Written in the Stars
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by Brenna Lyons
Description: On the world of Terra Set, where the night is twice as long as the day and the moon more powerful than the sun, live the Star Mages. Essential to supporting the crops that feed the masses, they are protected men, revered, yet still mistrusted. An ancient myth tells of a female mage born at the Silver Minute. She holds a magic that, shared with a mate, will be unequaled. Riena is that mage. A ruthless king will stop at nothing to force Riena to take his son as mate. Her life and freedom depend on one challenge--hide as a man.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: May 2010
41 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [235 KB]
Reading time: 145-203 min.
In Written in The Stars, I talk about how Riena is conceived, in general terms, but the image of the widow and widower taking solace in each other has always haunted me. It's time that Ellien was given a voice.
Ellien paused, the platter of hot food balanced on her arm.
The Great Mage Andren sat cross-legged in the field, his red robes opened to his waist, staring at the moon with a near-heartbreaking look on his beautiful face. He was of the typical slight build, his face and chest smooth and hairless. Like all Mages, he had dark eyes, pale skin and dark hair that hung loose around his shoulders. Andren's was heavily streaked with gray, though she couldn't guess if it was due to his age--impossible to surmise, given his appearance as a Mage--or the great strain he found himself under.
"What do you want, woman?" his companion barked.
She jumped, nearly overturning the tray in surprise. He moved quietly for so massive a man, as quietly as she imagined Andren's usual royal bodyguard would move.
He advanced, forcing her back another step. "I asked you a question, farmer's daughter."
"F-food," she stammered. "My father bid me bring Great Mage Andren his meal, as was agreed. You can collect the rest on the morrow...at your leisure."
"And, does your father bid you bring other comforts, as well?" He scowled, making his meaning and his disapproval clear in a single look.
Her face heated. "Nay! My father would never--"
"Would he not?" he taunted.
Even had she been willing to consider such a thing, her father would never have suggested it to her. Telan doted on her and always had; he would never have suggested something that would cause her unease.
"Does a father often push widows in mourning sashes at an unwilling mourning Mage?" she countered hotly.
A knot rose in her throat at the thought of Regald, and she blinked back tears. She would not give this oaf the satisfaction of seeing how the very thought of what he accused could wound her. To him, she was a farmer's daughter, a scheming vixen in search of a Mage's seed.
"Let her through, Elden."
Ellien snapped her gaze to the Great Mage then bowed her head reverently.
"Bring the tray," he continued.
The companion backed off a pace, and Ellien rounded him, lowering the tray to the ground within Andren's reach. She started to rise.
"Stay a while," he requested, waving his companion away.
"I would not presume to impose myself upon your grief," Ellien whispered in response.
"I should..." He sighed. "I should like to speak with another who suffers."
She nodded, settling to the ground. "If it pleases you."
Andren shook his head, his jaw tightening. "I fear nothing pleases me now."
"Were you... Apologies, Great One. It was an impertinent question and one I have no right to pose."
"Soulbound?" He looked back to the moon. "Yes. We were."
Ellien considered her response carefully. Offering her sympathies that he'd soulbound would offend him. A Star Mage's happiest memories were those of his soulbound years and the act of meeting the Grand Rebirth of Mother Moon to bind. Yet, losing the other half of your soul was excruciating, something unable to be borne for long. "I understand," she whispered.
He stared at her, his expression unreadable.
"I do not," she conceded. "How could I?" Losing Regald didn't mean she'd follow him to death, though she'd mused it might be easier than the pain of his loss more than once in the last ten moon cycles.
A touch of a smile softened his face. "Then you are wiser than most, with their empty words and false smiles."
"That is nearly the worst of it," she agreed. It almost seemed a happier thing for Andren to travel, isolated this way, than to face the likes of it.
"Yes. It is."
There was a moment of silence between them, though not an uncomfortable one. Andren took a slice of roast from the tray and chewed on it.
The movement uncovered more of his chest to the strength of the moon's radiance at a simple night of rebirth. Ellien wondered at that. She'd met lesser Star Mages before. Unless they were channeling their magic into the plants and soil, they typically covered most of their skin to a strong moon such as this. The alternative, she'd been told, was very uncomfortable.
Andren met her eyes, and she looked away. It wouldn't do to appear rude.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Of?" he prodded after a moment of awaiting more.
