This sample chapter from my novel Protector (Book 1 of my fantasy fiction series Anniversary of the Veil) was originally featured on That Fantasy Blog a few months ago. They have since given the spot to a new Guest Author, so I am reprinting it here for those who might still like to read it. I hope you enjoy it and please leave any and all comments on it below.
To Be a Protector (An excerpt from Anniversary of the Veil, Book 1: Protector)
By Vanna Smythe
Entan could hear the morning bell sound off in the distance as he closed the doors of the Priest’s Palace behind him. He made his way up the staircase to the Head Priest’s study.
“I have called you here to talk about the boy Kiyarran,” the Head Priest said as Entan entered, though he did not look up from the papers in front of him on the wide oak desk. “I am concerned that he may be straying too far off the path of Allowed Training.”
“I have not noticed this,” Entan replied. One of the large windows in the Head Priest’s study faced east, and Entan focused his eyes on the band of pale grey light, running from nearly white to black, on the horizon.
“Regardless of what you may, or may not, have noticed, the boy is progressing much too quickly. Just as we feared would happen,” Father Rhaldan said, looking up and fixing his pale, pale blue eyes on Entan.
“We have only just begun the True Training. Might it not be too early to tell?” Entan said. From the corner of his eye he saw Rhaldan give him an amused look. He kept his eyes fixed straight ahead on the growing light outside. “The High Panel has always known that his potential in using the Life Force was far greater than that of any other. It was the reason you sent us to fetch him in such haste all those years ago.”
To fetch an orphan.
Entan had not yet been the First Captain of the Protectors then, but knew that one day he would be. If he did not question.
“Yes, we knew he was strong, but we had no way of knowing the extent of his strength,” the old man said and stood. He walked over to the window, placing himself directly in Entan’s line of sight. “Did you truly not notice this? Despite the block that hinders the manipulation of the Life Force, he was always ahead of the others.”
“That he was. But some are born thus, and it is well known that too few such have joined the ranks of Protectors in recent years.”
“And it is for this reason also that the boy was made a trainee and not a novice. We had deemed that the block, followed by the True Training would be enough to keep his progression in check.”
“As it has always done,” Entan said.
“The boy might prove the exception. I wish to watch him more closely to see if this is indeed so,” Rhaldan said. “You will relieve the boy of his duties at the castle, and give him such that will keep him spending his days closer to the Palace.”
“Is there ought you had in mind?” Entan asked.
“I will not presume to tell you how to lead your order,” Rhaldan said, fixing Entan with a look that held no humility. “And after you are done, I wish you to ride to Ril’Pol and fetch Father Atvor back to us. Do what your must to persuade him to come, and do not return without him.”
“It will be done,” Entan said, stifling the desire to ask why Father Atvor was so urgently needed. Rhaldan had made it quite clear that he did not want to explain himself.
Priests and novices were already moving around in the halls as Entan made his way out of the Priest’s Palace, some lighting torches, others hurrying to the dining hall. Outside, the sky was all grey now, and thick clouds were rolling towards land from the sea. The raging storms that always heralded winter had started. Entan pulled the hood of the black cloak of his Protector’s uniform over his head, and walked towards the Keep. The newly pledged Protectors would start emerging soon on the way to the morning lesson.
He did not wish to tell Kiyarran he was to cease his duty as Issiyanna’s Guardian. The two had a special understanding of one another, and so Kae was the best Protector to guard the king’s daughter. Entan also knew that the two were friends, and he did not want to end that. So few of the Protectors had friends outside the order. But such things were not for him to guide and decide upon. If the Head Priest willed something done, then it fell to the First Captain to see that it was.
“Kiyarran, I wish to speak with you.” Entan said as the boy emerged from the Protectors’ Keep, the heat from the hall hitting Entan before the door closed. Kiyarran turned towards him expectantly. “After this morning’s lesson you will report to Lt. Agara to join the Errent Corps. The Princess will be assigned a new Guardian.”
Entan hoped the honor of the new duty would take some sting out of losing the old.
“I will no longer be Issa’s Guardian?” Kae asked, though it sounded more a statement than a question. The sadness and disappointment in his voice hurt.
