There are only a handful of people who have ever read a section of my book in its entirety. In fact, there were some complaints about the fact that the excerpt I released on the blog for the third book in my trilogy was incomplete (titled I Caved).
Well, for those of you who have begged and pleaded, my heart has finally softened. After much contemplation, I decided that one excerpt wasn’t going to hurt anything, and it would pacify many people- but don’t get used to this. This will be the only excerpt (the previous one excluded) that I post on my blog for the world to see.
What does this mean for a first time reader? You will be less confused when reading, since the first chapter does some set up. What this means for a beta reader, though, is that you will get to read the final version of chapter one. After all this time you finally get to see what happened to the book after I got everyone’s feedback in.I’m rather proud of how far the books have progressed over the course of time that I have been writing them, and I hope you all enjoy. So, without further yammering, I give you the first complete excerpt ever released for The Diegosian Mark.
Across the little river Tribble, which resembled more of a trickling creek than a fast running body of water, a young man rode his mount. The creature was built for speed and durability, allowing the rider to make swift progress over the moors. Together they traveled deep into the heart of a lush valley cultivated in fruitful vineyards, mountains rising on all sides with various passages cutting through the landscape.
Upon entering a little piece of land, green with vegetation, the steed’s gait began to slow. A dirt path aimlessly rambled up towards a house at its far end, multiple buildings and fences scattered around the abode, creating a homey feel.
“You’re home early, Tierin,” a voice called as a young man came out of one of the stone buildings, rubbing his dirty hand against the back of his pants.
Tierin dismounted, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Well it’s certainly not because I missed you.” His wink defied his word.
“Ri-ight. So, news?”
“We have a new harvest to pick up, towards the east.”
“The east? But those mountains aren’t active.”
“This one is. The eruption sent shockwaves through the ground that were strong enough to reach my vantage point.”
“And the harvest?”
“Stable and abundant,” Tierin replied, unsaddling his stallion.
The sound of a door opening halted the conversation between the two youth. “Adjorahm, if you want to eat I suggest you grace us with your presence. I won’t keep your Father’s meal waiting for you.”
“Your timing, as always, is impeccable, cousin,” Adjorahm said with a chuckle, affectionately ruffling Tierin’s pale hair.
“And your wit never improves.”Adjorahm shoved Tierin to the ground with a laugh before racing for the house. Tierin knew he couldn’t outdistance Adjorahm, being leaner in build than his bulky cousin, but he tried. They arrived at the house laughing, the cool morning air giving them a healthy glow.
Smells of savory spiced sausage, made from wild game, invaded Tierin’s senses as he stepped through the door and shrugged out of his sheepskin coat. Familiar sounds and scenes met him inside the dwelling he had come to know as home.
His stomach churned happily and his taste buds salivated at the tantalizing aromas of brewed ragwood bark and risen sourbulb bread. He was a fair cook himself, due to the time he spent in the woods and mountains surrounding Valcania, but nothing compared to Aunt Marmie’s cooking.
Tierin had learned the difference between edible plants and their fatal look-a-likes. He could take a scrawny jack rabbit and dress it up with rudenberry sprigs and calamarian seeds, giving it a zesty flavor filled with tantalizing sweetness when added to a little wild honey sauce. Crag roots helped thicken broths, making filling soups. Wild herbs and vegetation could always be found in the thick of the woods to help beef up a stock. But all of this was methodical. Breathing in the complicated aromas that enveloped his body, Tierin knew there was nothing methodical about this meal. Learning to take what resources nature offered him had been necessity. Marmie’s abilities were pure artistry.
“Look what came before the morning post,” Adjorahm proclaimed jovially as he sat down to the table. “A vagabond who thinks we’ll feed him like some sort of stray dog.”
At the sound of his name, Tierin heard a bowl clatter on the counter as a golden-haired maiden rushed into the room.
“Did you bring me back a wild pony?” Airianna asked as she looked up at him, hugging his waist.Tierin smiled, bending down to kiss his sister’s forehead. “Did you do all your chores for your aunt without being asked?”
A wrinkled nose and amusing face gave him his answer.
“Tierin, sit down and join us, never mind your rude cousin,” his aunt called, coming up behind her son and smacking the back of his head. Tierin smiled as he witnessed the familiar routine.