"Bentin. My husband was Regald of Bentin."
"The Bentin are fine farmers," he noted simply.
"Yes. He was." Regald had also been a doting husband and a fine father, but Ellien didn't want to hear reminders of it from someone who couldn't know it...or even someone who could. She'd heard too much of it, empty words, meaningless platitudes.
Another silence fell, and Andren partook of fruit and ale.
"Suson was my mate." He said it simply, without embellishment or show of emotion.
Ellien nodded, at a loss to comment. She had no clue what family the woman might have hailed from. Even had she, the affairs of noble families had never been of interest to her. And, it was unlikely that Andren wanted to hear compliments. If she didn't, it only stood to reason that he would feel similarly about the subject.
"She has been gone more than a season."
"So long?" Ellien managed in shock. How could he survive so long with his soul ripped in two?
Andren nodded, setting down his cup of ale. "And yours?" His inquiry was polite, but she sensed that he sought something in it.
"Ten moon cycles and four nights."
He panned his eyes from her face to the white sash of mourning at her waist. "Yet, your father has not shaken you from grief? He is a rare man to allow you so long in your pain."
Ellien managed a strained smile. "I think he means to keep me close in his waning years, and I know he sees my son as an asset he would have for his land and not another's."
"You have a son."
"Rosher," she supplied. "He is eleven years."
"Have you any others?"
"No. The Mother never blessed us again." She studied his wistful smile. "And you?" she asked bluntly. "Did The Mother bless you and your Suson?"
"Repeatedly. I have two sons and two daughters. All are grown or nearly so."
What could she say to that? It was wonderful and yet tragic. The only blessing was that he'd seen them grow. The need to laugh warred with the tears stinging her eyes, and her face felt pulled into one expression after another.
"You do understand." His voice held a note of relief. "I have long prayed for someone who would."
Ellien swallowed a lump in her throat. "If it gives you ease, I thank The Mother that I can."
"Even though it is your pain that allows it?"
"Is it better to feel pain alone or shared? Your prayers indicate that you agree shared is better."
"You are very wise, Ellien of Bentin."
"If I am, I have simply learned life's lessons well."
"Thus grows most wisdom."
"Yes. Most probably. Such a pity that it seems the only way." She looked to the moon, marveling at the beauty and power of The Mother.
"What are you thinking, Ellien?"
She met his eyes, her gaze trailing to his bare chest from there. "How is it that you can soak up Mother Moon's radiance this way, when She is so strong? Is it because you are a Great Mage?" Ellien blushed, abruptly aware that she sounded like a curious child or the uneducated farmer's daughter she undeniably was.
He chuckled. "Even I am not that strong. Even Evard is not."
She winced at the near-sacrilege of saying such a thing about the king but held her tongue. No doubt, Andren knew King Evard well; they were cousins of a sort, after all.
"I am channeling the magic slowly into your father's lands."
"But, why... This--this is a tremendous strain, and..."
"And? The strain is not so much. It gives me purpose for the time The Mother grants me here. Why should I not do it?"
"There was no payment," she protested.
"I have no need of money."
"Yes. I suppose that is true. You did request much less for your service than even a Mason Mage would have." Considering the fact that he was on a mourning pilgrimage, that wasn't surprising. "But, it is too much gift to--"
"Consider your company as equal trade. It means more to me than the outlay of power."
Ellien looked to the moon again, her emotions rioting at the thought that anyone would think a bit of conversation as precious as what several bags of gold would not typically buy. "Then I thank you. This will mean a lot to my father and brother."
"What would mean a lot to you, Ellien?"
She sighed. "Nothing you can give, I fear, just as nothing I can give would bring you true joy."
"There are always memories," he continued, heedless of her dismissal. "There are always shades of what once made us happy."
Ellien considered that. "Some nights, happy memories are all that make life worth another day."
Andren moved to her side. "Indeed, they do. Tell me your most precious memory, Ellien. I have coin enough to make it again."
Her cheeks darkened. "It is not a matter that gold can make, though I thank you for your concern."
He turned her face toward him; her skin tingled in the glow of his magic.
"Tell me," he requested.
It sounded as if his very existence into the moonset depended on an answer, and so she gave him one. "Regald set aside a portion of his land for me. He... It was ridiculous, something no farmer would do. His father was livid."
