Title: Edenhart’s Rivalry
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
A dark power is rising, and a kingdom is in dire need of a leader when the King of the Faeries falls in battle. Or so, that’s what they’re led to believe, but his only heir and daughter, Aurora, suspects murder. But when she and her loyal friend Percy, the Captain of the Elite Guard, discover an ancient prophecy foretold by the enigmatic Faerie Sorcerers, Aurora finds herself an unwilling pawn in a dark plot that will threaten everything she holds dear. Her courage and magic will be her greatest weapons if she hopes to succeed where all others have failed. But will she? Aurora must ask herself this very question: just how far is she willing to go to save her kingdom, and at what costs?
Julianne Nicole Tomczak (Tom-Zack) is the writer of Kingdom of the Faeries: Edenhart’s Rivalry so here’s a little bio. Julianne grew up on a small farm in central Arkansas and now lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband. When not writing, Julianne loves playing video games, listening to music, hiking, and binge-watching Falling Skies while eating non-nutritional food.
Shadow of the Storm
Aurora’s blade whirred through the air of the empty training yard as she blocked and exchanged blows with imaginary foes. She delivered a killing stroke and then whirled around to ward off another fictitious attack. A sharp ring pierced the air and stung her senses as her sword struck metal.
Her eyes flew wide finding herself face-to-face with Percy, who stood in the raiment of the Elite Guard—the faeries’ special select force, handpicked by the king himself.
Percy’s lips lifted into that familiar yet annoying smirk of his. But at that moment, it was the most welcoming sight Aurora had seen all day.
“Rule number one,” he said, dropping his blade. “Always be aware of your surroundings.”
“Percy!” Aurora abandoned formalities and grappled him in a hug. “When did you get back from Dragonspire?”
“Today,” he said, returning her hug with equal fervor. He broke the embrace first and smiled, but his hands still lingered on hers. “It’s good to see you.”
She punched him in the shoulder. “That’s for leaving me with no one to spar with!”
“I was only gone for two months!” He laughed, rubbing his shoulder even though Aurora knew it didn’t hurt. On a more solemn note, he added, “But they were the most brutal two months of training I’ve ever received. I never want to do that again.”
“Congratulations.” She treated him with a smile but was reluctant to pull away from his touch to sheathe her weapon.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Something is bothering you, or you would have noticed me watching you for the past five minutes. You’ve never let anyone take you by surprise before. Are you not happy to see me?”
He sounded a little hurt.
“Of course I am!” she said.
“Then what’s wrong?”
Aurora knew he wouldn’t relent until she told him.
“I’m not sure, really,” she said.
“It’s your father.” He said it without question.
She sighed and lowered her gaze. “Every time he leaves I can’t help but worry if he’ll ever return.”
Percy shook his head. “Aurora, you’re worrying over nothing. He’s the king. He can look after himself. Or have you forgotten he single handedly defeated a goblin Cabal? Not many can say the same.”
Now it was her turn to shake her head. “This time it’s different.”
“He’ll return,” he assured her. “You’ll see.”
Aurora nodded, but his words did little to quench the ache deep inside her chest.
He shifted, and the golden pendant holding his cape together winked at her. A closer look revealed the crest of a phoenix in flight. Only high-ranking officers wore them.
“Your new rank fits you well, Captain,” she said and gestured at the emblem on his chest.
The sharp points of his ears reddened under her compliment, but then he said, excitedly, “As does this sword. I call it Phoenix.”
He extended his blade, hilt first. Releasing a quick breath, Aurora found it surprisingly light. The polished hilt and cross guard sported golden floral embellishments, and a glazed blue stone beamed within the pommel. This was dweor work at its best. Even though it looked like a gilded side ornament, Aurora knew better. All dweor weapons were forged for one purpose—killing. The adornments made it no less deadly.
Aurora slid one finger down the blade’s spine then gave it a few practice swings for good measure. Percy gulped and took a step back as she thrust and twirled the sword through the air with practiced ease before presenting the hilt toward him.
“This is a good blade,” she mused. Percy beamed and slid it back into the sheath at his side.
“Of course it is. It was made by the dweor,” he said as if it were obvious. “No faerie could hope to wield a finer blade.”
Aurora sized him up and down as she circled him. “I said it was a good blade, but I wonder how well its master can handle it?”
Much to her surprise, he didn’t rise to the bait. “I’ve no time for sword games, Aurora,” he said. “I’ve now got responsibilities that your father—I mean, the king—has entrusted to me.”
She brought the circle to a close. “So am I to understand the new Captain of the Elite Guard is…a coward?”
