“Primal forest, dim light and the muscular grace of a large predator sliding through the undergrowth. Mika twitched, caught up in her dream. Gnats swarmed above the moss coated pools. The crashing of beasts in the distance and the humming of bees. She threaded her way through, blinking in the green light.”
Fifteen year old Mika is to be married to a foreign boy she has only met once, despite her family mourning the recent disappearance of her twin brother, Kaylan. Forced to live in a strange land, far from her home in Cassai, she is resigned to her life as a lady until the day she discovers her new family dead around her. Mika escapes the city and disguises herself to travel to Ackbarr, certain she will discover the real reason for her brother’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, her dreams are filled with a predator stalking the forests of her homeland. Dreams that leave her trembling with the taste of blood.
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She only had the deep night to herself. Alma slept in the room with her, bouncing with good intentions. Mika was often so tired she fell asleep immediately on hitting the pillow, cutting Alma off in mid sentence. Despite that, her dreams were disturbed, those she could remember. Dreams of pacing through undergrowth, looking for something, her head swinging from side to side. The woods around her were full of life, everything in motion. All to be noted and filed, every sound, every rustle. She found herself looking forwards to sleeping, the only escape she had from being squeezed into the mould of bride and lady.
The wedding day came too soon for Mika. Tense with nerves, she woke early for once and tiptoed out of the room. Alma was breathing lightly, curled into a ball on her bed next to the wall. Mika slipped into the garden before the servants saw her, enjoying the respite. The sun had risen, the dew fresh on the grass, the wind rippling through the trees beyond. She was light headed, not believing this would be her last day here.
She’d dressed without thinking, slid into her old clothes, a tunic and trousers left over from her brother. They’d been stuffed into a pile under her bed, dusty from the weeks of not wearing them. She stretched her legs and revelled in the freedom to walk properly, not having to worry about how her dresses were draped and having them catch her stride. Her boots became damp from the dew as she walked to her favourite spot, a bench close to the wall and she sat, enjoying the coolness. The sun’s light warmed the red tiles of the house. The cook house’s fire had just been lit, dark smoke hung in the air, misting the deeper green of the broad leafed forest behind. A sigh escaped her, the smell of grass, the calls and distant laughter of the guards changing over. Home. Secure in the garden her mother tended, coaxing the plants to do their best in the poor soil. Flowervines clambered and humped over the trellis fencing between the paths, a tiny stream sparkled around carefully placed boulders, the cream walls of the house and small deep windows. Tears prickled her eyes at the thought of leaving.
Leaning against the wall, she wondered what would happen if she climbed the wall and ran away. The idea tugged at her. It would be easy, the wall wasn’t high. Leave this whole business behind, live as she wanted to. The idea expanded, filling the whole of her, becoming a longing, a desperation. To stride through the woods, like in her dreams, a tingling passed over her skin and she shivered.
The tugging ceased as she heard her mother call and the scent of the flowervines filled her nostrils. Her mother was looking for her. She stayed quiet. The consequences of running? Whilst she was headstrong, she wasn’t stupid. She didn’t know enough about surviving out there. She’d be found and brought back in disgrace. Whether she would marry after that, she didn’t know, but there would be punishment.
Mika sighed again and stood, she had to go through with this, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. He was good looking in his own foreign way, maybe they could learn to love one another or at least respect each other. Her mother saw her coming out and she realised from the unguarded expression on her face that similar thoughts had been running through her mother’s head.
Expecting a scolding for being in her old clothes, she was surprised to receive a hug and have fingers run through her hair. “I will remember you like this. Do not forget yourself.” Mika found the concept ominous considering she was expected to marry out and be someone she wasn’t.
The Lion of Ackbarr is a brand new shape-shifter fantasy by Erme Lander. Check out this first installment in The Medici Chronicles on Amazon now!