The Eldritch Heart
by Matthew S. Cox
Published by: Curiosity Quills Press
Princess Oona Talomir enjoys the little things that come with her station: a handmaiden, her lavish bedchamber, and scores of fancy dresses―the duty to win a decades’ long war, not so much.
Oh, did I mention assassins?
Seers foretold the conflict would end by her hand. From the moment she drew her first breath, the neighboring kingdom has been trying to kill her so she could not grow powerful enough to destroy them. The king, fearing for his daughter’s life, has kept her confined to the castle grounds for most of her sixteen years. With the tide of war turning against them, the burden of her crown becomes too much to bear, yet one thing lifts her spirits amid the gloom.
Her servant girl, Kitlyn.
Alas, in a kingdom obsessed with the god of purity, she is terrified to confess her forbidden love. When her father makes a demand she cannot abide―marry a prince to forge a military alliance―Oona panics. He is handsome and honorable, but he’s not Kitlyn. Unable to admit why she cannot obey, Oona does the only thing she can think of, and runs away.
Alone and unprepared in the wilderness, she prays the gods will let Kitlyn find her—before the assassins do.
Evor, the groundskeeper’s son, gave Kitlyn a confused look as she collected a wide outdoor broom from the stack of tools leaning against the wall. The boy, a year or so younger, tilted his head at her. He too wore a beige tunic and brown pants to go with his knee-high boots. Kitlyn grumbled. The other servants didn’t ‘misplace’ his shoes constantly. Except for Beredwyn and Oona, it felt as though the entire keep conspired to make her miserable enough she’d want to run away. They didn’t need to know the earth underfoot seemed to charge her with energy; it certainly helped with her tasks. After ‘losing’ three pairs of shoes in one week when she’d been twelve, she stopped bothering to ask for more. It wasn’t worth being scolded. At least they’d left her winter boots be. It seemed they desired to be nasty, not malicious.
“Oi,” said Evor. “What ya doin’ ‘ere?”
“I’m to clear the garden path of seeds,” she muttered.
“Isn’t you the princess’ handmaiden?” He grinned.
A man in the back of the shed laughed. “Not dressed like that she’s not.”
Kitlyn held up the broom and sighed. “Aye, but only Oo―the princess thinks so.”
Both of his eyebrows flared. Most of the upper servants would’ve been appalled at her slip with the name. “I donnae know why ‘ey all treat ya like ‘is. I fink they jealous.”
She laughed. “Jealous? Of me? I’m not even on the social ladder. I’m flat on the ground and the ladder’s on my back.”
“I fink they jealous o’ your eyes.” He stepped closer. “They gleam like em’ralds. You’re beautiful, yanno. ‘Neath alla dirt, an’ them ol’ rags.”
Kitlyn looked away. “Thanks.” Well, this is unexpected. Usually the male servants either sneered at her with the same disdain as everyone else or ignored her. Only the lower ones who worked outside treated her as an equal. Of course, the groundskeeper’s son didn’t stand all that high up the ladder himself; few would’ve batted an eyelash at the idea of the two of them together. Yet, having him look at her like that, seeing the woman under her boys’ clothes, made her feel fidgety and squirmy, and closed the breath in her throat. “I… uhh, need to go before I get in trouble.”
“Awright.” He smiled and moved out of her way. “If’n ye ‘ave time later, p’raps we kin go for a stroll by the lake?”
She swallowed. Evor’d always been friendly, but she couldn’t think of him like that. Still, friendly people here were in short supply, so she forced a smile. “Thanks. I’ll, umm… see.”
He nodded. “‘Ere, use this one.” He picked up a different broom. “Ye’ll be done faster. That one ye got’s bout ta break.”
Glancing down, she gave the broom a slight shake; the head wobbled. Sure enough, it did appear ready to fall apart. Kitlyn offered it back to him and took the one he held out to her. “Thanks.”
His fingers brushed hers for a second, a deliberate gesture. Her gut clenched, though she kept smiling at him. “Thank you, but I’m going to be scolded if I don’t hurry.”
“Let me know if’n ya need ‘elp.”
After a brief nod, she raced off down a narrow strip of walkway between two farm plots where the boy’s father grew rare vegetables, herbs, and spices for the cook staff. She ducked a lumbering bee at the end of the planted row and headed for the corner of the main keep. Grass tickled her toes; the sun warmed her from above like Lucen himself smiled down on her.
a Rafflecopter giveaway About the author:
Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour (<- deliberate), and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of reality, life, and what happens after it. He is also fond of cats.