Still he refused to be baited. Before, she’d had no trouble in goading him into a duel. Now, it seemed he’d finally learned patience. Even now she could see him sizing her up, as if he were debating if he could actually best her. After all, her skills with a blade were renowned throughout Silverbroke—and unmatched. Save for her father, who’d trained her himself.
“Come, spar with me,” she insisted when he said nothing. Then, with a wicked smile that often made him blush, she added, “I command it.”
Both of them knew he couldn’t refuse her challenge now. He stood calmly for a moment, his expression betraying nothing, when finally the slither of his blade answered her.
They circled each other, eyes locked, as the tips of their blades skimmed one another in a lethal dance. This was a game they were all too familiar with.
All her focus on him, Aurora tightened her grasp around the hilt of her blade.
His gaze didn’t vary as he spoke, “No magic—and the first one to drop their weapon loses.”
Her blade twitched in response, and Aurora smiled. “And no mercy.”
She rushed forward with the speed and ferocity of a charging lioness and swung her blade. When their swords met at the center, she relished the welcoming sting it left in her hand but stood firm.
Aurora steeled herself against him, their swords the only thing keeping them apart. Her arms shook. Then he pushed forward with a grunt and shoved her to the ground. Before he could disarm her, Aurora retaliated with a swipe of her leg. He staggered, knocked off balance, and fell on top of her.
For a moment, they locked eyes, their lips almost touching. Her stomach fluttered, but then she elbowed him in the side and jumped to her feet. Percy was just as quick.
He surprised her afterward with his sudden aggressiveness which forced her in the defensive. His blows came fast and hard, barely giving her enough time to shield herself.
A sharp sting landed across her face, and she stumbled back. Her hand flew to the wound as warmth trickled down her cheek.
When she pulled her hand away, beads of blood appeared on the tips of her fingers. Percy frowned and reached toward her, unknowingly falling for the ruse. She sprung to life and thrust her sword with a quick jab to his exposed front.
He threw his blade up, blocking it, and staggered back, shaking his head.
“Rule number two: never underestimate your opponent,” Aurora mocked.
Out of breath, he countered, “Rule number three: pointless chatter is a waste of energy.”
For the next several minutes, they blocked and traded blows across the training yard when Aurora’s blade came crashing down hard over his. While their blades were locked, Percy managed to jab her in the ribs, hard enough so he could shove her away from him. He rewarded her with a daring smirk.
“You’ve improved, I see,” she told him.
“You couldn’t expect me to come back from Dragonspire without having picked up a few tricks, now could you?”
“Now you’re just boasting. Remember, over-confidence can get you killed.”
While he caught his second wind Aurora waited, when she could have taken advantage of the situation. But where would be the fun in that? She watched him carefully from a safe distance. His short blond hair stuck to his brow, sheened with sweat whereas she barely perspired beneath her chainmail and long hair.
“Had enough?” she goaded with an energetic twirl of her sword.
He wiped the sweat from his eyes and snorted. “You wish.”
If he’d said anything less, Aurora would have been disappointed. One of the things she loved about Percy was his tenacity to see a fight through, no matter the odds. The determination reflecting behind his sea green eyes did not go unchecked. Percy was amongst the few who relished every opportunity to test his luck against her.
But his luck, it seemed, along with his strength, were wearing thin.
Aurora allowed him only a brief respite before she lunged at him again. This time with a means to finish this as she abandoned all formalities.
He confronted her forthright attack as if he’d been expecting it, resulting in a crisscross of steel. But a weakening in his stance turned against him—one she was quick to exploit. Aurora wound her sword around his and jerked up. The sudden movement disarmed him before he could register what had happened.
With the point of her sword trained below his neck, he said, between breaths, “Your father…taught you well.”
Aurora smirked and sheathed her blade. “Only fair since you snuck up on me. Your reflexes are sharper, I noticed, but then you lost the angle to your blade. Watch your stance.”
He retrieved his blade form the ground. “Sometimes I forget how light this sword actually is,” he said, giving the sword a spin. “But I’ll take that as a compliment, my lady, even if I’m half the swordsman you are. What I or anyone would give to train with your father. You’re lucky.”
Aurora frowned. “You’d come to regret saying that if you had the chance. With him it’s learn fast or fail. He was not gentle.” She winced from the memory. “But he saw it necessary I learn at a young age.”
“And I agree with him. Danger lurks everywhere. Even in places where you think you’re safe.” He offered her a consoling smile. “Well, at least no one was here to witness my disgrace. I’m sure the men would have liked nothing better than to witness their new Captain shown up by a woman.”