"Tell me." His eyes pleaded with her to continue.
"He planted a bed of flowers for me, seasonals so there would always be color and sweet smells for me, even if I had to brush away the early snows to find them."
Andren smiled. "That is all?"
Her cheeks burned fiercely in the memory of how Regald used those flowers to bring her pleasure.
"I see," he whispered.
Ellien didn't doubt that he did. And, he no doubt also sees why he can never make the memory for me again. Her heart ached in the loss of the promise, though she'd always known it was impossible.
The scent of flowers teased her first. Soft petals appeared around her without sprouting and growing first. The numb realization that he was transforming the winter crops around them to a field of flowers shook her when it settled fully in her mind.
Andren was incredibly powerful. Few Mages could transform the essence of one plant to that of another, let alone countless others as a field of flowers demanded of him.
They thickened, strengthened, their scent intensifying. The net of their roots spread, and new blooms appeared between the rows, creating a solid mat of silken blooms. Ellien gasped as they shifted her, lifting her from the dirt, the work of a hundred hands and more making light the task. And still, they grew.
Andren's eyes reflected a hunger, a want that Ellien thought she'd never see in a man's eyes again. Without a thought, she touched his chest, pushing his robes from his shoulders.
His mouth covered hers, the kiss of a man who needs desperately. She didn't deny him. How could she, when they could offer each other such comfort?
It is a fleeting thing, the joining of bodies for but a night.
Ellien didn't delude herself that it could be more than that. Andren had been soulbound to Suson. His heart and soul belonged to another, but his body and battered mind demanded what ease she could provide.
There were no questions between them, no rationalization of what they were doing. Andren untied her mourning sash and pushed up at her dress, following her down onto the thick quilt of fragrant flowers.
Her dress retreated further, and his body pressed to hers, smooth skin brushing her flesh. His hands left her for a moment then returned, waking her to the pleasures she'd all but forgotten existed between a man and woman.
The head of his cock pressed to her seam, and she rose to meet him.
"Andren, please," she begged.
He was inside her in one fierce thrust. She cried out at the sensation of his magic massaging her inner muscles, sensitizing her to his touch. It was a wonderful gift, and she wanted more.
Ellien wrapped her arms and legs around him, urging him on toward climax, meeting his thrusts. He groaned as climax took her, following moments later. His heat buffeted the magic-soaked walls of her sheath, making her weak in continuing waves of release. Sparks of his magic surrounded her and filled her.
It was unlike anything she'd experienced with Regald. That fact alone expunged the slight sense of guilt at taking Andren in his place in such a way.
In the aftermath, the flowers' scent seemed to intensify, a heady fragrance that made her head swim.
Andren traced the line of her lower lip with his sensitive fingertips. "You give me such ease," he whispered.
"I regret only that it cannot last," she countered. "Just as these flowers cannot."
His brow furrowed. "Why should they not?"
"My father is a practical man, a rational man with an eye to his accounts. He will reclaim this ground, just as Regald's father reclaimed that which my husband planted and tended for me." That simply, her sadness returned.
A look of determination settled on his fine features. "He will never reclaim this land."
"Andren?" She winced then reasoned that they'd known such intimacy as to make familiar address expected.
Still, what could he be thinking? Telan of Gerin would never sell this land to the Great Mage as a gift to her, at any price, not even to see Ellien happy.
"Give me ease once more, Ellien. Give me ease, and I will weave a magic your father will never break. Not with a hundred rebirths and a thousand Star Mages will he undo it."
The concept stunned her to silence.
"Will you give me ease once more?"
She nodded shakily. "I will, Andren. I will give you ease." And ease us both in the bargain.
Ellien looked at the setting moon, laughing aloud, tears misting her eyes. The scent of her flowers washed over her, even from a distance, and she said a silent thanks to Andren yet again. She added one to The Mother hurriedly, not wanting to insult the kind benefactress so.
True to Andren's vow, the magic could not be undone. The flowers endured all, rising renewed at every moonrise, despite her father's attempts to reclaim the land. In the end, after more than a moon cycle of trying to destroy them, Telan had grudgingly conceded that the increased production of the other fields more than made up for the loss of the one.
