A Crown of Lilies, page 1
A Crown of Lilies
Copyright © 2019 Melissa Ragland
All rights reserved.
Cover by Agata Broncel
For my mother, who always believed this story was worth telling, and I, capable of telling it.
For all the writers whose heroines inspired me throughout my life.
For you, the reader, for giving Elivya a chance to inspire yours.
THE HOUSE OF ADULIL
Amenon ben Adulil - King of Alesia, lord of the province of Aduline
Cerya Halkryn no Adulil - First wife of King Amenon (deceased)
Selice fen Adulil - Daughter of Amenon and Cerya
THE HOUSE OF CHAMBERLAIN
Augustus ben Chamberlain - Lord of the province of Cambria, the King’s Poet
Lidya Agreil no Chamberlain - Wife of Augustus (deceased)
Aubrey ben Chamberlain - Son of Augustus and Lidya
Eliza Chamberlain no Agreil - Younger sister of Augustus
Claire fen Agreil - Daughter of Eliza
Lesser Houses of Chamberlain
House Halkryn - Lords of the province of Haelark
House Agreil - Lords of the province of Agen
House Fumandrel - Lords of the province of Fumel
THE HOUSE OF ORISTEI
Reyus ben Oristei - Lord of the province of Ostris
Amelie Evitra no Oristei - Wife of Reyus
Ulrich and Feran ben Oristei - Sons of Reyus and Amelie
Rishel fen Oristei - Younger sister of Reyus
Lesser Houses of Oristei
House Ulitri - Lords of the province of Ulta
House Evitra - Lords of the province of Vitri
House Istaris - Lords of the province of Istra
House Ardontus - Lords of the province of Arradon
Miko ben Ardontus - Lord of Arradon
Cheza Evitra no Ardontus - Wife of Miko
Ero ben Ardontus - Son of Miko and Cheza
Ila fen Ardontus - Daughter of Miko and Cheza
THE HOUSE OF CAERUS
Ignatus ben Caerus - Lord of the province of Caelin, the Royal Physician
Lynn Istaris no Caerus - Wife of Ignatus
Mateo ben Caerus - Son of Ignatus and Lynn
Serena fen Caerus - Daughter of Ignatus and Lynn
Lesser Houses of Caerus
House Briad - Lords of the province of Briare
House Guillar - Lords of the province of Guilerso
House Therus - Lords of the province of Theria
Ian ben Therus - Lord of Theria
Nicole Syran no Therus - Wife of Ian
Titus and Brandon ben Therus - Sons of Ian and Nicole
Leon ben Therus - Youngest son of Ian and Nicole
THE HOUSE OF TUVRE
Nicholas ben Tuvre - Lord of the province of Tuvria
Lisbet Euzoni no Tuvre - Wife of Nicholas
Luke, Wyatt, and Atticus - Sons of Nicholas and Lisbet
Lesser Houses of Tuvre
House Euzoni - Lords of the province of Euzros
House Saviren - Lords of the province of Savern
House Freyjin - Stewards of the province of Frii
General Brenna - Leader of the Freyjan army
Caius ben Saviren - Lord of Savern (deceased)
Fiona Ulitri no Saviren - Wife of Caius
Ewan ben Saviren - Son of Caius and Fiona
THE HOUSE OF VAN DRYN
Yuri Van Dryn - Lord of the province of Daria
Tasha Guillar no Van Dryn - Wife of Yuri
Adrian Van Dryn - Son and heir of Yuri and Tasha, commander of the Darian merchant fleet
Natalia Van Dryn no Vekar - Daughter of Yuri and Tasha
Oliver ben Vekar - Husband of Natalia
Alec Van Dryn - Younger son of Yuri and Tasha
Sara Syran no Van Dryn - Wife of Alec
Lesser Houses of Van Dryn
House Daekrix - Lords of the province of Dax
House Syran - Lords of the province of Syraci
House Vekar - Lords of the province of Varr
THE HOUSE OF LAZERIN
Damien ben Lazerin - Lord of the province of Laezon
Nefira fen Lazerin - Wife of Damien
Elivya fen Lazerin - Daughter of Damien and Nefira
Elliot ben Lazerin - Cousin to Damien
Maria Montre no Lazerin - Wife of Elliot
Martin, Francis, and Patrick - Sons of Elliot and Maria
Greta and Emmett - Retainers of the Litheria manor
Preston, Gabe, and Quintin - Lazerin armsmen