“Welcome home, son,” the powerful voice of Tierin’s uncle called from the doorway as he entered the room. “Sometimes I wonder if he was switched at birth,” Garthmarin replied in reference to Adjorahm. “But then, he was the only child born in the valley for the month.”
Airianna snickered as she set a bowl of cream on the table. Adjorahm cut his eyes in mock irritation at her, but Airianna didn’t seem threatened.
“You have not eaten, surely?” His aunt’s voice sounded hopeful.
Tierin patted his stomach for her benefit. “Even if I had, Aunt Marmie, I wouldn’t be able to turn down one of your meals.”
Marmita smiled happily at his answer, heading back to the kitchen for another plate.
Gathmarin sat at the table and motioned for Tierin to do the same. “Pull up a chair, Tierin.” Absently Garthmarin smacked Adjorahm’s eager hands as he reached to snag a roll.
Marmita quickly brought another plate and set it before Tierin. Thoughtfully he ran his fingers along the raised, fluted edges of the plate’s rim. The shintilli pattern was a trademark of his uncle’s business. People traveled from far and wide to buy the beautiful workmanship.
The front door opened. “Thanks for helping me finish the morning chores, Adjorahm.”
The deep voice that called from the entryway was quickly followed by a broad shouldered man in his mid twenties.
“I had to help Tierin into the house,” the younger brother replied.
“Right,” Jotham replied sarcastically. “Because Tierin doesn’t know how to find the house on his own.”
Tierin chuckled, running his fingers through his sister’s curls as she perched upon his knee. He had missed his unruly family.
“All right, silence, all of you. Jotham, Airianna, sit in your seats. Mama’s food is getting cold.” Tierin’s uncle shivered, as if the very idea was a horrible sin not to be committed in his home.
“Adjorahm!” Marmita cried, smacking the back of her son’s hand with a wooden serving spoon as he tried to snag another roll. “I swear, you’re worse than Airianna when she was four!”
Tierin tried to choke back a snicker.
“Since when do you swear?” Garthmarin asked dryly, his lips twitching with amusement.
“What would you do if I didn’t eagerly try to satisfy my desire for your food, Mama?” Adjorahm asked, shifting his eyes over at Tierin with a playful glare.
Marmita ignored her good-natured son’s question. She knew full well she would miss her son’s childish nature were he to one day cease his antics. It was better not to humor her pride and joy with a response.
As his wife sat, Garthmarin looked at her in amusement, repeating his unanswered question. “Since when do you swear?”
Tierin, his sister, and his cousins tried to hold back their laughs, each covering up their response in a different way.
“You’re about to find out if we don’t start dishing up the food,” Marmie said with a fond roll of the eyes.
Laughter broke out of the younger members of the table, as if the levy holding it back had been broken. With a smile, Garthmarin cleared his throat. “Okay, fun’s over. Everyone settle down so we may give thanks for our food.”
Once the food had been blessed, the family set out to eat, passing plates around the table as they took what they wanted from the multiple dishes.
“Old man Hammersyth passed on last week, Tierin,” Adjorahm announced as he scooped some bran mash into his bowl.
“That is the best conversation you could come up with this early in the morning?” his mother asked.
Adjorahm looked up from his bowl as he sprinkled sweetened granular over it. “What? Is it more of an evening conversation?”
Jotham cleared his throat. “Perhaps Mama thinks you should find something a bit more pleasant to discuss.”
“Four of the Mashlon’s sheep were stolen night before last,” Airianna replied, drizzling honey over her flaky pastry.
Uncle Garth chuckled, coughing and trying not to spew his milk while Marmita patted his back.
Jotham shook his head. “That was the best you could come up with? How is that more pleasant?”
Airianna shrugged. “I’m sure the thieves are enjoying spending their spoils. It all depends on how you look at it.”
“She’s a girl after my own heart,” Adjorahm replied around his mouth full of food.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Airianna poked at him with a mischievous grin.
Adjorahm rolled his eyes playfully. “You’re not my mother.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Marmita echoed, winking at Airianna.
“So Joth, how is that lovely wife-to-be of yours?” Tierin asked.
Adjorahm waggled his eyebrows while his brother blushed.
“She’s keeping me well fed.”
