Here are the opening pages of BLOOD DIVIDED. Enjoy!
Tala sat on the edge of the bed in the royal chambers, the king’s hand tightly squeezed in hers. An early morning breeze blew in from an open window and scattered her yellow-green hair across her face, but she left it where it lay. She did not move—hardly blinked. Tala’s heart, like her limbs, felt as heavy as stone.
The best healers in Kel Tora rushed about the room like buzzing honeybees. All the while, herbalists and apothecaries mixed ingredients into medicines they promised would help but hadn’t. Not yet.
Now in his late fifties, King Ethan Essex did not appear his age, in fact, Tala felt he looked as well-built as the day they wed.
On good days, he stood tall and sturdy, his chest filled with pride and confidence. But today was not a good day. Today, the king wheezed and moaned.
Tala did not need the humans to tell her his condition had worsened. She was an elf, in tune with nature, and she could smell it: the king, her husband, was dying.
“His skin is on fire…” she said to one of the nurses who dashed off to fetch another cold towel in response.
“The summit is a week away,” the senior advisor, a man equal to the king’s age said, as he approached. “Kel Tora needs him healthy. All of Illyia needs him healthy.”
“And I told you he needed rest. Give him rest, and he will be fine.”
Tala sneered, as a sour taste invaded her mouth. The mere mention of the kingdom that revolted and denied allegiance to her king heated her blood. “Every time he hears of Joa’ta’s growing treachery, he falls ill. Someone should take the baroness’s head…I should take the baroness’s head.”
“Not since the Great War—”
“The Great War,” Tala sighed, “Ethan fought in and survived the Great War.”
“We all did.”
Tala shook her head, albeit minimally. “Not all.”
“My apologies,” he said with a bow. “Poor choice of words.”
“So…so long ago…” Tala reflected as she gazed reverently at the unconscious king. “You were named King of Illyia. The human monarchies met and chose you over all others. Only you were strong enough, mind and body, to rule in such chaos, and you ruled…rule us wisely.”
“Justly.” The senior advisor added.
“Has there ever been a kinder and fairer king in all of your human histories?” Tala asked.
The king rolled his head to the side; Tala could see his eyes aflutter under his eyelids. She clenched her other hand on his shoulder. “Fight this, Ethan. You are needed. Only you.”
“What will you tell the prince and—?”
Tala did not want to hear the remainder of this advisor’s question. “I don’t know!” she snapped.
A moment of silence passed, during which all Tala heard was the king’s breathing overlapped by the anxious whispers of the healers.
“What exactly were you discussing when he…when he collapsed?”
“Plans. You know our laws. You know I-I cannot discuss the kingdom’s plans with you in detail.”
Tala closed her eyes and caged a shout that quickly built in her throat. She watched as the senior advisor crossed his arms and could tell by his stance—his eyes—that he held back his words too.
“Tala,” the king coughed as he woke.
“Yes, my lord,” she said with a warm smile. “I’m here. I am here with you. Your healers, your advisor, your guards, we’re all here with you.”
“Doing his duty to Kel Tora and the rest of Illyia, as always.”
King Essex rubbed his eyes and then turned his full attention to the senior advisor. “The riders? Our scouts?”
The advisor glanced briefly at Tala before he answered. “We should be seeing their return soon.”
“Good.” He haggardly sat up. “It gives me just enough time.”
“To what?” Tala asked. “You need to rest.”
When the king moved his legs over the side of the bed, it forced Tala to stand. “If there’s to be a future for my son and daughter, for all the sons and daughters, then Illyia needs me.”
“My lord, you need—” one of the healers spoke up.
“Parchment, quill and ink,” he said. “Some water, too, please. And let the people of Kel Tora know their guardian wishes to speak with them tonight.”
When he stood, Tala could not believe her eyes. He looked, if only for a moment, as strong as the day she met him.
“What will you say?” she asked, deeply intrigued.
He straightened himself a moment before he answered. “The First Day is less than a week away; I want everyone to treat it as they have in the past. I want them to celebrate the future. I want them to know that everything will be okay. To trust in the strength of Illyia, Kel Tora, her people, and—”
“And you, her king.”
King Ethan Essex nodded. “Yes, and me.”
Kevin James Breaux