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About this Book

 

Some must get lost to find themselves.

After five years in prison, Isla of Maura is rescued when mercenaries break in to the dungeon. Burdened with guilt, she flirts with death while she learns to trust her newfound companions. When she’s caught in a feud between two ancient dwarf families, she must sort truths from lies, friends from enemies. If she fails, she may kill the wrong person.

If you love stories of adventure mixed with magic and romance set in archaic landscapes, you’ll love McGyver’s Revelation Stones. Unlike many fantasy novels, family plays a central part in this story, so be prepared for the hero to have her heart strings plucked by the song of home.

Revelation Stones is the 3rd book in the Castle Keepers epic fantasy series. It continues to share the tales of the characters introduced in Shadows in the Stone and takes readers on a journey across Ath-o’Lea as Isla, now a young woman, struggles to find herself and make peace with the past.

 

Chapter One

 

Wise Like Your Das

THE COOL EVENING AIR BRUSHED loose strands of Isla’s brown hair from her face. It caressed her skin, slipped down her neck and into her cotton shirt. The dark material had seen better days, but it provided basic protection against the elements. Not that it mattered. She tolerated the weather as she tolerated living.

Isla steeled her jaw as she surveyed Blackvale Castle from her perch in the embrasure, her back pressed against the cold stone of a merlon. She had been in every nook and cranny, every room on every floor, including many restricted areas, and every passageway that twisted beneath and within the bulking, sinister structure. The black stone walls rose from the ground as if fangs from a ferocious monster, seizing anything and everyone in its grasp.

The few windows still aglow with soft light within the structure were easily identified given the late hour. The guardhouse, where men reported their status of rounds to the desk keeper, glowed the brightest, its light cascading upon the courtyard and creeping up to the second storey windows.

The most easterly light still lit indicated the meek little human called Specks—because of his need for thick spectacles—was still up, still reading and still drinking his potent green tea. The peculiar fellow cowered when the lord entered his personal space yet stood straight and steady against the bulkiest of guards.

Isla was yet to learn his secrets or why he willingly remained at Blackvale. Unlike many who came and never left, he made frequent trips away, always returning in high spirits. He often brought trinkets for her, presenting them as gifts. She never questioned the human but instead sat listening to the many conversations between the traveller and those who visited his study.

The remaining light, one mellow green, shining from the third floor of the west tower, signified the lord of Blackvale had not yet retired. Merk Lindrum, the ruler who spoke in riddles, was a desperate man though he viewed himself differently. He told his guards, his servants and his prisoners he was in complete control. Isla knew otherwise. She witnessed his subtle breakdowns, his dependency on clear liquid that tasted like fire and his addiction to revenge.

The courtyard far below was deserted except for Phil who made his way slowly towards the guardhouse. The guard’s hands, tucked inside his trouser pockets, were swift and in a flash would be on his sword at the first sign of trouble. She’d witnessed his skill on several occasions and though he was quick, she was quicker. Thankfully, time had not allowed her to prove it.

“If you jumped, it would only concern the wench who would clean up your tangled mess.”

She stilled her breath and turned her head to the man who had captured and brought her to Blackvale Castle: Merk Lindrum. He had made it her home for five years and tomorrow, he’d send her away. Many trembled in his presence and rushed to please. He was a powerful sorcerer who could murder in a breath or leave his victim sprawling for hours as life leached away.

Merk stood near and peered over the side. He glanced at her and then over his kingdom. His face was solemn until it cracked a grin, a habit she knew well.

“I know why you do not fear me,” he said, raising one eyebrow and considering her. “You do not fear death.”

This knowledge only made her look away to the easterly light that disappeared as Specks blew out his candles. She would not acknowledge his assessment, providing him no reason to think he was correct or mistaken.

“But worry not, little servant girl, you’ll live a long, violent life fit for squat creatures of the dirt.” He waited for her reaction and when none came, he continued. “If you don’t learn to savour your horrible deeds, embrace them as part of you, your life will be miserable and pathetic.”

“Is that how you live with yourself? Indulging in your evilness and embracing the monster within?”

He wet his lips and looked down on her. In the dim light, the shadows hid the many secrets in his expression. “You are wise like your das.”

She controlled the hard swallow to hide her discomfort as he extended the pause. The few seconds of agony were made worse by his clarification.

“Number Two.”

She looked away, pretending to watch Phil as he exited the guardhouse and crossed the courtyard. The low grunt and the satisfying sigh singed her ears, and she knew he knew the torturous blow he had dealt. She’d argue that she had only one das, but it was pointless. Long ago she had learnt the discussion increased his pleasure and swelled the ache in her heart. Bronwyn Darrow would never again be her das, not after he discovered her horrible deeds. She didn’t blame him. She was as dishonourable as they came.

“I won’t be on the waggon tomorrow,” she said in an even tone.

“I will put you there myself.”

“I’ll serve you better here.”

“I no longer desire your service.” He linked his long, slender fingers together. The red gem in the ring on his right hand glinted in the star light.

