Extract: ‘Hidden Fire’, by Rosemarie Cawkwell

Brief summary

Hidden Fire is a fantasy novel, the first of four set in The Northern Isles of a world called Erce, in which a young woman, LIZZY FITZALBONI, discovers herself and her place in the world. Privileged form birth, she must learn that not everyone exists to make life easy for her, while navigating a complex political world where many would like to see her dead.

Synopsis

The Northern Isles are four islands to the west of the great continental empire of Belenos. Midway between Belenos and the western continent of Camar, they are key trading ports, controlling the supply of furs and oils from Camar to Belenos, and of silks and spices back to Camar. When the islands go to war everyone suffers. Lizzy FitzAlboni is the illegitimate child of the King John VII of Albon. His political marriage to Jocinta Tarjani, the granddaughter of the ruler of the second largest island, Sumoast, has always been rocky. When Lizzy is kidnapped just before her 21st birthday evidence points to the queen and her kinsmen in Sumoast. Jocinta is exiled back to her family. In Albon, political and religious currents awaken as religious authorities object to the queen’s exile and the people agitate for further reform of the political system. Lizzy becomes involved, while raising her brothers. When her friend Lord Gos Val goes missing while on in Belenos, Lizzy and her friends must investigate, but are too late to prevent the war everyone knows is coming.

Copyright Notice: The author asserts the copyright to this material. No copying, sharing etc. without permission.

(This is my work; steal it and I’ll hunt you down with a big axe and two mad hounds.)

Hidden Fire – The Northern Isles Wars Book 1

 

Prologue

Midsummer’s Eve 1309th Year of Albon Era

Prince John paced around his study, looking up expectantly every time footsteps passed the door. His brother, Michael lounged on a sofa with a glass of wine.

“Do stop worrying John, Eleanor is with her, and her mother.”

The older prince sat down on the sofa, gulping back the glass of wine Michael passed him.

“Lady Val isn’t speaking to me.” John smiled slightly. “The Earl wants to remove certain parts of my anatomy for getting his favourite granddaughter pregnant.”

“Yes, well, they don’t approve of all this. Father isn’t too happy either.”

The young men stared at the wall, bowed under the weight of disapproval from their elders and the responsibility of impending fatherhood.

“Should Eleanor be there, she’s not long off due herself?”

“She’ll be fine.” Michael took a breath, “They both will.”

A knock disturbed their halting conversation.

“Come.”

“Your Highness.” Lady Eleanor Grace curtsied awkwardly, smiling slightly at her lover and his brother, “Lady Mary Val has given birth.”

“Twins?” John asked hesitantly, not that there could be any doubt about Lady Mary’s loyalty, but it was traditional to ask.

“Yes, your highness.”

“Congratulations John! Sons.”

John smiled, his face cracking in happiness.

“You don’t understand, Michael,” Eleanor tried to interrupt.

“Of course I do, if they’re twins, then they’re boys.”

“No, love, she’s had a girl.”

“Well, so I have a son and daughter.”

“No! Please listen, won’t you!”

“What’s wrong Eleanor?” Michael looked at his lover with concern, she seemed close to tears.

“Mary gave birth to two daughters, but only one is alive.”

John slumped on to the sofa, shocked. He had expected sons. They always had twin sons first, the Fire that they carried for the kingdom ensured it.

“A daughter.”

“Yes, and a fine girl she is. Green eyes and a shock of red hair already. She definitely has your nose too.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to marry Mary now.” Michael shrugged, trying to comfort his confused brother.

“Did I do something wrong? The children should have been boys.” John gazed at the half empty glass of wine on the table in front of him, his mind whirling in confusion.

“Auntie is older than father and uncle? Maybe it happens sometimes.” Michael shrugged.

“But Auntie never had a twin. Twins are always boys.”

“You should come and meet your living daughter, and say goodbye to your dead child before the Physick takes her away.”

“Of course.”

The three left John’s room and crossed the palace to the guest quarters, where Lady Mary Val and her mother were staying. The room was dark and warm from the fire lit to boil clean water to wash the new born babies. The sheets were pulled up to Mary’s chin as she lay sleepily in the big bed, a child asleep at her breast. The child was wrapped in a green blanket edged in fur, her hair contrasting with the material. Shocked, John stood silent as Michael and Eleanor pusjed past him to see the baby.

Michael walked to the bed.

“How are you Mary?”

“Tired, and sore. Where’s John?”

“He’s by the door. Can I have a look at her?”

“Of course.” Mary passed the prince the child.

