Dark clouds hid the stars. Harsh winds howled with rage across the sea. Mira stood, her chin tilted up and her hands clasped in front of her. Analyda, Empress of Etheria, turned away from the small rectangular window of her palace suite.
Through the vat darkness a spot of moon shone like a mere star through the opening of the window.
“They’ve come, Mistress.”
A wave crashed against the rocks below and carried up the palace walls. A vile tainted odor came from the turbulent sea, wafting around them.
“Does anyone else know?” Mistress asked.
Mira pulled back her shoulders and her hand rested on the hilt of the broadsword at her hip.
Sounds of palace stone groaning against harsh winds wakened the baby nestled in a basket on the large four post bed.
“They’ve raided Vertmist and Morness. Many of the citizens have fled here.”
Analyda crossed the distance to her bed, and picked up the babe swaddled in rich silk. Cradling it close to her heart, the babe dozed again. “It was only a matter of time.”
Analyda turned away, humming and swaying.
Mira stiffed her back. She wished there were words she could speak to take the Empress’s distress away. “We cannot stay here unprotected.”
Analyda turned back to Mira. “The king’s guard still stand and I have my sisters with swords, do I not?”
Mira nodded. “That is so, but we are few in their large numbers.”
Analyda pulled back the swaddling and gazed down at her babe. “I have already lost one beloved. I shall not lose another.”
Shouts filled the corridors. Mira stepped out the doorway. From here, through the open corridor she could see most of her empire’s capital city of Alba. Her blood chilled. Telpurian rebels scaled the slopes.
Mira turned back to Analyda. The empresses complexion paled. “If what the scribe has foretold and Telpurs Horde truly believe it, then not one single female child shall survive to see morning.”
“They seek only one,” Mira said.
“But which one? What harm could an innocent child do?” Analyda kissed the top of her baby’s head. She turned and laid the child back into the basket. “Mira?”
“Yes, Mistress?” Mira kept watch at the threshold of the chamber. Outside the fervent calls of shouting increased.
“What I am about to ask of you is most difficult,” Analyda said.
Mira’s heart beat wildly in her chest. Her gaze locked on Analyda’s face. She could see the brim of tears beneath her empress’s lashes.
“She is a blessing, is she not?” Analyda tucked the babe in and pulled from her own gold engraved belt, a small dagger with a jade handle. “It isn’t fair that one child be spared when all the others have been brutally taken from us.”
Analyda skirts swirled behind her as she turned with the basket in her arms and handed it to Mira.
Lost for words, Mira watched as Analyda caressed the babe’s check with her finger. “Tis the will of Elohiem, I suppose.” Analyda gazed down upon the sleeping baby, then into Mira’s eyes. “That is why you must gather every young females and their mothers. Take them deep into the jungle to the cave of Gilhar. They will be safe there.”
“Would this journey not be best for another, that I may stay and see to your protection?” Mira gripped the child.
“Scyleia shall stand in your place. This journey is most important and I would have no one but you see to its fulfillment.” Tears streaked down Analyda’s face. “You have been a most trusted and loyal friend. Go now. Protect her as you have protected me.”
“I can not leave you.” Mira’s knees locked. She took an oath to protect Mistress, she could not allow anything but death to break it.
“They are not after me. Now, please… go.”
It was this child that brought danger to Mistress. By taking the child she would protect both from harm. Mira glanced down at the sleeping infant. “As you wish.”
She turned on her heel to leave.
“Mira,” Analyda said. “I believe the fate of our lives is now in your hands. Protect it always.”
Mira rushed through the castle, her fellow sisters with swords gathered in the court yard. Mira spotted Scyleia.
“Mir? What treachery is this?” Scyleia asked, several other sisters enclosed upon Mira. They all wore their hooded cloaks, hiding from view their broadswords and bows and quivers.
“Mistress awaits you in her chambers, Scyleia. The rest of you, spread yourselves throughout the city. Call to every woman with a young daughter to come with you. We will meet south of the city by the scared well.”
From inside the basket, the baby wailed.
“Is that our princess?” Scyleia glared at Mira and made a reach for it.
“Mistress placed this child under my protection. In my absence, you will protect our empress.” Mira yanked the basket out of Scyleia’s grasp.
Several Telpurian rebels rushed into the courtyard. Three sisters pushed back their hoods and met the men with metal clashing metal.
“We must hurry. Empress Analyda is unprotected. Go to her now,” Mira set down the basket. She pulled the crying baby from within. Greecia, a young woman with hair the color of a raven, stepped forward. Greecia unclasped Mira’s cloak and helped Mira fashion a carrier for the baby, holding her close to Mira’s bosom. The others took off through the court yard.
“Where is Etta?”
( A Novel Excerpt by Susan Lower, Copyright Susan Lower, 2014)