He lectured her earlier in the day when he had given her the news of the transfer. She and about one hundred other prisoners were being sent to a kingdom where they’d be sold into slavery. The other women knew nothing about their fate, but Isla guessed they would be elated about the move. It gave them hope for their freedom, an impossibility while at Blackvale Castle.

She held no desire to return to the outside world. At Blackvale, she could hide from those she knew without fear they’d find her and discover her darkest secrets. They had probably already thought of her as dead and mourned her passing. There was no need for them to learn worse about her.

But Merk Lindrum refused to allow her to stay. He clearly stated why: You are a wretched mole who harbours despair in your being. You ooze of gloominess and cast shadows on my glory. I have no use for dreary, soulless creatures within my realm.

Still, she’d try again. “There is nothing waiting for me out there. My place is here.”

“The world awaits you, and you have the audacity to deny them of your presence. Imagine the havoc you could wreak.” He grinned mischievously. “Releasing a pitiful creature on the populous will serve me well.”

She clenched her fists and pressed them against her trousers, willing them to be still. The cool breeze that once caressed her neck felt like barbed wire on her skin. The darkness enveloped her, and she struggled to focus on the green light emerging from the west tower. On nights such as this, she had often taken aim with an imaginary bow, releasing the arrow and visualising it striking the heart of the man who drove the sorrow deep within her spirit.

A soft thud made her jump and forced her to look down. A small leather pouch with a thick strap rested on her lap.

“Consider it a parting gift.”

“What is it?” She picked up the pouch, pulled it open and peered inside. Fine grey powder half-filled it.

“A bit of magic for your bleakest hour.”

“Why would you save me, the wretched mole you cannot tolerate?” She placed such emphasis on the last word spit flew from her mouth.

“Child, you are to be my saving grace. I shall at least see you to that day. Then…” he leered towards her, “if you have learnt to celebrate your vile self, I’ll spare you.” He turned abruptly and strode from the roof top. His black cloak caught the breeze and billowed softly behind him.

She watched in disgust. His exit was well-rehearsed. Though he possessed great magic, it was not as great as he believed. It was flawed by the simple fact it hinged on revenge.

BREAK

Isla stood inside the stable doors watching women in bedraggled clothing clamber onto eight waggons. As she presumed, many eagerly embarked, but a few questioned the orders given by the lord of Blackvale Castle. When he had ended his speech with, and don’t leave anything of value behind—as if the prisoners had anything—because you won’t be returning, a mixture of excitement, fear and confusion spread through the crowd.

Misty brushed by Isla quickly, disturbing her thoughts. The young dwarf reminded her of a woman at Maskil, one who worked in the castle with Bronwyn Darrow. Riagan and Bronwyn’s relationship had confused her. The pushy woman hinted at a deeper friendship though Bronwyn had eyes only for Alaura of Niamh. Misty had been a prisoner at Blackvale when Isla arrived, and now she welcomed the escape and rushed towards the waggons. As she neared one, she slowed her pace and glanced from side-to-side.

Phil grabbed Misty’s arm and pulled her to face him. “You’re not on the list.”

“But, but I want to go!” She struggled to break free. “Please,” she begged, “let me go.”

“She can take my place.” Isla walked towards them. “Let her go, Phil. My name is on the list, but she can have my seat.”

Misty gawked at her. “Thank you. Thank you, dear Isla.”

Phil hesitated. The young man had been at Blackvale for four years. When the scrawny teen first arrived, he was terrified for his life. Isla had found him attempting to flee and assured him the only ones who lived to tell of their daring failed escape were dragged back to Blackvale, whipped and locked in a box for two weeks. If they survived the ordeal, they were reinstated as a guard. Months later, Phil thanked her for the advice after witnessing the capture and punishment firsthand. “I don’t know if I can do that.” He scratched his head.

“What would it matter?” asked Isla. “Lindrum despises both hauflin and dwarf equally.” She turned to Misty. “Go. Take my seat. I give it freely.” She nudged the woman towards the waggon, hoping the firm gesture convinced Phil. Her guess proved correct, and he released Misty’s arm.

The prisoner stumbled backwards towards the waggon with a tortured expression. “Thank you,” she half-whispered. “I will not forget your kindness today.” She turned to climb aboard but stopped mid-step when someone cleared their throat intentionally to get her attention.

“Your orders are clear.” Merk Lindrum peered down at Isla. “There will be no substitutions.” When she tried to speak, he raised his hand to silence her.

Phil pulled Misty from the waggon and shoved her towards the stables.

“Please!” she cried. “I’ve been here longer than most of these women! I deserve to be set free!”

“Silence,” ordered Merk. “Take her away.” He gestured to a guard who dragged Misty into the stables, then he turned to Isla. “Your destiny waits.”

She hesitated, but Phil grabbed her arm roughly and directed her towards the waggon.

“I’ll see you again, child.”

Specks stood with his arms clasped in front of him, smiling. He seemed peculiar, as if he had slept little through the night and rose early to be here for the send-off. She took a deep breath through her nose and picked up an unusual odour. It smelt fresh and unlike the smell of the forest.

“I’ll take her from here.”