Both of them turned and shared a look of surprise, finding an audience. From the visible carrot-colored beard beneath the helmet, Aurora recognized Flynn, the Warden of the Elite Guard. On one shoulder sat his silver-speckled falcon, Aeris. Despite the collected stature the Warden posed, he suppressed an amused grin.
“What are you gawking at?” Percy snapped.
Flynn’s grin disappeared. “N-nothing, Captain! I didn’t see anything.”
The Warden wheeled around and left in a hurry, as if he had something more important to do. Percy glared daggers in his direction while Aurora stifled a laugh. Percy gave her a look as well that said he didn’t find anything amusing.
“You’re a good soldier, Percy,” she reassured. “Better yet, you’ll make a good Captain of the Elite Guard.”
“You think?” He sounded uncertain at first, then cleared his throat. “I mean, of course I will. I admit, it was unexpected that I took over Captain Urien’s position after he…”
His gaze dropped to the ground, and his shoulders sagged. “I wished I’d been there.”
It pained her to hear him say that, and Aurora reached out to console him. “If you had, you wouldn’t be here. The goblins wiped out their entire patrol. Urien would’ve been proud to know his son succeeded him. It’s what you’ve always wanted.”
“And the reason I went through with the training. I’m just…surprised, that’s all. I expected it to be Flynn or someone else. I…I just hope I don’t fail in my father’s place.”
“You’ll make him proud, Percy. Or should I say Captain.”
He allowed the barest of smiles to slip. Then, without warning, he brushed away a lock of golden hair from her face, his thumb pausing to graze the side of her cheek. She stiffened beneath the timid touch, and her stomach twirled. A soft green light illuminated against her skin proceeded by a tingling numbness. But when he drew his hand away, the warmth and light vanished. She touched the side of her face.
The cut was gone.
“Thank you,” she said, hoping she wasn’t blushing. “I could have done that, you know.”
Percy smiled sheepishly at her. “It’s the least I can do,” he said, and then added: “By the way, I heard Mitas is looking for you.” Now it was his turn to grin. “Wouldn’t want to keep her royal highness from her royal studies. Back to the tower with you, milady!”
Aurora scowled and clipped his ear, making him cry out. “Tease me all you want to, but I actually enjoy my lessons.”
“I’m surprised Mitas hasn’t bored you to death yet.” He snorted. “A hundred and twenty years cooped up with him would drive anyone over the brink.”
This time, he dodged her incoming hand to his ear.
“He’s not just an old, kooky hermit like everyone believes he is,” Aurora defended. “He’s the eldest amongst our people, and I believe in his wisdom…however far-fetched it might sound at times.”
Percy didn’t grace her with a reply, instead shrugging his shoulders with a deep sigh. It wasn’t the first time they’d had this argument, nor would it be the last.
“If you see him, let him know I’ll be with him shortly,” she added stiffly, putting an end to the conversation.
He crossed his arms. “Yes, princess.”
“Percy.” She narrowed her gaze. “You know I hate it when you call me that. I have a name. Use it.”
Before she could retort, he lent her a swift bow and left her standing in the training yard. As he went, his red cape billowed out behind him, trying to catch up with his long strides.
She crossed her arms in his direction and blew out a frustrated sigh. But as always, she did not stay mad at him for long. Something else distracted her thoughts.
A wind had risen, blowing her long hair into her eyes and obscuring her view of him. A low rumble off in the distance disturbed the peace settling over Silverbroke. She glanced northward through the square of stone colonnades that bordered the training yard.
There, a migration of dark clouds gathered and shrouded the northern kingdom of Rimscour in shadow. She watched it, wary. Every so often pulses of sporadic light seared the sky in half, followed closely by a low, menacing rumble. Even with miles between them, the storm looked fierce. She trembled inside.
With an audible sigh, Aurora tore her gaze away and started from the training yard, when a braying horn cut her short in her steps. She smiled with uncontained joy and hurried to meet the sound. As she ran, her chainmail jingled loudly down the side passageways as those she passed bowed after her retreating form.
Arriving at her destination, Aurora paused, out of breath, and looked out over the terrace overlooking the high-walled garden courtyard.
Another horn blast echoed down the path followed by a troupe of faeries on horseback. A line of palace soldiers formed an honor guard on both sides of the walkway and lifted their swords high in salute. At the head of the Elite Guard stood Percy. He caught her gaze and winked up at her with a look that said, I told you so.
At the troupe’s lead rode her father, King Homleck, ruler and protector of the kingdom of Edenhart, clad in the ornamental armor of the Elite Guard. The golden-feathered pauldrons and gilded crown above a head of long, silky auburn hair shimmered in the sunlight. Behind him flew the banners of the king: a phoenix needled in gold thread on a red velvet background. Its wings were opened, with the head bowed amongst its breast.
