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Night Secrets
S. A. Martin

Night Secrets Excerpt

Chapter One

A slight tug released Keriamís soul from her body. She floated to the ceiling, amazed as always that she could look down at herself in bed. With a certainty born of past experience, she knew this was no dream. Ever since her motherís death two years ago, preternatural powers had evolved within her, and she often wondered why. Was it her motherís way of watching over her from the Otherworld? These night journeys were even more recent and something she must learn to control, if only she knew how.

She drifted through the bedchamber walls, then once outside, flew over the maples and oaks that bordered the royal domain of Emain Macha, approaching the open countryside. Heading north, she traveled over the many farmsteads nestled in small groupings with their wattle-and-daub houses, the herds of longhorn sheep dotting the open fields. Here and there a hill fort guarded the country. Although it was deepest night, everything looked clear and luminous.

Maintaining her leisurely flight, Keriam approached the capital city of Moytura, its shops and stores closed, its many taverns and inns dimly-lit but alive with noise and laughter.

A heavy mist swirled around her, the night air cool and damp. She headed westward to the Plain of Sorrows, a vast land preceded by a meadow and transected by the winding Nantosuelta River. Through the fog, she drifted down among the thick clusters of oak trees lining the riverbank and smiled at the fairies who slumbered in the branches. To her heightened hearing, the rippling water of the Nantosuelta echoed like a waterfall.

The sound of hoof beats jolted her. As quickly as her spirit form would allow, she took refuge within an earthberry bush, afraid someone might see her, even in the dim light.

Two men gathered by the river, their voices audible as they secured their horses to tree branches. Focusing her gaze in the hazy light, she recognized them as officers in her father's army, although she didn't know their names. What were they doing here at this late night hour? One bald and the other blond, they wore simple tunics and short boots.

"Gamal just returned from a mission," the bald one said. "He should arrive shortly."

Was that Major Roric Gamal, her father's courier?

Aimless talk ensued for several minutes, army gossip and tales of female exploits.

They became silent when Roric Gamal rode up, an officer she'd seen at the palace many times. He dismounted and looped his horse's halter around a tree branch, then approached the others. Younger and taller than the other two, his gait was steady and confident, like one accustomed to authority.

"Where's General Balor?" Gamal asked. "He should be present." His clipped accent told her he came from one of the southern provinces, Mag Aurfolaig, perhaps.

"Couldn't come," the bald officer explained. "The general sent me to represent him."

"Very well," the newcomer said, his baritone voice clear and resonant. "Let's get this business over with so we can return to our quarters before dawn." Gamal raised his booted foot onto a tree stump and leaned forward, resting his hands on his knee, and lowered his voice. "No dissension now! We have already agreed to kill him."

Kill whom? Keriamís spirit body turned cold. Merciful Goddess, these men are plotting murder!

The bald man stepped forward, shaking his fist. "Do it and get it over with!"

* * * *

"Think before you speak, Dothan! We must proceed with caution." Roric paused. "First, we need to bribe a few government officials. Blackmail others. That will take time. The Lug Festival would be the best opportunity for killing him," he said, looking at the other two. "Donít you agree?" Receiving affirmative replies, he continued. "Gives us months to plan, and all the crowds there will make it easier for the assassin to disappear among the people and escape."

The Lug Festival, only four moon phases away. Keriam drew back, pressing her hand to her mouth, then gasped when her hand passed through her face.

Roric Gamal recaptured her attention. "We know the king intends to invite King Barzad of Elegia to Avador soon to discuss forming an alliance between the two countries. Last thing we need. If we can keep Avador weak, we should have no trouble gaining control of the realm." He set his foot on the ground and drew himself up to his full height. "But if Avador forms an alliance with Elegia, there go our plans. We will kill the king!"

Keriam sank to the ground. Her father! They were talking about killing her father! Goddess, no! She would not let them get away with this evil.

"Agreed," the blonde man said. "But how do we accomplish this assassination? Remember, General Balor has the final word. Anything we decide must have his approval. Got to have the army behind us."

"Of course," Roric said. "Now, I've given the plan much thought. Here's how we'll proceed...."

The warble of a bird alarmed Keriam, daybreak graying the trees.

A tug pulled her spirit back. No, not now! She must discover more of their plan.

Within a heartbeat, Keriam found herself falling into her body, as if from a great height. She lay stunned, unsure where she was. At last recognizing her surroundings, she wanted to weep, so afraid for her father, her mind awhirl with panic. Somehow, she must discover details of the plot and warn him.

No one knew of her spirit travels, but what if someone found out? She'd be accused of witchcraft, a practice forbidden in the kingdom. And no one was aware of her other mental powers, of her ability to discern a person's past or see into the future by touching that person. Unfortunately, this talent often didn't work when she needed it most. By the Goddess, why couldn't she see into her father's future?

As she heard her maid in the next room, a new fear crashed through her. What if Maudina found out about her nightly trips? Superstitious girl that she was, would her maid report her to the druids? Keriam prayed she wouldn't, hoping she could count on the maid's loyalty. Like all the servants at the palace, Maudina received a sufficient wage, and well-paid servants were more trustworthy than poorly-paid ones. Surely that fact would ensure the maid's faithfulness?

The druids held great power in the kingdom and religion ruled the lives of all of the country's inhabitants. Keriam closed her eyes, imagining her punishment should she be reported to these wise men. If found guilty, she'd be burned at the stake as a witch. Not even her father could save her, assuming he was still alive to try. Keriam said a silent prayer to Talmora, the Earth-Mother Goddess, to keep her father safe. Shifting her position, she thought hard. She must warn her father of the plot against his life without revealing her means of discovery. Would he believe her? He had to. She pushed her woolen bedcovers aside and slid out of bed, tired and groggy but determined.

She made a vow. No one would ever learn how truly different she was.


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