Hello Dear Readers,
It's only two weeks until The Custodian Chronicles Ashes is released. As a way to celebrate, I thought I'd share a sneak peek of what's to come. Enjoy!
"Arylana hated parties. She was having more fun listening to the king of Sperium complain than doing anything else that evening. She found an escape by saying she had others to attend to and wandered the party, wondering if she could just wander her way out of the party all together. Especially as she knew her brother had.
A hand tapped her shoulder. "May I have this dance?" A gentle hand fluttered into Arylana's view. She glared at it and then narrowed her eyes at its owner.
"No thank you, General." She stuck up her nose and turned away.
The poor man's face fell, but his hand stayed the course. "What have I done wrong now?"
"Nothing," Arylana replied stiffly.
"Then what reason have you to say no?" Mercutio smiled slyly. "Rules of the party do state you have to dance with me if you don’t have a good reason."
Arylana's brows drew together, and she gave Mercutio a look. "No, it doesn't." Even if her heart pounded at the idea... even though part of her wanted to let him take control, she couldn’t do it.
Mercutio shrugged with a sad smile. "No, and the fact you know I’m fibbing proves more and more you are coming because you want to.” He dared look Arylana in the eye. “I hear your words say no, but your actions say yes, and therefore, your heart says you want it. " Arylana realized he was right. She’d been inching closer to him. Why did she betray herself?!
Mercutio took her hand ever so gracefully and guided her to the floor.
"I don't know how to dance," Arylana objected with red cheeks, unable to meet his eyes.
"I'll teach you as we go. Come on." Mercutio smiled warmly and showed her a basic waltz because most of the songs worked for it even if they weren't designed to. "See? Easy for you." Mercutio smiled warmly at Arylana.
"So I'm not good enough for harder things?" Arylana snapped.
"Oh?" Mercutio smiled. "You want harder? You said you didn't know how, but if you're up for a challenge." Mercutio leaned close to her ear. "Let's try it."
Arylana took in a sharp gasp at his voice and breath on her skin. Mercutio then got into her position. "Mirror me," he guided. "Don't watch your feet."
"I can't see them in my skirt." Arylana pointed out grumpily.
"Good." Mercutio smiled again. "Just feel it. Feel the way I move and match it. You can feel it better if you stand close. Smooth and easy."
Arylana swallowed at how close he was and wondering if she could make anything look smooth. Her feet were heavy and clunky. She kept her eyes up as best she could as Mercutio taught her turns and other steps. She felt like she fell into each one.
"Don't look at your knees." Mercutio laughed. "Stop trying."
"I can't help it," she said, "I have to look down."
"Then look down at something helpful."
"Like what?" Arylana demanded.
Mercutio got down on one knee. "Maybe, like this." He held out a simple ring, not even in a box, just resting in the palm of his hand.
Arylana's mouth fell open. "Don't ask," she said. She fought the desire to say yes. It bottled in her neck like acid. Just say it. Let it happen. The idea of that bond. But...it wasn’t her. She couldn’t do it. Not anymore. "Don't make me say no again."
"Then say yes." Mercutio tried. "You know you want to, but you're too proud to admit you're a girl. At least anymore. You're right, you're not a girl. You're a woman: beautiful, powerful, independent, and my equal in every way, so respect that. Please."
Arylana shook her head, angry and hurt that she had to say no. She wanted to...she loved him, but she couldn’t. Her straight blonde hair flipped over her shoulders as she shook her head.
"Arylana, come on. Stop denying what you want." Mercutio stood up, pleading. His honey eyes betrayed his desperation in the way the shone. "You want this as much as Airabelle did. I'm offering it. Is there someone else you rather have?"
"No, I-I mean, yes, I mean...I'm a Custod. Back off." Arylana glared at him.
"You really think this makes you less of a Custod or less independent?" Mercutio asked.
Arylana nodded. "I’ll just become the smaller Custod, and you know it. You men take over."
"Only if you want us to. You have the power to be what you want, and that's what you always expected. You expected to not be forced into being a typical Custod. You got mad when Cedrick took that from you when your father denied him coming, remember? You told me that over and over how you wanted the freedom to fight or choose to live a normal life too. You want that power, to not be a warrior if you want, and you hold it well. You hold both well. Why don't you want it now?"
"I never said I didn't. I said no. Go away," Arylana insisted and stomped off.
"Arylana, be honest with me. I know you loved me. Do you not love me now? Be honest with me," Mercutio said.
"You are not. If you love me, say so, and if not, say so, and get it over with."
Arylana sighed and rolled her eyes. "Just go away." She left the room.
Mercutio's shoulders fell, and he looked down at the ring in his hand. His shoulders and heart sank lower and lower, harder and harder. After a moment, Mercutio dragged himself off to the side.
"Hey, you okay?" Margorim's voice cut into Mercutio's melancholy.
"Fine." Mercutio tried to divert attention from his hand as he slipped the ring into the back pocket of his jacket.
But Margorim's sharp eyes didn't miss a thing. "Sit down,” he said in a tone that not even bold Mercutio could ignore, and the boy sat down at once. "Hand it over." Margorim held out a hand.
"It's private, sir," Mercutio defended.