“May I be the one to bring the new Guardian to her, Captain?” Kae continued, looking off into the distance. Entan could see the grey clouds reflected in the boys green eyes, much as they might reflect off the surface of a calm, slow flowing river.
“You are to cease contact with those not of the Palace and the Keep. This now includes the Princess until such a time as she takes the throne,” Entan said. “The Errent Corps is leaving on a mission today, and you will accompany them.”
“Will I not miss too much of the True Training this way?” Kae asked.
“You will allow me to decide which lessons you can safely miss,” Entan said, more sternly than he intended. It brought him no pleasure, what he was doing, and he wanted it done.
“I am sorry, Captain. I have not slept well,” Kae said. Entan simply nodded, then walked past Kae into the Protectors’ Keep, to inform his lieutenants of the changes.
Entan reached the weather-beaten, light grey walls of Ril’Pol about three hours later. He pulled the bar that hung beside the gate without getting off his horse.
“Who is it?” A gruff voice asked from inside.
“First Captain of the Protectors of the Realm. Let me in.”
There was a sound of a heavy bar sliding, and then the gate opened. The man who spoke stayed in its shadow as Entan rode through.
The dark grey triangular towers of Atvor’s church loomed high above the roofs of the other houses of Ril’Pol, and its grey wall. The Garden of Rest lay to the right of the church. Here and there, candles in clear glass spheres were burning on top of the rectangular stone boxes that housed the dead. ‘There is no need to light candles, or weep, at the Gardens of Rest. Those who have died are all around us, whole in the shimmering of light at the edge of sight,’ the priests taught. Yet many of the lower folk still needed the comfort of lighting a candle.
After depositing his mare with the groom and the stables, and telling the man to ready the priest’s wagon for a journey to the Palace, Captain Entan walked to the church. He beat the sun-shaped iron knocker against the door and soon heard the shuffling of footsteps on the other side. A pale grey, almost translucent eye looked at him through the opening in the intricately carved door. Then the eye disappeared and Entan heard the sliding of the lock, followed by the creaking of hinges. He pushed the door from the outside firmly, yet slowly to assist Father Atvor in opening it.
The former Head Priest looked even frailer than the last time Entan saw him. He was stooped halfway to his waist, and the bones of his spine were clearly visible beneath his grey habit, which hung to the ground just as loosely as the skin hung off his face over his protruding cheekbones. But the man’s eyes were alive as he grasped Entan’s hand in both of his.
“Come in, boy. I have been expecting you,” Father Atvor said. Entan was surprised at the strength of the man’s hands, since the skin covering them felt as dry and thin as parchment.
Father Atvor ushered him through the large prayer room, past the slightly raised platform of the altar, and up a set of stairs that opened into a hallway lined with numerous doors. One of the doors stood open, and it was into this room that the priest led him.
In the center of this room, there was a large plain wooden table, more than half of it covered with books, loose parchment and empty, or near empty, bottles of ink. The room was illuminated by many candles, some in holders, others standing unsupported wherever there was room amid the mess. Melted and dried wax covered much of the table and the floor around it. It also hung down in long ribbons from the mantle of the fireplace in which a fire was blazing. A narrow pallet lay against the wall at the far side of the room behind the table.
“I have made the dining room my study and bedroom as well,” Atvor said. “My old legs can no longer journey from room to room in this great house as they once could.”
Was this why Rhaldan wanted Atvor returned to the Palace? So he can replace him?
“Come, sit. I will pour us both some wine and you can tell me the purpose of your visit.”
“Allow me,” Entan said and walked to the small kitchen that adjoined the dining room before the priest could protest. After some searching, he brought out two clay cups that looked clean enough, along with a bottle of wine.
“The body of Father Noh of Ack’Vere was found in the prayer room of his church three days hence. Father Rhaldan and the High Panel concluded that he did not die of natural causes,” Entan said as he poured each of them some wine. “The Head Priest wishes for you to return to the palace where you may be kept safe.”
