I have two tidbits for you all today. The first is this beautiful image that will be used for my cover, painted by Cherise. http://artlarue.blogspot.com
The second is that I’m going to give you all a sneak peek at the first pages of my book. So! Drum roll, please… And Enjoy:
I’ll admit that my decision was impetuous. Only the crates and barrels crammed into the wagon would hide me from view as it pulled away from the kitchens, but it was my best chance. The supply wagon had just been sitting there, and upon overhearing the men talking about their plans to visit the caravan of traders in the village, the possibility of a taste of freedom made me reckless.
So here I sat, bumping along, hoping I could make it through the gates without being caught.
I dared to peek around a barrel to check on my progress and saw that we were rounding the edge of the castle. We had only to make it through the gardens and we would be at the gate.
Crouching down once more, I sent a plea to heaven that my ramshackle plan might succeed, but only a moment later, a guard called the wagon to a halt.
Cursing my luck, I scooted back and ducked even lower, anticipating a good amount of disappointment and humiliation. I heard a ripping sound as I moved and knew that a hole had been torn in my dress. I ignored it and held my breath, hoping the wagon would be allowed to move on without an inspection.
I scrunched my face in irritation and looked up at the guard gazing down at me. I stood, knowing my adventure was over. The guards surrounding the wagon were no surprise; however, the swords pointed threateningly at the drivers were.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
“Are you well, Princess?” asked one of the guards.
“Of course I’m well.” I tripped over crates and scrambled out of the wagon bed, ignoring the hands that offered assistance. “And these men had no idea that I was in their wagon until you made them stop. Put your weapons down at once.”
“You got in on your own?” The guard’s confusion was understandable, but I still found it irritating.
“Yes, now let these men be on their way.”
As they reluctantly lowered their swords, I noticed several servants watching the spectacle, and started to worry about the potential ramifications of my actions. I had only a moment to hope that my mother would not be told before I heard her voice ring out across the courtyard.
My stomach dropped and I looked up, then immediately back down as I encountered the eyes of the queen, so similar to mine, as she stood rigid on the palace steps.
“Coming, mother.” Gathering my poise, I hurried past the baffled guards and confused servants, my head held high as I joined my mother.
The fact that she had witnessed my failed adventure only added to my humiliation. I followed her into the castle and up the stairs to the sitting room attached to my parents’ chambers.
The door shut with a snap. “Explain yourself.”
I sighed, resigned to simply tell the truth. “The caravan of traders have come and I wanted to see them.”
“So you decided to go in the back of a supply wagon?”
“It’s not as though there’s any other way I would be able to go.”
“There is nothing amid the trinkets of traders that would interest you, and travelers are notorious swindlers. But that is not really the point, is it? Why would it even enter your head to attempt to ride out of the palace in the back of a wagon? Why, Ella?”
I didn’t know how to answer.
“It’s dangerous. Do you not know that? Do you know what it looks like when you so openly defy me?”
I kept silent.
“Your defiance, your complete lack of decorum and your sneaking around the servants does not look right and it must stop.”
I stared at the ground and clenched my teeth, trying to keep the hurt at bay. My mother was embarrassed by me. “I don’t sneak around them. I’m just interested in the things they do.”
Her tone softened a fraction. “I know that you are curious; you always have been. But if you insist on indulging your curiosity, then you will not do so in public.” I could feel her gaze boring into the top of my head, but I refused to look up and it wasn’t long before I heard the retreat of her footsteps and the sound of the door as it snapped shut.
I stared out the window onto a spectacular view of Dalthia. The palace lawn sloped down past the gardens to meet the wall surrounding the extensive grounds. Beyond that barrier, the common village sprawled out until it met the river, which wove through the dense trees like a silk ribbon through a braid. On the other side of the river were the houses belonging to the nobility, and far beyond what I could see, nestled between rolling hills, rested many outlying villages and estates.
But I was too caught up in my own thoughts, my own hurt and disappointment, to appreciate any of it.
“Fine,” I muttered defiantly. If my mother wanted me to hide where no one would see me, then I would go back to the maze.
I hurried down the grand staircase and out the door without acknowledging the guards in my usual friendly manner.
Making my way through the public portion of the gardens, I held my head high, knowing that several noblemen might be following my movements with their curious eyes. The palace served not only as my home, but as the central meeting place for all government. The landlords who oversaw the outlying villages had regular meetings with my father, as did the magistrates and peace officers. I expected the scrutiny of noblemen, but still hated it.