She caught her father’s gaze, but his eyes quickly averted when a guard strode forth from the ranks and took the reins of his white mare, Sassafras. Her father slipped free of the saddle, landing with graceful poise. Aurora counted the soldiers with him. Only a few saddles lay bare. Upon their return, it was clear the threat of recent goblin attacks had been dealt with.
Aurora yearned to greet him. It had been weeks since she had last seen him, but she knew he had other important matters to deal with before they would have time to talk. She’d learned long ago that matters of the kingdom always came first. She would never be first in his life.
Her smile slowly faded as she watched him walk away with his entourage into the palace. Aurora drew back from the balcony and slipped away quietly, where she retreated to the training yard.
She took up a bow and a quiver full of red-tipped arrows from one of the training racks, then lined herself up with her first target: a stuffed, makeshift dummy of a goblin.
Aurora nocked an arrow to the bow then drew the string taught. She held it steady for a moment to build the tension in her right arm but kept her sights on the target in front of her before releasing. Arrow after arrow she freed from her bow, not even caring that she missed her mark. That wasn’t the point of this exercise.
When she ran out of missiles to shoot, Aurora retrieved the arrows and took up her stance once more, fitting another shaft to the bow. Within a second’s calculation, she let the arrow slip through her fingers. A soft thud greeted her ears as it lodged itself an inch from the center. Aurora sniffed disdainfully. She had never cared much for archery, preferring a blade to a bow, but right now it made the perfect excuse to vent some anger.
Just as she made ready another arrow, Aurora jumped when something whirred past her head.
She blinked and found a stray arrow sunk into the epicenter of the red circle where the goblin’s heart would have been. Aurora whirled around to find her father standing behind her. Startled by his unexpected presence, her anger dissipated, and she wondered how long he’d been there watching her.
With calm poise, which her father so often exuded, he replaced the bow he held on the rack next to him.
“I take it the battle went well?” she asked, breaking the awkward tension that had fallen between them.
“We drove the goblins back into their mountain,” he answered. Even though he carried himself tall, his voice came out drawn and hoarse, raw from constant fighting and shouting. And his bright blue eyes, sunken and heavy with fatigue, observed her from beneath a brow strained with tired lines. From this, she gathered that he had not slept much or not at all.
“I noticed the bare saddles when you arrived,” she said.
“Our casualties were minimal compared to our enemy’s. For every faerie they felled, we killed a dozen goblins in their place,” he said.
Aurora decided now was a good time to voice one of her concerns and boldly stated, “These goblin attacks are becoming more and more frequent as of late. With every raid it seems they are reaching closer to our borders.”
“Probably a new, ambitious leader,” her father surmised without much concern. “It’s my job to put them in their place, which is why I came to see you beforehand. Scouts have discovered the source of these skirmishes. I’m going to lead the attack that will put an end to all resistance.”
Aurora blinked. “But you just got back!”
He sighed, making it clear he had been expecting her reaction. “There’s trouble near the Border Mountains. We believe their leader has taken root there.”
The way he frowned caused a sinking feeling to settle in her stomach. “What kind of trouble?”
“There have been reports of goblins amassing near the Wall. Strange, even for them, to wander so close to the northern rim.”
She knew what he referred to as the ‘Wall’ as the ‘Golden Wall’. A massive dweor fortress that’d been abandoned several thousand years ago when the dweor had been driven into the mountains by the elves. Built out of the mountain crags, the towering stone wall overlooked all who entered and left the kingdom of Rimscour. Where its parapets were once manned by thousands of dweor, it was now only kept by a handful of wary human guards. The territory was known to be thick with goblins and other monstrosities, hence why it had been built in the first place—to keep them out.
Aurora shivered inwardly just thinking about it, having grown up on its horror stories.
“Once we find and kill their Cabal, they won’t be a problem anymore—until a new leader arises,” her father continued. “And that usually takes days and sometimes even months of infighting, which is just doing us a kind favor. Just another rabble, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing for you to worry your pretty head over.”
But she did worry, and she didn’t know why.
“You have soldiers who can fight in your stead!” she protested, trying to keep the rising anger from her voice.
“Aurora,” he said, giving her a hard look. Normally, she would have wavered beneath his tone, but her own fears made it anything but reproving. She took a timid step toward him, wanting so much to reach out to him. Instead, her eyes and her voice pleaded for her.