“Communication of Noh’s fate has reached me,” Atvor said and took a sip of wine. A drop of it escaped and ran down his chin, leaving a trail of crimson in its path. The old man did not seem to notice. “I do not think I am in danger, any more than I believe Rhaldan fears overmuch for my safety. No. They have lifted the block from the boy, and do not much like the result. “
Entan was just taking a swallow of his own wine and the shrewdness of the old man’s knowledge made some of it go down the wrong way. Atvor waited until his coughing subsided before continuing.
“Old and frail I may be, but I am not completely useless yet.”
“Will you come to the Palace then?” Entan asked.
“I have counseled Rhaldan to make the boy a novice when you first brought him to us. In that way his learning of the skills could be guided from the beginning, and his trust gained slowly and surely. Much of what has been forgotten could be learned again from one with such potential to wield the Life Force,” Father Atvor said, and laid his hand gently on a pile of books in front of him, a wistful look in his eyes. “But the block has destroyed any hope of that, I fear. No, I will not return to the Palace. I wish to remain here and enjoy the time I have left in peace.”
Do what you must to bring him here, the Head Priest’s words rang in Entan’s mind.
“The boy has been showing extraordinary progress since the block was lifted. During the very first lesson he Travelled with an ease most never master.”
“The ability to Travel is not suppressed in trainees. The other skills are destroyed. Those of your order are trained to fight and kill. The boy had a vast potential when we found him, but much of it was lost because it was not nurtured. It is never the potential alone that determines the extent of one’s skill in wielding the Life Force, it is the training. In his desire to control the boy, Rhaldan blinded himself into believing that this is not so,” Atvor said and pushed his empty cup towards Entan to be refilled. Entan poured him some more wine. As he replaced the bottle on the table, Atvor grasped his hand instead of the cup and sought his eyes.
“The boy is a Protector now. No more, no less. Rhaldan will see that soon, he does not need any one to tell him,” Atvor said.
Do what you must to bring him here.
“Rhaldan has ordered me to keep the boy in check. He had not been able to read what the boy’s test was and it worries him,” Entan said. “Perhaps you are wrong, and he is right.”
“Rhaldan unable to Read? This is unheard of. It has always been his strongest skill,” Father Atvor said with a wry smile on his lips. “But he has always been prone to hasty action as well, often with a lack of forethought.”
Rhaldan had seen to it that Father Atvor was removed from the position of Head Priest some twenty years ago, just as he had seen to it that he himself kept it since. For that alone, Rhaldan’s forethought seemed sound enough to Entan.
Do what you must.
“I fear Father Rhaldan will harm the boy if he is not able to control him,” Entan said.
Atvor gazed at Entan with a searching look in his pale eyes. The day Entan and his corps donned plain clothes and attacked a small village at the foot of the Mountains of Giants swam to the forefront of Entan’s mind. Entan’s orders, given by Rhaldan, were to kill all, save for a boy of seven, whose potential in the Life force could be felt by all of the Protectors with him that day. Entan did not hesitate to follow his orders. Not until he pulled the boy from the shelter beneath the walnut tree, with the village burning around them. His orders were also to let the boy see his mother and father dead, but he did not follow that.
“You care for the boy,” Father Atvor finally said and Entan’s memory receded just as quickly as it had appeared. But the ill feeling lingered, just as it always had, whenever Entan dreamt of that day. “Does Rhaldan know?”
“He has never mentioned it.”
“I have never approved of the practice of making orphans to fill our orders. Perhaps that is why I could not stay the Head Priest. Though perhaps some things have been done for too long to be done otherwise,” Father Atvor said and steepled his fingers in front of him on the table. He sat there like that, staring at the wall behind Entan for a long time.
Entan poured himself a cup of wine, drowned it, then poured another and did the same. Yet still the ill feeling lingered.
“I will come with you. Might be I can still make Rhaldan see reason,” Father Atvor said, startling him. “But I warn you, my influence at the Palace is no longer what it once was.”
They left an hour later, Atvor huddled up in his cloth covered wagon, wrapped up in several blankets and leaning against two chests filled with his belongings. He does not think to return, Entan thought, but did not ask.
The man who tended Atvor’s horses took the reins of the large farm horse that pulled the wagon, and they set out for the palace. A light drizzle began to fall as they exited the town gates. Entan pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and rode aways ahead to make sure their path was clear.
Thanks for reading!