“Depriving all of us of his company in the evenings,” Airianna smirked. “He rarely eats an evening meal with us anymore.”
“Who could blame him?” Adjorahm questioned. “Jani’s one of the prettiest girls in the Vineland, and she rivals Mama’s cooking.”
“No one rivals your Mama’s cooking,” Uncles Garth replied loyally with a fond look at his wife.
“You’ll stand up beside me and Adjorahm, won’t you Tierin?” Jotham asked.
“I’d love to stand beside you, Jotham, but do I have to stand next to Adjorahm?”
“Hey!” Adjorahm cried good-naturedly.
“Oh, Tierin!” Airianna’s exclamation altered the train of the conversation. “I did some of that morgite testing you had me look at while you were gone.”
Adjorahm set his cup of milk down. “Yeah, she almost blew the barn up, too.”
“I did not!”
“Sorta like that firebomb we made?” Tierin teased.
Garthmarin looked up from the plate of food he had been engrossed in. “What’s this I hear about a fire bomb? You children aren’t planning on making another one, are you?
“Better not be,” Marmita replied quickly. “You used up a whole barrel of your uncle’s favorite wine last time.”
Garthmarin nodded. “And that was a prime batch, I might add. Some of our best crop went into that brew.”“It was Airi’s idea.”
“And her fault, I might add,” Jotham replied with a wink.
Airianna looked up with wide-eyed innocence. “What makes it my fault?”
“My pour baby is being ganged up on by all the boys,” Marmita informed her husband. “What are you going to do about it?”
“She’s the one who lit the thing!” Tierin defended.An impish smirk spread across Airianna’s face. “Oh, yeah… I did, didn’t I?”
“Looks like your baby is not so innocent,” Garthmarin replied with a dry glance at his wife.“Corrupted by your boys!”
The family laughed together, making Tierin’s chest swell with fondness.“So,” Garthmarin asked as everyone’s laughs died down, dipping his bread into a dish of spiced oil. “I assume you bring back news of a new harvest, Tierin.”
Tierin smiled at the topic change. Aunt Marmie was very strict about their meals being a time of rest and enjoyment. She was not fond of “man’s talk” at the table. However, Tierin brought news of the harvest with him and his uncle was always eager for new news and information.“I judge five, maybe six kiplinks of the best molt in the area,” Tierin said around the food he was eating. “From what I could tell at least,” he added, tearing off a piece of roll.
Garth’s eyes widened with excitement. “What region? How dense is the molt?”Tierin pulled a parchment out of the saddle bag he had brought with him to the table. He had known the conversation would eventually turn here. Spreading the paper over a corner of the table, where his uncle sat, Tierin pulled out a tool used to measure the lines and angles of the country. This would allow him to determine the distance.
The charts contained the spread of the land— every foothill, mountain, valley, vineyard, and wood known to that region. From his boyhood, Tierin used to wander the mountains and streams with his father, a scout who spent his life making a living off mapping the country for the king’s armies. Tierin knew the land like the back of his hand. His father’s maps weren’t just lines and figures. To him, they were places; creeks, woods, even mountains he had visited. They were imprinted upon his mind.
“Well, according to these charts, the mountain is right in this region.” Tierin circled the area with the point on his tool.
Adjorahm looked up from the chart. “Those mountains have been dormant for… what, at least since Thalvrin’s reign?”
“We do not speak that name in this house,” Marmita reprimanded, pouring herself some fresh ragwood. The smell wafted towards Tierin, rich and sultry.
“Yes, but the source of the molt is actually at least,” Tierin took his tool and walked it across the map. “One, two,” he counted off the paces. “Three leagues away from the actual mountain that burst.”
Four heads bent over his work, each judging the charts and information.
“You think the harvest is stable? A dormant mountain erupting for the first time in many centuries…” Garth shook his head. “It doesn’t sound promising. Is it worth the journey? Will it even make the trip back?” Garthmarin wiped his mouth with the tablecloth before leaning back in his chair.
“I’ve never been more certain of a harvest, Uncle.”
Garthmarin nodded, contemplating the info. As was his habit when in thought, he stroked his imaginary beard, fingers running over his smooth face. After a few moments, he smiled, patting Tierin’s shoulder. “I have never found your judgment lacking, Tierin. We’ll make the journey. Did you scout the best way to bring the pack mules and supplies to the site?”