Before she could protest, she was jerked towards the waggon by Kellyn who grasped her wrist firmly. The dwarf was one of the first prisoners she met and befriended when she, then twelve years old, had arrived at Blackvale. On those first horrible days away from home, she took solace in Kellyn’s comforting arms. Her kindness and compassionate blue eyes consoled her. An odd familiarity encouraged her to cling to the woman for reassurance.

Since then she suspected there was more to Kellyn than she revealed. The dwarf occasionally let things slip, and when she divulged too much of her past, information that would expose her identity in Ath-o’Lea, she back-tracked and modified the story. Isla had her suspicions but never disclosed them.

In the past year, their friendship had diminished. Kellyn was not to blame. Isla braced herself, locked her jaw and attempted to break free but failed. “Release me,” she growled.

Kellyn yanked her near and whispered, “We stick together.” She glared at her. “You promised. We made a pact.”

The memory of that promise created a tremour in her gut. It clawed its way into her heart where it exploded, sending what felt like razor sharp daggers to every limb. The fire rising into her throat made it impossible to breathe, and she choked on a reply. She stared down at the hand that held her, wishing for it to disappear. When it didn’t, she gave one final tug, but Kellyn wouldn’t let go.

“Stay with me,” she whispered desperately.

Isla surrendered to the ache in her heart and allowed Kellyn to pull her onto the waggon. Her vision blurred and for several moments, she was unaware of what happened around her. A sudden jolt of movement shocked her back to reality.

The movement of the low-sided dray jostled her as it transported her towards the open gates. They were seventh in a line of eight. She stretched her neck to see what lay ahead and noticed Phil staring back at her from the driver’s bench. Beside him was the coachman, Rod, a man in his mid-thirties who had been at Blackvale forever, according to other prisoners. He had arrived as a boy in his early teens. She sensed a heavy burden on his shoulders, and their few conversations over the years had been short and to the point. Occasionally she watched him derive pleasure from simple things—ducklings following their mothers in the pond, fiery sunsets, apple pie—but for the most part, he did his job silently without emotion.

Rod’s tan-coloured, shoulder-length hair flapped in the wind. He looked straight ahead, following closely the waggon in front of him. The two horses pulling the load snorted as they ploughed forward.

Once through the gates, they journeyed on a smooth road leading into thick forest. The way appeared as a dark tunnel covered in gloomy shadows. Isla had seen this trail many times from her perch on the castle wall. Not once in her five years as a prisoner did she see anyone enter or leave through this route.

The horses picked up speed. The weight seemed easy for them to bear, but she wondered how long two horses could pull the full waggon before tiring. It didn’t make sense to have only two animals when four would have made the trip quicker. It was not as if horses weren’t plentiful at Blackvale. She was certain their destination lay some distance away, and the journey would be made longer with so few horses at work.

The shadowy forest consumed them, and the women in the waggons mumbled amongst themselves, many commenting on how great it was to finally be free of Blackvale. As the castle disappeared from view, their chatter became excited. Isla tried to block out their voices, but it was difficult since they were crammed so tightly. She avoided making eye contact with Kellyn, though the dwarf watched her closely.

Ahead, she saw a faint glow as if the trees thinned, allowing sunlight to pour onto the forest floor. Impossible. She had seen the denseness of the forest from a bird’s eye view from the tallest tower at Blackvale. The trees were never ending.

A quiver brought goose bumps to her forearms, and she sensed a disturbance of the energy in the air. She studied the passing scenery and waited for an explanation for the unusual feeling invading her bloodstream.

The songs of the birds she had listened to for five years changed. They were higher pitched and unfamiliar. The trees blurred into open fields and a distinct smell blew into her face and filled her air passages. It smelt fresh and cool, and when she licked her lips, she thought she tasted salt. It was the same odour radiated by Specks a few minutes earlier. Although she had never been to the sea, her friends at Maskil had described the smells exactly how she would describe the scent of this land.

The road snaked through open fields for about a quarter mile and ended at a large set of wooden gates. Beyond the gates was a great castle surrounded by a walled village. It was smaller than Maskil but just as grand.

She heard a subtle roar and looked to see the edge of a cliff and beyond that, the vastness of the ocean. A large vessel sailed on the small waves, making her feel tiny. If she was lost in that water, no one would find her.

“If I had known this castle was so near,” whispered a slave a few seats down, “I’d have ran to it.”

“And I would have been with you,” said another woman.

“Surely it could be no worse than Blackvale.” A dwarf glanced at Isla and Kellyn. “It couldn’t be.”

“But why are we being sent here?” asked the slave who began the conversation.

Isla remained silent. They’d know soon enough. It wasn’t her place to deliver the horrible news that they’d be slaves to a new master. Though she knew many would benefit from this exchange, some would not.

“Maybe we are being set free.”

The woman spoke too loudly and Phil, who still sat facing the them, released a silent chuckle. He locked eyes with Isla, and she studied his face, attempting to decipher the subtle facial features that begged her to believe he was full human though her instincts suggested otherwise. She and Phil were not enemies, and she’d never risk his safety by suggesting he was more than what he appeared to be.

Kellyn caught her attention and silently mouthed, “Portal?”

She considered her knowledge of the world, Merk and the drastic change in landscape, then nodded and looked away.

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