to be here.” Isabel tried to look away but her eyes were glued to his face.
Curtseying, Febe smoothed her magenta gown, decorated with cream colored lace. “Welcome.”
“My friend! How are you?” Hadi boomed as he slapped Dante’s back. His crown, bejeweled with various precious stones, slid back when he raised his empty goblet.
“My Queen. My King, I am well.” He paused. “Greetings, Princess.”
Isabel twisted her lips. She hated formalities between friends.
“Hello, Dante. It is a pleasure to see you again,” she said, releasing a smirk. Even after knowing him for years, his wispy blonde hair that danced around his baby blue eyes still made her heart flutter.
“Excited to receive the armlet today? This is a big moment. Time for you to be a grown up!” he exclaimed with a twinkle in his eye.
Before Isabel could fire a witty response, three Tuuli in silver robes joined Dante’s side. Their platinum blonde hair outshone Dante’s dirty blonde locks. After bowing to Febe and Hadi, they too, acknowledged Isabel.
“We are so proud of you,” one said. Even though wrinkles stretched from the edges of his eyes to his lips, he remained handsome.
The Tuuli are blessed to maintain such beauty even at an older age. From their fair hair to their porcelain skin. With soft spoken voices and a reverence for manners, they seem more civilized than their human counterparts at times.
“Thank you, Elder Lief,” Isabel replied, snapping from her thought. Her attention was immediately drawn to his wings, and her mouth dropped in awe. “I see that you are the only one displaying your wings today.”
Lief flicked them up and down. They resembled bird wings in shape but were translucent and had no feathers. “I am very proud of them, even though it may not be the trend around here anymore.” Ice laced the last few words. He turned to Dante, stone faced.
Dante flushed as he twisted his opal ring. “As you know, it is legend that humans descended from the Tuuli. The Tuuli and humans had always maintained a peaceful relationship, and at times, they would even intermarry─”
Isabel blushed at the thought.
“And I think it is about time to be more like our fellow humans. Tuuli wings have become obsolete anyway. Many cannot even fly long distances with them. Lief, we had this discussion before, and we can agree to disagree.” Twisting his ring faster, he gave a tight-lipped smile.
“Of course, my apologies if I seemed rude, especially in the presence of the royal family.”
Febe waved her arms. “There is no need. Everything is fine. Please make your way to the main hall and enjoy yourselves.”
Emitting a warm smile, Lief gestured for the other elders to follow him down the steps. Dante’s fingers played with the hilt of his sword as he bowed once more, hair cascading over his face.
“See you in a little while, Isabel.”
Flushing, Isabel hid her face as the Tuuli were escorted to the ballroom. Her mother suppressed a giggle. When the pitter-patter of their footsteps echoed past her, she peeked up to see Dante’s head shrink in the distance.
As soon as the Tuuli left the receiving hall, a massive form ducked through the entrance. A rhythmic pounding had shattered the silence. Benjamin scrambled out of the way. Scores of reptilian creatures banging on leather-bound drums poured through the door, ranging from twelve to twenty-four feet tall.
“May I present Adem and his people, the Dunya.”
The largest reptile stood on his hind legs and stretched his arms, covering the windows and casting a large shadow over Isabel. “Good morning, and congratulations! Going to put that armlet to good use? Are you sure you can handle such power?”
“Yes, I’m ready.” Isabel said, biting her cheek.
At least I think I am. Do the tribes really lack confidence in me?
Adem roared as he narrowly avoided hitting his head on the chandelier. The Dunya mimicked him, flailing their arms and twitching their tails to the beat of the music. As they paraded around the receiving hall, they showed off the piercings that lined their backs. Some were made of gold. Others were decorated with diamonds and amber. The Dunya were exceptionally proud of their body jewelry; the type and quantity were indication of rank. When the sunlight hit their scaled bodies, the room exploded with color.
“Princess Isabel. It is an honor.” A Dunya half Adem’s size stomped to the front of the crowd. “Do you remember me?” The rest of the reptiles bowed as they backed up to give her space. The silver rings that adorned her snout clanked as she snuffed out a greeting.
“You are Adem’s daughter, Avani,” Isabel said with a warm smile.
“My apologies for not bowing, Princess. My body has been troubling me lately.”