“I would be falling down in my job if I hadn’t,” Tierin said with a smile as he bent back over the map, his cousins crowding the area. “I think the best way to get to the supply is if we take our horses through this line of trees up the side of-“
“Come away, come away now, the four of you!” Marmita cried from her spot at the table where she had patiently endured the conversation. “I have never faulted a one of you for not being hard workers, but there is a point at which work becomes excess. This is family time. It’ll be time to pour over those charts before you know it. Now stop wasting so many words and start eating your food before you risk offending me and I refuse to cook your supper!” Marmita’s displeasure was manufactured, her threats empty, but the four men sat down all the same.
“You wouldn’t deprive a growing boy of his nourishment, would you, Aunt Marmie? Especially when he’s been starving himself day in and day out for the last few weeks?” Tierin’s voice was coaxing. Marmita chuckled, patting his cheek fondly.
“So you’re going to be leaving soon?” Airianna’s voice came from across the table. Since the harvest discussion had begun she had eaten little and said far less. A great rarity.
“Yes, I’ll be helping with the harvest,” Tierin replied, sensing where her thoughts were headed.Airianna nodded acceptance.
Tierin felt guilt in the pit of his stomach. “When I get back, though, I’ll be here for weeks helping Uncle with work. I’ll be around so much you’ll get sick of me!”
Airianna nodded slightly, but Tierin knew she wouldn't grow sick of him.
Airianna nodded slightly, but Tierin knew she wouldn't grow sick of him.
When the reserve of molten rock became low, Tierin went to the outpost and stood watch, waiting for a new harvest. Airianna had joined him on several occasions, but lately he had been leaving her behind. His job was not the easiest, nor the safest. This was what made him so invaluable to the family business. He was an asset. He intended to keep it that way.
Uncle Garth and Aunt Marmie would have gladly taken Tierin, his mother, and his sister in after the death of his father, Trinitierin. Neither of them would have breathed a word of the strain it would put on their family. But Tierin knew his duty, imparted to him as a child by his father.
Another pair of hands in the family stone craft was totally unnecessary— especially untrained ones. His cousins knew their trade well. Tierin did not. What Tierin did know was that his scholars' mind and wood wise knowledge were valuable.
The family’s profits had grown since Tierin came aboard. He had invented easier ways of harvesting and faster routes to cut through the land. Now instead of just room and board, Tierin also received a cut of the profits, just like the boys. The hope was that Tierin settle permanently into the family trade when he came of age.
As conversation around the table continued after the meal, Tierin observed his sister closely. The sparkle had gone out of her large eyes. As time went on, she slowly got up and began clearing the table, carting empty plates off to the kitchen.
“Twelve is a trying age, Tierin. She’s no longer a girl, but she’s not yet a woman, either.”
“She’s mad at me, Aunty.”
“She hates when you leave, and you’ve been gone more than usual.”
Airianna returned, halting their conversation, grabbing more plates from the table.
“Aunt Marmie, would you mind if Airianna came and helped me bed down Destrin?”
“Of course not, she could use some fresh air.”
Airianna glanced up from her work. “But then Aunt Marmie will have to clear the table and wash the dishes herself.”
“What, you think I can’t manage on my own? I’ve been washing dishes long before you were able to help me. Go! Enjoy the time with your brother!”
Airianna set down the plates. She didn’t need a second encouragement.
Tierin smiled, kissing his aunt’s cheek before leaving the table. “As always, Aunty, the food was wonderful.”
“You’re sweet, darling. We’re glad you’re home,” his aunt replied.
“No, I’m just smart enough to realize who packs cookies in my saddle bags when I leave,” Tierin teased. Turning towards his uncle, he added, “I’ll join you in the shop when I’m done.”
Garthmarin nodded before Tierin motioned for Airianna to follow him out the door.
Taking Destrin by the reins, Tierin led him towards the barn. While he began checking his tendons and muscles, ensuring he hadn’t suffered any adverse effects from that morning’s ride, Airianna began to comb the stallion’s mane and tail. She didn’t need any instructions.
Airianna had been trained to work with the animals since she was young. She had always followed close behind the boys ever since she could walk, learning the ropes and engaging in their activities.