Poppy and Ellen - Maidservants at the Litheria manor
Shera - Handmaid to Elivya
Samson - Captain of Lazerin guard in Laezon
Stephan - Stablemaster of Laezon estate
Amita - Chamberlain of Laezon estate, wife of Stephan
Seth, James, and Erik - Sons of Stephan and Amita
Lesser Houses of Lazerin
House Eradine - Lords of the province of Erade
House Estentis - Lords of the province of Estia
House Montre - Lords of the province of Montar
House Kortra - Lords of the province of Korent
From the Book of Days
As we came upon the sea, the ferrymen waiting, He turned to me and smiled. “Here we part, my good Chamberlain.” I pressed him once more to allow me to accompany him, but again, he refused with impossible gentleness. “Nay, my friend, the far shore waits for me and yonder brothers alone.” He closed His eyes and breathed deeply, His always-present smile widening. Lids opened and the sun itself shone from them. “This land is born anew. You must be here to guide it. Others will aid you, should you retrace our steps and beyond. Where you meet them, a Great Oak will grow, and you shall know the future of this land by them.”
Daunted by the task set to me, I made to protest, but knew in my heart I could never deny Him. Warm hands settled on my shoulders. “A stride for a stride, brother. Begin where you stand.” With one final kiss, He left these shores, a riot of gold against the azure froth of the Sea. I watched Him fade on the horizon in the keeping of the brothers Van Dryn. When at last I could not see his golden gleam with my eyes, I turned, bereft, to the teeming wharf and our patient mounts. They shuffled their hooves, dark eyes contemplating, and I knew where I must begin.
As promised, impossibly, the immense oaks stood proud and tall as I retraced our winding path across the land. Despite their brief existence, they towered above any tree I had ever seen. The dumbfounded faces of their keepers were familiar to me, pillars of kindness and generosity among the long years of our journey.
Gentle Caerus, whose medicaments drove away the fever that had threatened to claim me. To this day, I can still feel Adulil’s hand holding mine, concern on His beautiful face.
Proud Lazerin, who pulled his own plow so that we might take their horses. His sons and daughters had wandered the forests with Adulil for weeks, rapt in his teachings.
Cheerful Oristei, whose lyre had played us to sleep many a night. His singular voice had brought joy like no other to my earth-blessed companion.
Enigmatic Van Dryn, who had sacrificed two of their sons to ferry Him to the far shore. They, surely, gave more than any other.
Solemn Tuvre, whose sword had saved us in the streets of the far country. Adulil had wept beside the madman’s body, lamenting how one of the Mother’s children could have gone so far astray.
Beyond the place where I had first come upon Him, I followed His trail as best I could. His presence echoed in the eyes of all who had seen Him, and led me to the crofter’s door
When at last I returned home, His final gift waited quietly for me. I wept to see it, branches laden with the golden leaves of autumn as it swayed patiently before mine own doorstep.
Seven oaks, seven families.
This land is born anew.
Traitor. It is what they call me, still, in quiet circles and hushed conversations. There is little room for truth in the minds of ordinary men. Surely, I am what they say, accused and confessed by mine own lips. There are ghosts I will carry until the day I pass beyond this life to the far shore. Adulil knows I am unworthy of His Mother’s grace, but the crimes of which I am guilty are not the story entire.