“Don’t worry at all. I will have someone escort you to the main hall,” Isabel replied.
Avani chortled. “If I were to faint, I am sure I would crush him!”
“Very true!” Joining in on the laughter, Isabel curtsied. While commonly irritated by the Dunyans’ boisterous personalities, Isabel found their sense of humor refreshing today. She even found herself bobbing her head to the beat. “How is it in Zeyland?”
Adem opened his jaws to speak, but Avani threw her claw in front of him. “The drought continues. But we pray faithfully every day.”
The drumming stopped. Every reptile’s eyes landed on Isabel. When they nodded, she exhaled. The Dunya worshiped three gods, and she was relieved she got the name of their ‘earth’ god correct. Isabel had taken many classes growing up, and her least favorite was cultural studies. That was when she learned all the tribes’ religions, and the Dunya were the only race that still practiced polytheism.
“Isabel. My people and I have a gift for you,” Avani said.
Adem stomped past his daughter and dug into his satchel. When a package squeezed between two sharp nails appeared, Isabel’s stomach did a somersault.
“Oh! Oh! What is it?” Hopping on her tip toes, she reached for the package. Adem dropped it into Isabel’s hands then offered her a handshake. While his claw completely covered her hand, his grip was gentle.
“Isabel.” Febe let out an uneasy laugh. “Please act your age.”
“Come now, Queen Febe. She is. She just still knows what it’s like to experience pure joy over simple things. I envy that. Growing old is a sad business.”
Glancing sheepishly up at Adem and her parents, Isabel unwrapped her present as daintily as she could. But excitement burned at her fingertips. Underneath was a sleek drum with a hollow log frame, sanded down to a smooth finish. Rawhide stretched tightly across opposite surfaces. Isabel struck it, and the instrument vibrated. Her chest swelled.
“Thank you very much. I can’t wait to play with you guys. As long as you teach me,” Isabel said.
“You are welcome anytime, Princess,” Adem bellowed, exposing hundreds of razor sharp teeth. His breath, which smelled like rancid meat, rolled from his tongue.
She scrunched her nose and tried to hold her smile. When Avani tugged at Adem’s arm, he turned away and Isabel released her breath.
“Father, let’s get a move on. We are holding up the receiving line!” Avani hissed.
When the Dunya marched past Isabel, she waved, and they each nodded their heads in return. As they disappeared into the next room, the drumming faded. Adem decided to go last. He tucked his tail between his legs, carefully contorting his body through the archway. When he turned to give one last wave, his elbow hit a marble column, causing it to crack down the middle.
Isabel’s hand flew to her mouth, her belly aching with laughter. Her mother sighed, and her father snorted.
“Carry on, Adem,” he said. Turning to one of the servants, Hadi pointed at the column. “See that it gets attended to. Oh, and I am out of wine.”
Leaning to her left, Isabel could barely make out more guests at the entrance of the castle, led by Benjamin. She placed her present down by her feet and took a deep breath.
“Presenting the Foti from Ogonia City and Kai from Pekas Bay!”
Two beings of contrasting appearance led the massive group. Covered in copper fur, one looked like a wolf on his hind legs. He wore a red sash draped from one shoulder to the opposing hip and dark pants. A picture of a wolf’s skull with fire erupting from the top was stamped front and center of the sash. His people looked and were dressed identically. However, it was his mane that screamed he was the leader. Longer and thicker than the rest, he carried his braided and decorated mane on his left arm.
I can’t imagine how heavy it must be. There must be at least a hundred rubies woven into the braid. That’s Hakan, alright.
He grunted to a stocky blue figure who could have been no taller than Isabel’s thigh. He too, was covered in fur, but it was groomed short. With each hop, he struck his cane against the floor. The clack clack clack filled Isabel’s ears with familiarity.
I can’t believe Dover is 273 years old. He is so energetic.
The irony of their friendship amused Isabel, since one was more like fire, and the other like water. As he continued to hop alongside Hakan, Dover’s rabbit-like ears flopped around. When Isabel squinted her eyes, she could barely make out the gills within them. Like the rest of the Kai, their fin-like tails swished back and forth to maintain balance.
When the pair reached the steps, Hakan paused. Smoothing his fur with his claws, he purred a greeting.