An overwhelming feeling of responsibility once again pressed down upon Tierin like a weight. With the death of his father, Tieirn had been left the man of the house, but upon the death of his mother, he had been left the sole guardian of his sister.
Once again, Tierin felt a tremendous sense of gratefulness towards his aunt and uncle for their support and help over the years. Raising a hormonal girl was certainly one of the hardest things he had ever done. Having two experienced parents on his side had helped ease the burden of childcare.
The two siblings worked in silence, content with the presence of one another to keep them company. Words were not always necessary between them.
When Tierin finished, he leaned over Destrin’s back and looked down at the young girl on the other side. The sun caught in her hair, reminding Tierin of spun gold, but when the shadows fell it resembled warm, rich honey. Airianna glanced up with her doe brown eyes, encased in long, tawny lashes, sensing his eyes upon her.
“I don’t think that Uncle is planning on leaving today, Airi,” Tierin finally spoke.
“Are you sure of that?” She asked, patting Destrin. Tierin wasn’t sure if she was more hurt or frustrated with him. Girls could be so hard to read.
Airianna continued to brush Destrin’s flank. “So the next question, I suppose, is whether you will have time to indulge a pesky little sister before you leave.”
“I have a bit of work to do today-- just general stuff to help Uncle prepare for tomorrow’s harvest-- but I might be able to squeeze in a trip to camp out and read the stars tonight.”
“With me?” Airianna asked excitedly, throwing off her uninterested facade.
“No, with Adjorahm and Jotham, who else? Of course you!” Tierin replied. “I don’t want to have to put up with Adjorahm’s snoring.”
“Oh Tierin!” Airianna threw her arms around his neck in delight. Destrin shifted, disturbed by being pressed on both sides by the humans. “I’ll be extra good today and do all my chores when Aunty asks me, just promise you’ll take me out target practicing, too!” She clasped his arm and shook it in her excitement.
“All right, all right! If you beat me, I might give you the sleeping roll without the bedbugs.”
“Deal! Hope you don’t mind sharing your bedroll, because I’m winning that contest,” Airianna gloated.
“Only if I let you win. Now go finish your chores. I have my own work to do.”
Airianna didn’t waste any time, but scurried off like a cat that had just snagged a field mouse.
After setting Destrin out to pasture, Tierin reported to his uncle for work. The four men spent the day running through their inventories, packing equipment, setting up for their intended departure, and mapping what route they planned to take up the mountain.
When the major tasks were done, Garthmarin gave Tierin leave to go and collect his sister. Heading out to the family vineyards, Tierin found his aunt and sister busy at work collecting the ripe grapes, ready to serve their purposes in the kitchen. After depositing the fruit in the kitchen, and bidding their aunt goodbye, Tierin and Airianna set to work getting ready for their trip. Bundles were quickly gathered, and Tierin strapped them onto the mule, along with a bundle of wood for their fire.
Mounting up, Tierin on Destrin and Airianna on one of her uncle’s mares, the two rode at a slower pace than normal, allowing the pack mule to keep pace alongside them. It didn’t take long to reach the field of their choice, as they didn’t plan to travel far, and soon they were unloading their supplies and allowing the horses to graze.
Together they worked to set up camp. Airianna built a fire for them and rolled out their pallets, while Tierin worked on preparing the food and cooking it. Once her work was complete, Airianna informed him she would go in search of wild bush balls to roast after dinner, making Tierin’s mouth water at the thought of roasting the fruit until they doubled in size, dripping sweet nectar.
While the food cooked, Tierin followed through on his promise and helped his sister mark their targets and distances. They both wrapped strips of animal hide around their forearms for protection, then grabbed their bows and quivers.
Tierin stepped up first, taking a deep breath and praying his pride wouldn’t be injured before the night was upon them. Zeroing in on his target he let out his breath, slowly, and reached back for his arrows. He ran his fingers along the fletching, smoothing the quail feathers to ensure precision. He positioned his bow and drew the string back along his jaw, allowing the flight path of his weapon to form in his head. As always, he tried to take note of anything that would interfere with his target. He let the tension build in his arm just before releasing his first shot. The string snapped forward, Tierin’s body braced for the impact. The arrow flew true, but Tierin knew a good shot wasn’t going to beat out his competition.