I would have left well enough alone, were it merely my reputation that hung in the balance. Let them think what they like. I am too tired, now, to care. Alas, it is not my name alone they whisper at Court, and I would see the wagging tongues of gossip stilled in the face of the honest truth. There are those who have asked, who have pressed me time and again to put it to paper. I did not think that anyone would care to read what passed in half-shadows years ago. I did not want to revisit the horrors I had witnessed with my eyes and committed with my hands; but they do, and so I shall, if only to clear the way for those to come.
In the Book of Days, the Chamberlain writes of Adulil’s unwavering love of all people, no matter their crimes. He taught us that His Mother – our Mother – the earth and trees and sky and rivers, made us as we are: compassion and jealousy, generosity and malice, hope and fear. Whatever we are, we are Hers and are loved. Life is the great balance, and it takes all kinds to level the scales. I hope that is true. I hope She can forgive me. I was just trying to do what I thought was right.
Like any child, I was raised on stories of triumph and heroism. My own tale turned out quite different. Fame and glory were never my goals, but I would be lying if I were to claim they never appealed to me. They are the kindling fire in the heart of every hot-blooded youth, and I was surely that. Now, they are barely an afterthought of many long years of loss and defeat; a grain of sand upon the vast beaches of what I – what we all – have endured.
My parents named me Elivya, after one of my most honored ancestors. I was born into privilege, the heiress to one of the seven Great Houses. I would not hold such a title, had I a brother. Fate, however, saw fit to give my parents a small brood, for which I pitied my father. He so desperately wanted a son. Though he would never give voice to such a hurtful sentiment, I could see it in his eyes at times when he returned from running training exercises with the men of our garrison. It is why, from an early age, I have been… less than a proper lady.
From my parents’ failure to bear a son grew my personally adopted sense of responsibility to fill that role. At the age of nine, I followed my father in secret to the training fields. Hidden in a nearby tree, I watched for hours as the soldiers ran drill after drill. Awed by the power and grace of both men and horses, I longed to call such might my own. I am a Lazerin. My earliest memories are from atop a horse, but this was something else entirely.
When I asked him to teach me the cavalry drills, our stablemaster, Stephan, scoffed and sent me weeping back to my mother. She held me as I mourned the unfairness of life and told me that such was the way of things.
That night, I snuck out of the manor, crept into the stables, and stole my father’s horse. Perhaps I just needed the right mount, and my small dun pony was no warhorse. Midnight was surely that, a large black stallion with feathered white socks and a broad back. I trembled as I climbed a teetering stack of crates to haul myself atop his massive frame. One hand buried in his mane, I held on for dear life as we raced out into the night, free as birds under the moon until the night patrol spotted us. I’d like to say we gave them a good run, but I would be lying. My father trained his men well, and I was a child with median riding skills at best. They caught us and led us like prisoners back to the manor, stealing curious glances at my pilfered breeches and vest, which were many sizes too large.
Needless to say, my father was furious. My mother was equally appalled, particularly at my garb, but tried to calm him as best she could. The next morning, my back learned the stinging kiss of a reed switch, one of many that hung in the stable for lunging yearlings. It was a gentle punishment, as whippings go, but it hurt my pride much more than it hurt my body. I never stole my father’s horse again.
The next night, I snuck out the window.
It became a game between the night patrol and I over the next several weeks. I tried everything from staining my clothes and face with soot to setting up elaborate distractions with the servants’ children. There were plenty of them living at and around the manor, and they rallied with me in my mischief, glad for a bit of sport. Despite their – and my – best efforts, each time I was caught and led back to the house to face my parents.
Finally, after a particularly vigorous midnight chase through the pouring rain, the guards dragged me into the house and deposited me gently but unceremoniously at my father’s feet. I looked up at him from my knees, no doubt in my mind that another solid lashing awaited me. Oh, I was afraid, but I was young and proud and stubborn; gifts of my lineage, or so I’ve been told. My father heaved a sigh and rubbed his eyes, ringed with exhaustion. I smiled inside, measuring it a victory, as troublesome children are wont to do.