“Please…stay. I can’t…” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “I can’t bear to see you go. It doesn’t feel right. Please, just this once let someone else go in your stead.”
She didn’t know what had come over her. She had never once gained enough courage to tell him face-to-face how she felt, how much she missed him whenever he left, or how much she feared he may never return.
Nothing changed in his expression, no tell-tale that he understood her plight. Nothing, except a growing hardness in his gaze that stilled anything else she might have said.
“Aurora, my duty is to the kingdom. I swore an oath to protect my people and defend them with my life if necessary. One day you will understand.”
Stilling her words, she suppressed the emotions boiling inside. She didn’t want to understand! What she wanted more than ever was a father. Why couldn’t he see that for once? Now, more than ever, she wanted to shout at him. She wanted to tell him that he’s never been there for her when she needed him most—that he’s never once shown any love or adoration toward her, casting her off instead and making her feel like the unwanted heir. Yet even with all these thoughts going through her head, it all boiled down to a stiff, wordless nod.
As if to counteract her angry thoughts, something in the way he looked at her shifted, and as he drew nearer, the hardness within his gaze softened to the point where it looked like he was about to cry. This baffled her, and then she slowly came to understand what that twinkle in his eyes reflected: compassion.
“I know I haven’t been much of a father to you, Aurora, and you have every reason to hate me for it. But I want you to know: everything I do, everything I’ve done, has all been for you. The training I put you through was so that if I was never around, you would be able to protect yourself. I admit, I might have been a bit harsh on you, but it was the only way I thought best. I risk my life every day to make the kingdom a safer place for you. When I die—”
“Don’t say that.” It was hard enough to keep her voice from shaking, but that? Just imagining her father dead brought tears to her eyes.
He raised a gauntleted hand for silence, and she fell quiet. Aurora wasn’t sure if she could bear what he had to say, but she wanted to know—she needed to know. So she forced herself to look him in the eyes, tears and all.
“I won’t be around forever and one day you will have to rule in my stead.” He reached up and cupped the side of her face. Aurora stiffened at the sudden contact, unable to grasp why her father was telling her this now of all times. She remained mute, which was just as well, for she didn’t think she could speak without her voice breaking. “You’re all I have in this world, Aurora. You’re more precious than any dragon-coveted gold a cave could hold. Do not think because I put the kingdom first that I don’t love my own daughter. I promised your mother I would keep you safe, and I will fulfill that promise till my dying breath.”
He closed the remaining gap between them and pressed their foreheads together in a lingering embrace. “Be strong,” he said, kissing her brow, then moved to whisper in her ear, “Hliallu.”
Aurora blinked, shocked by his proclamation of love for her. The word sounded almost foreign to her ears.
He withdrew, and the rims of his eyes were damp. Without another word, her father spun on his heel and left without a backwards glance. Aurora followed in mute despair, wishing there was something she could say or do to change his mind, especially now when she knew the truth, which made this goodbye the hardest of them all. But she knew her father. His mind was made, and she was powerless to stop him. When they arrived in the courtyard, a troop of guards awaited them on horseback.
As her father mounted Sassafras, Percy came and stood beside her. He must have sensed her discomfort, for he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. But it did little to ease the pain inside as she fought to remain composed while forced to watch her father leave all over again.
Her father turned in his saddle to face them. The tears that had rimmed his eyes before were gone, as if they had never existed, and his eyes were as hard as blue marbles.
“Captain, keep my daughter safe,” he said. Aurora caught the undertone in his voice, which hinted that it was more of a command rather than a request. But it wasn’t her safety she was concerned about.
“She’ll be in good hands, Your Majesty,” Percy replied with a slight bow. “Alonde yalla mara.”
Just as her father began to wheel Sassafras around, Aurora broke. She rushed forward and seized the reins, pleading, “Don’t go!”
Her father stared down at her, his eyes alive with mixed emotions, but he spoke nothing. Not even a simple phrase promising her he would return. Instead, he steered Sassafras around and set off down the path toward the eastern gate with a handful of his chosen men. And did not look back.
Aurora didn’t wait to watch them leave. Once the king’s banners faded from sight, she rushed inside the palace, ignoring Percy’s shouts behind her.
Soldiers and retainers bowed after her retreating form as she ran headlong through the marble hallways, which she barely acknowledged. At the end of the corridor she followed her feet carried her up a stairwell.
Chainmail rang loudly in her ears as she raced up the stairs. She dashed through the door at the top and came to an abrupt halt over a balcony. There she watched her father and his guards depart until the glint of their armor could no longer be sighted. Tears fogged her vision as she gave a silent prayer to their Creator to guide and watch over them.