With a smug smile, mocking bow, and flurry of his hand, Tierin indicated it was Airianna’s turn. His sister didn’t bat an eye. With confidence she rose to his challenge, pulled back her bow, and let her arrow fly with cat-like reflexes. It was a perfect shot.
Tierin knew he had to step up his game, or else forfeit the bedroll, but Airianna’s shots remained precise and accurate, challenging his abilities. If truth be told, Tierin wasn’t an excellent shot--an accurate shot, when dealing with a stationary target, but not a good one. He wasn’t about to give up without a fight, though.
At first they both stuck to tried and true shots, vying for dominance, but then Airianna began to put a spin on things, making trick shots and taking risk. Her arrow flew between branches, over rocks, and just over the water, hitting the sixth named target perfectly. Not to be outdone, Tierin worked hard to claim mastery, but his shots didn’t hold true to their mark with the added twists and twirls. After a few more rounds, it was obvious who the winner was.
“Time to eat, you little snipe,” Tierin said, putting an end to the games as he went out to retrieve his arrows.
“Good, I’m starved!”
Once the bows were put away, they ate their meal heartily, talking together with the familiarity of old comrades. Afterwards, they sat with their sticks in the fire, heating the bush balls in the flames. When they had had their fill of her collection, Airianna fed the remaining unroasted ones to Destrin.Finally they sprawled out on the cool grasses, waiting for the stars to come out and play. As the sun dipped behind the mountains, night consumed the land, and one by one they began to take to the sky in all their wonder and majesty. The colors of the night shimmered across the dark backdrop, stars moving to their rhythmic dance. Folklore told them that each star was the essence of a being who had once roamed the earth, but Tierin didn’t put much stock in those rumors.
Together, the brother and sister tried to guess what it was the skies were patterning that night.“It’s a pair of big cats fighting,” Airianna said as she watched the performance.
Tierin grinned mischievously. “No, it looks more like Adjorahm and Jotham when they fight.”Airianna laughed heartily.
In the next instant it looked like one of the cats broke away and crouched, ready to lunge.“Wait for it,” Tierin said as Airianna watched intently for the scene to play out.
The mighty beast rose and lunged, catching its culprit.“Gottcha!” Tierin cried as he sprang towards his sister, startling her from her intense gazing. He tickled her mercilessly for a few minutes before they settled back down to watch the sky, breathless.
The stars began to slow in their measure, turning into swirling orbs of color and light instead of actors in a play. Tierin and Airianna rested their heads on their pillows, covering up with their spreads.
“Tierin, do I remind you of Mama?” Airianna asked as she faced him on her pallet.“Yes, your eyes are soft like Mama’s.”
“Do I have hair like Papa?”Airianna already knew the answer; he had given it so often. “Yes,” he said, wistfully, letting his hand gently stroke her hair, remembering. “And your chin reminds me of Papa’s.”
“Why?”The questions were so familiar, and yet even at twelve she still asked them. “Because, it’s stubborn and determined like his; not willing to give in or give up.”
Airianna smiled contentedly, warming Tierin and reminding him why he always answered her. She enjoyed asking him questions about their parents. It seemed to bring them to life for her and made her feel connected to them.“Then we must look alike, you and I. Your chin and jaw are stubborn and strong.”
Tierin remembered his father being a tall, brave man with wide shoulders and a deep chest. More like his cousins. It saddened him that he didn’t look more like his father. After his father’s accident, his mother would stroke Airianna’s hair and remember her husband.Tierin had often wished his mother could have seen his father looking back at her when she would gaze at him, thinking it might have brought her some sort of comfort. But alas, he had always been slightly exotic looking, instead of burly and rugged. His blue eyes were mesmerizing, or so his mother had said, and his hair was unusually pale blond. ‘Don’t ever wish to look different, Tierin. Mama loves your hair and eyes,’ she would tell him when he would confide to her his wish to be more like his father.
“Did Papa’s eyes light up like yours with that lust for adventure and longing to discover new and unusual things?” Airianna asked.Tierin was surprised out of his reverie, not used to this question following the last. “Lust for adventure, huh? Maybe… He was always searching for new places to explore.”