“Hello, King Hadi. Queen. It is a perfect day for a celebration.”
Isabel cleared her throat.
“My apologies. We are here ready to honor you, Princess.”
“It is a pleasure to see you again.” It was hard for Isabel to not stare at his yellowed fangs. “And greetings, my proud Fotians.”
One by one they howled until it fell into a melodic unison. A slight chill resonated in her bones. There was something haunting about the way they sang, yet hypnotic at the same time.
When they finished, Dover hobbled up to Isabel. His ears drooped over his eyes. Dover focused his attention back on Isabel and her parents. “What a thrill to have the ceremony finally!”
Her mind raced.
Dover meant nothing by it. I mean, this ceremony has already been rescheduled once since Victoria’s death.
Shaking her head, Isabel focused on a Kai elder who arrived with water for Dover. “It’s nice to see you, Bo. You too, Sachiel. Calder.”
The three elders greeted her in unison. Sachiel and Bo’s faces were weathered, and their whiskers were thin, like Dover’s. Calder, on the other hand, was much younger, and stood almost up to Isabel’s chest. Coral bangles decorated their wrists, shimmering with each movement.
A hand cupped Isabel’s shoulder. Her father jerked his head towards the main hall. “We can socialize with everyone once the formal introductions are done,” he said.
“Of course,” Isabel replied.
After Dover and the elders exchanged greetings with Hadi and Febe, they herded the rest of the Kai into the next room. Their bodies disappeared in the crowd, all dwarfed by the size of Foti, Tuuli, and Dunya.
Isabel sighed dramatically. Her muscles loosened now that there were no eyes on her. She never felt as comfortable in the public as eye as her sister had.
But I made it. Part one is over.
“Is the entertainment here?” Hadi called out to Benjamin.
“Yes, they just slipped in when the Foti and Kai presented themselves. I directed them to their quarters to get ready.”
Febe clasped her hands together as her lips curled upwards. “Fabulous. Please see to it they are served something good to eat, too.”
When Benjamin saluted, Isabel’s parents signaled her to follow them into the main hall where their guests intermingled. She waited for them to walk a few feet ahead of her so she wouldn’t trip on her father’s fur cloak that was longer than her mother’s train.
Okay. Phase two. Let’s get social.
Isabel hiked up her dress so she could navigate the stairs with her four inch heels. When she reached the bottom step, her left ankle buckled. Throwing her arms out, Isabel caught the railing.
“Stupid heels,” she grumbled, checking to make sure the heel did not break. “My mother would kill me if I ruined her shoes.”
Benjamin rushed to her side and offered a hand. “What? You have no shoes of your own?”
“Very funny. For your information, I own tons of… boots and flats. The few heels I have are unfortunately all at the cobbler.”
“Hm. I wonder why,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye. Extending his elbow, he insisted on escorting her to the main hall.
As they walked, Isabel paid attention to each step she took. The noise from the next room grew louder and stirred up her anxiety once more. Hundreds of figures conversed, all waiting to witness her initiation into adulthood.
She had gone over the reality of it all the night before and managed to scrape by with a few hours of sleep. And when she had woken up, the responsibility of it all still felt misaligned. What will my life be like once I receive the armlet? Will I be able to still do the things I want to do?
“Listen. I’m thinking of shooting some arrows tomorrow. How about it?” Isabel blurted.
Benjamin’s footsteps faltered. Clearing his throat, he struggled to reply. She stared at him, begging for him to look at her. She needed this. Just a little escape to help cope with her major life change.
They arrived at the archway that opened into the main hall. A few servants scurried back and forth with a ladder and rope to secure the cracked pillar. Dust swirled about, blurring the scene before her. Isabel took a deep breath, pushing against her corset.
“Princess Isabel.” His voice was soft.
“Yes?” Isabel replied, eyes glazing over.
“My men will be practicing archery tomorrow and would be honored for you to join us.”
Her eyes refocused. “Really? Thank you.”
“It’s our pleasure. Now, go. Your people are waiting for you.”
“My people… Yes.”
Isabel lifted her head and took a step forward.
This title does not have Book Reviews.
Please check back for updates.
Company Information Order Options Booksellers Careers Charity Programs
Copyright © 2003 - 2018 Silver Leaf Books, LLC. All rights reserved.