A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I reached the hedge walls of the maze and entered. I inhaled the intoxicating fragrance, remembering the hours my sisters and I had spent running through this house of nature.
The maze had been my playground as a child, but at twelve years old I was pronounced too old for such frivolity. So I stayed away. Because I wanted to do as I was told—to be everything they expected me to be. But clearly my ability to act properly had not been helped by avoiding the maze. So it was with a fair amount of spite that I returned here now.
Walking into the rooms of nature-grown walls, I saw a great deal of change since I used to play here—or perhaps I just saw it differently. Compared to the rest of the gardens, the maze was much less tidy. Some plants and bushes grew into the paths I followed; others had climbed the hedges and hung overhead, their blossoms dripping from the sky.
The maze was arranged with narrow pathways mingling with wide open rooms. A few of the rooms were almost entirely enclosed, but most tended to run into each other in a rambling, nonsensical way.
The scent of lilac and roses filled my lungs, easing the tension in my shoulders. I wished I could take down my light hair so the breeze could blow through it. I loved my hair, but its thick, loose curls made it unruly.
It was difficult to remember the layout of the maze, but I found a round room with every color of rose bush sweeping the perimeter, surrounding a large tree in the center. I remembered the tree and was happy to discover that my height and a bench now situated beneath it would allow me to climb it.
I chewed my bottom lip and cast my eyes around to see if I dared attempt such a thing now. I hiked my skirts and stepped onto the bench, then grabbed a limb and used the back of the bench to lift me higher before pulling myself into the branches of the tree. Fifteen years old. A princess. And still I did it.
Fifteen years old, but in just a few weeks I would be sixteen and I dreaded the day. Somehow I knew that Prince Jeshua would start to pursue me in earnest once I was all of sixteen. Avoiding him had become a talent of mine over the years and was one of the reasons I was so good at being places where I didn’t belong. He could have chosen any one of my sisters, but had fixated on me. I pushed the unpleasant thought aside and climbed higher.
Pleased with my own daring, I looked at the leaves surrounding me and realized I was largely obscured from the view of anyone not standing directly below the tree. I stepped carefully from branch to branch, hoping I might watch people unobserved from this height.
Once I could see above the hedge, I found a gap in the leaves and gazed around, proud of my success as I watched a visiting nobleman and woman as they strolled arm in arm. I looked further and caught sight of a gardener I’d never seen before. He was quite young, not much older than myself, and rather rough looking. He dressed in earth tones—a loose fitting shirt and brown breeches. He was tall and lean with dark, tousled hair. A satchel hung across his body, some sort of foliage sticking out of it. When my eyes returned to his face, I realized that he had stopped his work to watch me, his eyebrows raised.
Then he smiled—not as though he were being polite or tactful, but just because he was amused. Because of me.
My eyes widened and I crouched down. Apparently I wasn’t as well hidden as I had thought. What was I thinking? If my mother heard of my antics, she would put an immediate end to any and all excursions.
I started to make my way down. If I could get out of this tree without anyone else seeing me, then perhaps I could find another tree in a more secluded corner of the maze, or one with thicker leaves.
I was just about to step onto one of the lowest branches when the gardener appeared just a few paces from the tree.
“Stay aloft a bit longer. There is someone coming.” He disappeared before his words had fully registered. When they did, I found myself hugging the large trunk and hoping that whoever ventured near would soon be gone.
I heard their approach and tried to take even breaths. Through the gaps in the leaves, I caught glimpses of the couple as they strolled, unconcerned, along the path and out the other side.
As their voices faded, I breathed easier until a noise startled me.
The gardener had jumped onto the bench below. “All clear, Miss.” The lightness in his face and voice left me stunned until he reached a hand toward me. “Do you need a hand?”
I lowered myself, hoping to look dignified—or at least as dignified as one can look when climbing a tree—but didn’t know how to get out of the tree once I ran out of branches.
“Sit down here.” He slapped the lowest branch and I did as he bade, my legs dangling as I prepared to lower myself.
“Hands on my shoulders now.”
My eyes widened but I did as he asked. He then grabbed hold of my waist and lowered me to the bench. My hands dropped from his shoulders and I tried not to stare.
“You’re all right then?” he asked.
“I don’t usually climb trees.”
He quirked a corner of his mouth. “That I had already guessed.”