"Let me see the ring you picked for her," Margorim insisted.
Mercutio swallowed hard and handed it over. Margorim examined it. It was very simple with just a blue, smooth stone in the middle. "It's perfect," Margorim complimented, "elegant and feminine but simple and sturdy."
Mercutio bowed his head. "I'm sorry, sir. I should have asked you first." Not that it would have made a difference.
Margorim smiled and shook his head. "Arylana would have killed you if she got wind of that. I understand why you didn't and haven't." Margorim studied Mercutio's face then tilted his head to get a better look. "You’re giving up."
"If you want me to," Mercutio replied dully, his shoulders dropping, if possible, even lower.
A sympathetic smile crossed Margorim's face. "No, don't do that. You're the only man good enough and stubborn enough to keep trying. I wouldn't wish anyone to give up on her.”
"I'm her only option?" A hint of a scowl crossed Mercutio's face as he looked up through his lashes at Margorim, his mouth slightly twisted in disgust.
Margorim chuckled and shook his head. "Only? No, but the best one. My daughter could really pick anyone she wanted, if she wanted. But you have the things she needs. You understand my daughter better than anyone. You picked a ring that's more like her than even she or I knew. But it's perfect. Not normal by any means but perfect. So?" Margorim raised his brows slightly. "Are you going to give up?"
"I don't want to," Mercutio admitted. "Frankly sir, I love her dearly. I don't want to take away her power. I don't believe I will. I don't believe that in marriage she's diminished or weakened. I want to grow with her, but she's stubborn. I thought she'd say no," Mercutio sighed. "I want to keep trying."
Mercutio nodded, bringing a smile to Margorim's face. "Then you deserve the girl you want. Most of all willing to put in that much effort. You could marry anyone with that determination."
"Apart from her." Mercutio's grief pricked at his eyes.
"And it's admirable that you try anyway over and over though you expect a no. How many no’s are you expecting?"
"All of them."
Margorim raised a brow.
"I don't expect her to say yes."
"Then why ask?" Margorim smiled a crooked smile. "You don't know that, and deep down you know it too. Just wait ‘til there are babies. She may get baby hungry," he teased.
"Why are you helping me?" Mercutio looked up with a frown. "You wouldn't have done this for Cedrick, so why will you do it for me?"
Margorim sighed from the depth of his being. "I have a lot of repenting to do. And I'm on that road. Besides, you’re reading it right. She wants it. It’s just her pride. When I took her instead of Cedrick, she decided to give up on those thoughts. And I think she fears saying yes then losing her pride again."
"But you didn't wrong me." Your daughter did.
"It's still repenting to work on changing the character that doesn't help. Besides, you want to become my son."
Mercutio flinched a little. "Well, if you put it that way." He turned pink. "If I could ever manage it."
"Don't give up. I know I won't." Margorim smiled. "You never know where it may lead you."
"I do. A broken heart until the final blow stops it," Mercutio replied.
Margorim's eyes went wide. He blinked to bring his mind back from the shock of the statement. "You don't know that."
"Yes, I do. I mean, I suppose you’re right. After that attack, I’m lucky to be alive. It’s just high profiles in this army never last long. I’ve felt like that clock is rapidly ticking to a close. But surviving that last attack gave me hope, maybe not. And if not...I just thought...hoped she'd say yes. That we'd have some time. I'll take all the no’s until I can get a yes. I thought we could have it, while it lasted. Most of all, with how she reacted after we all were hurt, but I suppose she feels differently." Mercutio chuckled a little. "But her pride wins over me. It always will. There aren't enough people left to care to make it happen."
"What do you mean?" Margorim frowned.
"I have no family left. They all have died in the war or just over time. My father and brothers were cut down. My mother just got ill and too sad to keep fighting after losing so many sons."
"You lost twelve brothers?!" Margorim's eyes went wide. “That can’t have been easy.”
Mercutio nodded. "Yeah, I'm the last of my family alive. I've really just been waiting for it to happen to me. Arylana gave me something to stay for. We worked together well, and she was right. I was new and needed the help. When I knew it was becoming more, I went for it, and at first, she was fine, but then...then I think she realized what it was and shut down. I think she's denying she's not a male. I mean, she doesn't want to be a man, but she wants to be treated like them, and she fears being a girlfriend or a wife will do that. She fears her respect being taken. It won't, but she won't believe me or anyone. I'm just supposed to be alone."
"So now you're giving up?"
"No," Mercutio shook his head, "just accepting I'll be lonely and heart broken as I try."
"Good man." Margorim clapped his back. "You keep trying, and eventually, it will turn around." Mercutio nodded gloomily. Margorim gave him the ring back. Mercutio looked at it resting in the center of his palm. "These dark times can't last forever, and I have a feeling they're almost done. We've taken half the nation from Heklis now. There's plenty of hope, so use some of that for your heart," Margorim advised.
"I'll try, but I am given hope only to give it to my men. I end up with none for myself," Mercutio said.
"Maybe you should let your men give it back sometime." Margorim smiled and clapped his back. "I'm going to check on my eldest." Margorim heavily stood up and left the table to let Mercutio think as he gazed, empty eyed, at the ring in his hand."