The second installment of The Chronicles of Turrack is now live at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords (which will distribute to iTunes soon). As with the first book, the narrative follows the first person present tense with our assassin/princes. However, this time her cousin Evangeline joins in the narrative. I have posted her first chapter in the story as a freebie peek into Smoke and Mirrors. Happy reading!
I pick through my curls as I sit at my vanity. The flyaway strands do not want to cooperate, and the manner in which they stray from my hair irritates me like a chemical mix that explodes in my face. Blithe sleeps upon my feet, bored with my grooming. Her black-and-white spotted fur seems more polished than my locks, and I wonder if perhaps I should test dog saliva as a possible hair care product.
“That would be disgusting,” a disembodied woman’s voice echoes in my chamber.
“Aww,” I reply as I rub oils into my hair, “it is so pleasant when my favorite wizard appears out of nowhere to read my thoughts.”
“You are more interesting than most of your human counterparts,” the voice says.
“Feel free to materialize into your true form,” I instruct her. “There is no one else here besides my pup, and she has no interest in you.”
“She should. I could easily turn her into a cat.”
I do not so much as blink an eye when Una appears in a flash of aqua-colored light. It matches her cascading hair, which floats around her until she becomes a solid figure. Her orange eyes examine my clothing.
“You have such a lovely gown,” the wizard says. “I feel like a street urchin in your presence.” Una looks upon her simple gown of white, her tan skin blushing.
“I have to dress this way for court,” I reply, smoothing out the silks of my mint green gown as I stand.
Blithe whimpers when I slip my bare feet from underneath her, but within moments, my pet curls into a ball and goes back to slumber.
Una shudders, no doubt reflecting upon her court experience when she took the form of my cousin three months ago. “If that is where you are going, then I no longer envy you.”
“I would not mind a wizard’s company,” I tell her as I slip on golden silk shoes. “Time crawls when one observes court.”
“Then why bother going at all? I could teleport us to the Caves of Sorrow and explore their scientific wonders. I swear it shall be nothing like our journey to the Rolling Marshes.”
I grimace at that memory. My attempt to extract new plant elements for chemical experiments was not a quest I care to reflect upon.
“The caves have dragons,” Una sings in her attempt to coax me. “We could ride them.”
“Or get eaten,” I sing back.
“We would not ride the large ones,” Una protests.
“I would prefer not to jump upon the back of anything with claws.”
“Huh,” the wizard snorts, “so you think sitting in a stuffy room while other highborn ladies make fun of you to be more of an enjoyable sport?”
I cringe. It can be flustering to have a wizard friend who can rummage through your memories, especially when your past consists of cliques torturing you.
“The tongue of a highborn lady does not burn as much as dragon’s fire,” I reply.
“The swelling lump forming in your throat indicates otherwise,” Una says, her orange eyes softening.
A loud knock upon my door interrupts our conversation.
“Princess Azedeh Sunflower calls upon the Lady Evangeline Delphinium.”
I sigh. The guards always have to use our proper names when we “call” upon each other’s company. I could arrive at my cousin’s chambers in the time they make such proper announcements.
“Our argument is moot—duty calls,” I say to Una, but she has already vanished.
I slip out of my chambers before Blithe can take notice. It is always harder to leave when she whimpers for me to stay.
The guards take me to Azedeh’s chamber, leaving us alone so I may prepare her for court. My cousin’s eyelids droop, and she sleeps while standing. Her arms are in the sleeves of her golden court dress, but the back is wide open.
“Another late night?” I ask her, jerking her limp body as I tighten the laces upon the back of her dress.
“I tried to experience that thing you call ‘fun,’ ” she says, before explaining her evening’s exploits.
I hum with thought when she finishes. Perhaps I could convince Una to take me to the ocean instead of the caves. Any discoveries I could make in those waters would definitely place me in Turrack’s history books as something other than a footnote in Azedeh’s family line.
“Was I wrong to slay that sea monster?”
My cousin’s question snaps me out of my thoughts. “Given the circumstances, I do not blame you for your actions. However, there is a part of my scientific curiosity infuriated that you did not bring a living specimen back for my examination.”
“Perhaps I am too quick to grab a blade,” Azedeh mutters.
She’s speaking to herself rather than me, but I offer her my wisdom as a loving cousin would. “You have taken on a dangerous lifestyle. If you do not draw the blade first, someone shall do so upon you. Even if you did not have this alter ego, there are many unfriendly faces that turn toward your future throne. At least, that is the impression I get from your tales. The point I am making is that a royal needs to be well armed, for protecting yourself secures our government.”
“You have no need for a blade,” Azedeh replies.
“I am not important,” I mutter, before quickly adding, “but you are.”
My cousin nods just as I am about to rub styling clay into her short Mohawk. “You have a point, although perhaps I should explore other means of protecting Turrack without drawing blood.”
Azedeh’s shoulders slump while I form the tiny mountain peak that is her hairstyle. I have never been one who cares for short hair, but at least it is more manageable than my tresses. A professional stylist snipped only two inches the last time I attempted a cut, and I had such a nervous breakdown that I could not stop vomiting for several minutes.
“Do not beat yourself up,” I tell my cousin as I wipe the clay from my hands upon a washcloth. “There are plenty of bad guys out there who will do that for you.”
Azedeh flashes a lopsided grin.
Her worries weigh heavy upon her heart when I escort her to court. We are the first to arrive, which is a bit unusual. We have to remain standing until the Queen arrives, as Turrack’s court laws decree. I feel the burning eyes of the highborn ladies as they enter, their bows seem like mockery as they pass by before sitting upon the benches. They made me feel like a traveling entertainment show that puts disfigured people on display. I wonder how much gold these women would spend for a chance to openly mock me. I release a breath of relief when the heralds blow their horns.