“Samson,” my father murmured sternly. I flinched. The captain of our house guard was proud of his station and unwaveringly loyal to my father. Heavy footsteps approached, and I couldn’t help but glance toward his all-too-familiar whip-hand. He was a large man, stiff-backed and burly with muscle that gradually gave way to a belly as he aged in his less demanding employment. As a capable commander during the War of Crowns, he had lost his left arm in battle well before I was born. My father had taken pity on him, and given him a post at the manor after Samson was dismissed from the King’s service. Unfortunately, Samson was right-handed and took no pity on me.
“My lord?” his voice rumbled over my shoulder.
My father met my eyes again. “Tomorrow morning, take her to the stables. Make sure she learns to ride properly. I won’t have the heir to my House run down by country-bred patrolmen.”
A smile split my face and I threw myself at him, exclaiming my thanks into his stomach as he patted my hair.
“There’ll be no living with you after this….”
The next day, one of the maids brought a pair of breeches and a shirt that fit me far better than the ones I’d stolen from the cook’s closet. After breakfast, my mother pulled me aside. I itched to race out to the stables, but the look on her face stilled me.
“Watch and learn, Elivya. Samson is unforgiving with his words, but he is a good man. Honor him.”
Samson met me in the courtyard, grim and clearly annoyed at his new assignment. I stood before him, solemn as a soldier, and awaited instruction. He looked me over in my boys’ attire and grunted in disapproval, muttering something about a lady’s place. I scowled but said nothing, my situation already precarious without angering him. I could easily ask my father to appoint a governess to teach me to ride side-saddle like a ‘proper’ lady. To ride as the soldiers did was another matter entirely.
Samson eyed me again, grabbing at my arms and examining my hands. “Roll up your sleeves,” he growled. “You’ll get ‘em tangled in the tack. Spook your horse and he’ll take off with your arm and leave you behind.” I suppressed a giggle and fought the urge to look at his empty left sleeve as I rolled up my own. “This is no lady’s outing, ye hear?” he snarled at me. “I’ll not cater to a crybaby.”
I glared at him, the
He grinned darkly. “We’ll see, little horse thief.”
The first week, Samson showed me how to pick hooves, polish tack, clean stalls, hot walk, lunge and check for swollen joints on a beige mare we had pastured after her prime breeding years. I had been around horses my whole, short life; it was my family’s livelihood. I had never been required to do menial tasks reserved for servants and stable hands. It burned my pride that Samson was taking advantage of my apprenticeship to humiliate me as much as possible. Noble ladies did not pick stalls and polish saddles. I resented him for it but kept my silence. Watch and learn, my mother had said, and so I did.
At the start of the second week, I came into the courtyard and saw him holding the beige palfrey, fully tacked. He rolled his eyes at my excited grin and commanded me to mount. As I rushed to drag a wooden crate from the stable into the courtyard, I heard Samson roar with laughter. “What in the bloody hells are you doing, horse thief?”
I turned to him in confusion. “You told me to mount, sir.”
His laughter stopped and his smile faded. “Mounting boxes are for court ladies on holiday and straw-legged crybabies!” He dropped the reins and stormed toward me, kicking the crate across the stones back toward the barn. “Now get your ass up on that horse!” The servants in the courtyard paused to stare, but quickly returned to their business when they saw that I was the target of the abuse. No one dared interfere.
I wanted to hit him. I imagined hitting him, squarely in the nose, so hard it would make his big, mean eyes water. I wanted to, but I didn’t. Instead, I shoved past him and approached the mare who was skittering across the cobblestones, spooked by the rush of angry voices and the clatter of the crate. She shied at first, but I crooned to her and she eventually came to me. At nine, I was short still, having not yet hit my main growth spurt of childhood, and my head barely reached the middle of her flanks. The stirrup clanged against my chest and I despaired at ever reaching the cursed thing without aid.