She picked up her mourning sash, biting back a new peel of mirth. How could she wear such a thing, when all was so very right in her world? When there was such joy in her heart?
Determined, she marched to the kitchen with it in her hand. It was time for a change. "Long past time."
Belin didn't look up when she entered the room. Her younger brother by three years was busy building up the fire as she would have done more than an hour earlier on any normal morning. This was not a normal morning. Even their father must have felt something of the difference and as such had ordered Belin not to wake her to her chores.
"You slept late," Belin noted, his voice cold and clipped.
"I did." She answered in kind.
"I sent Rosher to his chores."
"My thanks for it." He'd no doubt done it without allowing her son food in punishment, but she would right that soon enough.
Telan looked up from his accounts, assessing her. "Are you well, Ellien? You look pale, and it is unlike you to miss the start of day."
"Quite well, Father." She was. Despite her discomfort, she felt she could fly to Mother Moon.
Ellien didn't hesitate. She reached around Belin's shoulder and threw her mourning sash into the red-orange flames of the new fire, watching them lick up its length and burn white-hot for a long moment.
Belin turned abruptly, his look calculating. She could nearly follow his thoughts through the expense of hiring a woman to do her work if she left them again, weighed against the loathsome-to-him option of marrying and bringing a wife home to do what they would otherwise have to hire out for.
Her father's voice broke the moment between them...and added to the tension in the room at the same time. "You have decided to take another husband?" he inquired.
"I have not. I believe I will never do that," she assured him, smiling in her unbridled joy.
"Then what?" He watched her warily.
Ellien's smile spread in spite of the near threat of violence in the air around her. "I carry a child."
Belin muttered a series of curses.
Telan took to his feet, his jaw tight in fury. "What man fathered it?"
"You need not fear a claim on your land, Father. Great Mage Andren is the sire."
His anger melted into shock then to a look of calculation that rivaled Belin's. His thoughts were no harder to gauge. The prospect of a young Star Mage, in service to Telan and his lands until the age of adulthood, was quite the prize, especially when it was the child of one as powerful as Andren. Such a thing was beyond comprehension, impossible to lay a price to. And the fact that she meant not to marry again indicated that the child would be Telan's to order.
Her father's expression settled on one she'd seen often, the pride he'd always had for her. "Well met, Ellien."
She darkened at the inference that she'd planned this, as Andren's companion had once accused she would, as many farmer's daughters conspired to win heirs of Star Mages. Ellien straightened, raising her chin in challenge. "Believe what you will of me."
Telan crossed the room, taking Ellien's hands in his own and guiding her to the table. "Belin, fetch milk and bread. No doubt, your sister's pallor may be attributed to the complaints of the Great Mage's son."
Belin grumbled complaints, but he complied, plunking the mug of milk down before her so that it sloshed over onto her sleeve. She didn't need to hear his words to guess that her brother envisioned himself a slave sold into the service of a young Mage already.
"Now," Telan continued. "All due care will be taken with this child, of course."
"Of course," Belin mimicked. "I suppose the boy and I will be drawing water and lifting--"
Ellien jumped, her heart pounding. Their father rarely raised his voice. In truth, he rarely had to; no one tested him needlessly.
Telan handed Ellien a slab of bread left from the evening meal, patting her hand to calm her. "The flowers?" he hinted.
She cleared her throat, looking away from Belin's scowl. "A gift to me. Our child was conceived amidst them."
He chuckled then laughed outright, long and hard. "I see. You must choose a proper name for one of House An...for the Great Mage's son...Andle or Angen."
"Anden." Ellien pressed a hand to her womb. She'd thought hard on the matter in the half moon cycle she'd waited for positive signs that her body was not simply off cycle. "Or Riena, for a girl." She'd always loved the name; she had intended to name her daughter Riena, had The Mother blessed her and Regald with one.
Belin snorted rudely. "You would produce a female, just to spite me," he accused.
Telan sighed. "If The Mother chooses to bless Ellien with a female, it is Her wish to do so. She will still be the daughter of a Great Mage and more likely to produce young Mages when she takes a husband."
Ellien let them plot. It mattered not what they thought about her child. Andren had given her the greatest gift imaginable--not her flowers but hope and purpose as she hadn't felt since Regald's passing. He'd given her ease that would last past the moment, though she was incapable of doing the same for him.
* * * *