“All rise for Queen Yamita Sunflower and her husband King Randall.”
The shifting clothes sound like rubbing sandpaper as the entire court gets up and calls out their hails. Azedeh stiffens for her mother in a proper royal position, suppressing any signs of worry or weariness. I bow to my aunt and uncle before a herald escorts me to my proper place amongst the benches.
Three familiar ladies fan themselves as I take my seat in front of them. Yessica, Tabitha, and Sylvia force pleasantries upon their countenance. They are dressed in similar lace gowns in colors of fluorescent pink, yellow, and blue. The trio’s eyes are as green as ivy but colder than frost. Their coffee skin is lacquered with pungent lotions that make my nostrils flinch. They would appear to be siblings if one did not know better. Of all the highborn ladies in my schooling circle, these three have a personal vendetta against me.
Perhaps I should have taken Una’s invitation to enter the dragons’ den.
I want to ignore them, but the surrounding highborn stare upon me to perform as a proper royal-in-law. I give them a nod, but I take my seat so hastily I doubt anyone could tell I did anything at all.
“Did you see how quickly the Lady Delphinium turned her back upon us?” Yessica whispers loud enough for me to hear.
“She is more important than the rest of us,” Tabitha mocks.
“Indeed,” Sylvia chimes in, “the entire kingdom shall crumble if she does not place the princess’s backside down properly upon the throne.”
“What a burden dear Evangeline bears,” Yessica adds.
The trio giggles as I roll my eyes. I dwell upon thoughts of experimentation as I try to ignore their jealous mockery. Perhaps I could replace Yessica’s hands with mule hooves. The image alone makes me release a snort of mirth.
“Do you three ever shut up?”
Una’s disembodied voice makes me catch my laughter in my throat. I look around, but the wizard is nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately, I catch the evil eyes of the terrible trio.
“Excuse you?” Sylvia sneers at me.
“Honestly,” Una’s voice continues, “it is like you take air for granted from the way you flap your mouths.”
“Stop it,” I hiss, wishing I could smack the wizard upside her head.
“We are doing nothing,” Yessica replies to me. “You are the one attacking us innocent ladies.”
“There is nothing innocent about you three,” a male voice reverberates through my ear drums.
At first, I assume it is another one of Una’s tricks, but just behind the trio sits a man about our age. He is dressed in a fine suit of red silks splashed with patches of dark blue. His cheekbones look as though they could cut diamonds.
“Mind your own business, Cornelius,” Tabitha sneers.
“And you should mind your tongue,” he replies. “One cannot expect to whip an innocent and not suffer lashes of retaliation.”
“You are so caring,” Yessica coos, batting her lashes at him. “Someone like Evangeline does not deserve such kindness.”
“And since you do not sit upon a throne, you are not one to judge.”
Yessica slumps in her seat, and the trio fall silent.
I roll the name Cornelius in my mind. I think I may have seen him in some of our classes, and I stare in my efforts to remember him. My gaze lingers a bit too long and he winks at me with periwinkle eyes.
A burning sensation flushes my face. I flicker a wave to him with my fingers before I turn back around. I slink into my seat, hoping to disappear before I suffer more embarrassment.
I can make that happen, Una’s voice echoes in my head.
You have done enough, my thoughts snap. Although it is a bit strange to have a conversation within my own mind, I have experienced enough of these talks to become accustomed to this manner of speech.
You seem angry. What mortal rules of social behavior did I break this time?
I cannot believe what you said to those girls!
And I cannot understand why you do not speak up for yourself.
It is pointless to engage in conversation with mindless haters. They would have kept hurling insults at me until the world came to an end if it were not for Cornelius.
Oh, so when I interfere I embarrass you, but when a handsome fellow does the same, you are instantly smitten.
I made no indication of feelings.
You did not need to. I can read your heart as well as your mind. I can read his as well, if you are curious to know his true feelings.
I pause with hesitation, and Una gets the wrong idea.
Then I shall be a good friend and find out what he thinks about you.
That was not a command to…
I stop in mid-thought. Grunts of irritation fill the court. I turn back and Cornelius looks as if he is swatting at an invisible fly. A wisp of aqua streaks around him, and people stare as if the poor lad has lost his mind.
“Get back here,” I command Una, barely keeping my composure.
Are you not the least bit curious of his intentions?
“Not if it causes embarrassment,” I snap.
The wisp disappears like smoke upon the wind. Cornelius’s friends inquire about his condition, but he stares straight at me. The people surrounding me do the same, and it was then I realized my half of the conversation was spoken out loud… to no one that they could see.
I slump so low I kneel upon the floor. That wizard should have done something useful to take attention away from me.
“I should be the first to see the Queen!”
All eyes turn toward the court entrance. A highborn lady sashays down the crimson carpet with such urgency that other women mock her behavior in whispers. I cannot take my eyes off her as she barrels toward the throne, her slippers slapping her heels. She wore an evening gown of green silk stained with dark red blotches, and she bore no makeup to cover the wrinkles upon her mouth and eyes.
“Who intrudes upon the court?” my Queen aunt says, keeping her royal composure.
“I am the Lady Blackberry, my Queen,” the woman pants, bowing in a clumsy manner when she reaches the foot of the throne. “My husband was murdered in the night by none other than Tina the Terrible.”
Gasps flood the court by the mention of that name. I crawl underneath the bench, calling out to Una with my thoughts.
Can you teleport me discreetly to my chamber while everyone is distracted?
The wizard makes no reply, but in a blink of an eye, I find myself cowering underneath my bed instead of court.
My cousin would have to handle Tina’s matters on her own.
Want to know what happens next? Download Smoke and Mirrors at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. You will also find it soon on iTunes.