“He was gone a lot, wasn’t he?”“He had to be. He was a scout and mapmaker.”
Silence fell for a moment.“We should go to sleep. Uncle Garth will expect us to meet up with him early tomorrow morning along the trail.”
Tierin yawned. “I noticed you packed food for us in the morning.”“I didn’t want to be drug out of bed before the stars were ready to crawl into theirs, just so you could catch a meal at Aunt Marmie’s table,” she replied with a careless shrug.
Tierin knew better, and smiled fondly. The real reason she packed the provisions was to afford him some extra sleep in the morning. “Thanks, Airi.” He felt his mind was growing drowsy. “You’re good at thinking ahead.”“Maybe I should become your personal travelling assistant.” Airianna replied, only half in jest. The other half of her was earnest, hoping he’d agree.
“Nice try.”Airianna rolled her eyes. “I would be invaluable to you.”
“You’d be a constant worry. I’d always be concerned for your safety.”“I just beat you at archery; I can take care of myself,” Airianna replied dryly.
“I let you win.”“You did not!” She countered, rising up on one elbow.
Tierin yawned again. “It’s bedtime, Airi, we need to go to sleep.”Airianna sighed and pulled her covers up over her head, allowing Tierin to dismiss the request. Tierin’s eyelids became heavy and he felt his words slurring. Just before slumber claimed him, he heard his sister say goodnight.
Tierin woke to the smell of brewing ragwood as the stars were departing and dawn was breaking. He rolled over onto his side and saw Airianna had already been busy working.
“It’s about time you woke up; I thought I was going to have to toss a cup of water on you.” Airianna began dishing up some spiced sausage as she spoke these words.
Tierin groaned, shaking his head and wishing he could shake the sleep from his body. “I’m not sure anyone could sleep with that smell sending their salivary glands into overload.”
“Well, if you want to go wash your face, you’d better do it quickly. The food’s almost ready.”
As his sister finished preparing their meal, Tierin pulled a fresh shirt out of his bag and went to wash his face in the creek, the cold liquid shocking his body into alertness. He breathed the fresh air deep into his lungs and changed into a fresh pair of clothes. Airianna was waiting patiently when he returned, two plates of food ready. He sat down across from her, his legs folded over top of one another, and took the plate she offered.
Tierin devoured the simple, but good, food Airianna had cooked, knowing it was a filling meal that would last him until high noon. He was surprised how quiet his sister was as she ate her food opposite of him, legs tucked up beside her, but shrugged it off and continued eating.
“Will you take me with you next time you go to the outpost?”
Her words caught Tierin by surprise and he noticed she was staring into the embers of the fire, stirring them with a stick.
“Didn’t we have this conversation last night?” Tierin took another bite of his food.
“No, you wouldn’t discuss it last night,” Airianna countered. “You just went to sleep.”
Sheepishly, Tierin did remember avoiding her question last night. “Well… are you unhappy with Aunty and Uncle?” He asked calmly.
“Of course not!” Airianna replied, tossing a twig into the fire. “Aunt Marmie and Uncle Garth have been nothing but good to me.”
It was true, so he was glad she didn’t contradict that. “So what’s the problem?”
“I can’t truly be happy there,” his sister replied.
“Why not?” Tierin questioned. He wasn’t paying too much attention to the conversation. She probably just wanted to have some fun and stretch her wings a bit. After all, his aunt had said twelve was a trying age.
He continued to eat without concern. When she didn’t answer him immediately, he continued. “Airianna, I want you to learn the things only your aunt can teach you. You’ve learned a lot from me, but what I can teach you may not assist you in the life you will lead. Aunty can teach you the ways of a woman and help soften you into a lovely young lady. Now that you’re getting older… perhaps it would be best for you to spend more time with the other girls your age then always hang around with me and the boys.”
“Then I’d rather not grow up!” She replied tersely.
Tierin shook his head and continued eating. This was a fad, it would pass. Airianna was just momentarily upset because he was leaving.
Airianna set her jaw and put her plate aside, clearly determined not to eat until she had debated her topic. “What I learn from you will not make me any less a woman, Tierin Valenshia. I have learned from my aunt, but my future is not tied to hers.”
“Nor is it tied to mine,” Tierin replied firmly.