“Well little one, let’s have a look at you.” He scrutinised her face, searching for a resemblance to himself and John. He looked inward and saw her Fire, flickering quietly in the Core. “Yes, you are definitely one of us.”

“Of course she is, your highness. I hope you aren’t suggesting my daughter would be foolish enough to have affairs. Well, more foolish than she already has been.” Lady Val said from the far side of her daughter’s bed, where she was washing the other, dead, infant, preparing to wrap it in swaddling for burial in East Marsh.

“Ma’am, of course not.” Michael looked at his brother, “Come on John, you need to name her.”

“Oh yes.” Dragged out of his stupor, John crossed the room. He took the baby from his brother, looking from him to Mary, “What do you think? Name her after auntie?”

“Why not?”

“The Princess Royal?”

“Yes, and Lady Val, of course. You share a name with auntie, don’t you, ma’am?”

Lady Val nodded.

“Elizabeth she is then.”

“And this one?” Lady Val indicated her charge.

“No one must know, we’ll say that like auntie she was born first and alone. The next will be twin boys.”

“My daughter is not having any more of your children unless you’re planning to marry her.”

“Can’t do that Lizzy,” A new voice entered the conversation, “I’m in negotiations with Tarjan for one of the Holmgard girls.”

“Father.” The twin princes turned simultaneously as their parents entered the room. Lady’s Val, Mary and Eleanor curtsied, while the Physick, in the corner cleaning his hands, bowed deeply.

“Let’s have a look at our granddaughter then.”

Mutely, John handed his daughter to his parents, a second shock in so short a time having numbed him.

 

Michael looked from his brother to his parents and nodded to himself. It was going to happen eventually; they were always destined for political marriages. He looked at the Physick, crossing the room to talk to him quietly.

“None of this goes any further, you understand?”

“Of course you can rely totally on my discretion. And the dead infant? I can dispose of the body discretely?”

“No, I think my brother and Lady Mary may have plans for her burial.”

“Of course.”

 

Three days later Elizabeth was Named in the Great Hall. John stood before his father, the king, and claimed Elizabeth FitzAlboni as his daughter, taking her from Lady Mary and presenting her to his parents and then to the crowd of courtiers. There was a subdued applause, as courtiers watched the Curates from the side of their eyes. The High Curate and his Counsel, sitting half way down the hall, on the left-hand side, refused to applaud, or acknowledge the child presented to them. She was illegitimate, her existence proof of corruption at the heart of the kingdom.

 

After the Naming, Lady Mary and her mother rode into the woods surrounding the palace.

“Where are we going, the gig won’t go too far into the trees.”

“Don’t worry mother, the driver knows the way. We have to walk a little too.”

“It’s too much for you, so soon after giving birth.”

“I know, but it has to be done today.”

In a clearing in the woods, beneath a yew tree and beside a stream, where Mary and John had made love, for the first and only time, while the rest of the court played games to celebrate the harvest, they buried the body of the unnamed twin.

 

Chapter 1

Three days before Spring Equinox, 21 years later

 

The Great Royal Square in King’s Ford, the capital of the island nation of Albon, was designed to impress. In the centre stood the little-used gallows, it’s sagging platform of dark wood casting a shadow over the proceedings. Around the edges, each three miles in length, covered and colonnaded shopping precincts enticed the rand poor alike to part with their cash. The weekly markets filled the centre, and the road through was thronged with carts and carriages, pedestrians and riders. The air was filled with the clamour of negotiation and encouragement. A new sound added to the din, the thump-thump of the steam press printing the first ever daily news sheet in Albon. Outside the press shop another innovation was making itself heard, the news boy:

“Read all about it; half-crown daily, read all about it. Curates demand closure of the Ford Daily. Read all about: Ford Daily to be inspected by Censors. Read all about it in the Ford Daily. Get your daily dose of information here.”

Lizzy Fitzroy looked through the front window of the coach as they passed through the Square. She tapped the glass. On the box seat in front the driver slowed his four horses and turned to answer her.

“Dawson, stop the carriage and go to the paper seller, I want a copy.”

“Yes milady.” He slowed the horses to a halt and jumped down to the pavement. He was back in seconds, with the paper; just in time to see a young man jump into the seat and force the horses into motion. Dawson ran after them, shouting for the thief to stop.

The carriage pulled away, swerving to avoid a cart delivering cabbages. The carriage on its left hand wheels almost toppled but was righted by the thief, half-crushing shoppers against each other and causing shouts of indignation. The driver whipped the horses as he pushed them to greater speed in the crowded square before turning into a side street and out of the square.

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