“Really? And how do you know my future?”
“I could ask you the same question. I know you will grow into a fine young woman and marry a wonderful young man who can give you a stable home. You said it yourself, I lust for adventure.”
“For once you listened to me?” Airianna cried in exasperation.
Tierin smiled, trying to lighten her mood. “You need a stable environment; that’s what Uncle Garth and Aunt Marmie have provided you with.”
“I am eternally grateful for all my aunt and uncle have done for me. I’ve always been treated with kindness and love. But I want to be with you! Mama and Papa gave me to you to take care of! They didn’t intend for me to live with Aunt Marmie and Uncle Garth forever. I know you better than anyone, Tierin. Your future isn’t here in the vinelands of Valcania. You weren’t born to be a vintner or work in Uncle’s trade like Jotham and Adjorahm will. You are destined for something more.”
“More? What makes me destined for something more than them? They are some of the greatest men you will ever meet, and both of those trades are honest ones!” Tierin cried, suddenly upset with her.
“I know they are, and I didn’t mean it that way,” Airianna replied, soothing him with the love in her voice reflected at their family. “But you are still searching for your passion. They found theirs long ago. Their passion is this life. If this was your passion you would have settled here. You’re eighteen, Tierin. You could begin making a home for yourself if you wanted; Lalita or Hanalee would be thrilled if you chose one of them as your wife. But you have carefully avoided tying yourself to this place. The only thing that holds you here is our family. I don’t want to be left behind.”
Tierin sighed and set aside his empty plate. This wasn’t going to go away. He needed to deal with the situation. “Airianna. You are dearer to me than any earthly possession, even dearer than my own soul. You are my counselor, the person I share my deepest thoughts with and tell all my secrets to. Is that not enough? Can’t you be satisfied knowing that you share more of my future than anyone else?”
Airianna bowed her head for a moment, breathing in a deep sigh. “Tell me, Tierin; are you remaining here, with our uncle, only because you don’t want to take me from the safety and security of home?”
He looked at his sister for a moment, surprised by her shrewdness. It startled him how often she saw into his innermost feelings. “Not entirely. I don’t know where I’d go.” He knew he was not being completely open, but the truth of her words was disquieting; he couldn’t deny them.
His sister’s gaze pierced through him. “You would find a place to go, Tierin. You wouldn’t care how long it took you to find what you were looking for. You’d find it. That’s your nature, even if you don’t know it.”
Sometimes Tierin wondered if Airianna was the older sibling. Perhaps it was the glimmer of womanhood shining through the child, but there were moments when her insightfulness made her seem wiser than her age.
She was the essence of his life, the ray of sunshine that met him when he returned from long, monotonous days of waiting at the outpost. She teased him and put up with all his deficiencies. It was selfish to take her with him, wasn’t it?
“Airianna, this life— the life that our uncle and aunt have provided you— this is the life that you should long for. Here you have safety and comfort.”
“You are my safety and comfort, Tierin!” The girl cried bitterly, as if hating that he did not understand this. “Do you think I live in comfort knowing that you are out there all alone? If something happened to you, we would never know until it was too late!”
“I want to live the life of an adventurer, Airianna. I want to be my own person.”
“In other words, you don’t want the responsibility of having a little sister tagging along?” Airianna countered.
“I didn’t mean- that’s not it at all! I love you, Airianna, and I will always try to do what I think is best for you, regardless of what I want to do! I’m just not sure it’s wise for you to live--” Tierin stood up and brushed the dirt from his pants. “Look, I’ll think about what you’ve said; I can’t promise you anymore than that.”
“Will you really think about it, or will you push it aside?” Her emotions had subdued and a mask had come over her face, hiding what she felt.
“I will.” He vowed to himself that he would think on her words.
“Then I suppose I’ll have to be content with that.” Airianna replied, dropping the matter and wrapping her thin arms around his waist. “Be safe.”
Tierin looked down into her adoring eyes and ran his hand over her hair. Could he deny her what she wanted, even if he felt it was for her own good? Was he wrong to make her stay behind? Was she right? Was he only staying here with his uncle because he was afraid to take her with him? Did he think of her as a burden?
Tierin could only hope that when fate destined him to leave the comfort of his present situation, he would know whether to take her… or leave her behind.