Monday, August 25, 2014


97,000 words
YA Fantasy Romance

Ailsa pushed a low-hanging branch out of her way and emerged onto the wider trail. She reined Pearl to a stop and looked around the forest as she hadn't had the opportunity to earlier. There were too many dead and dying trees in these woods. This was very nearly the heart of Far Terra. If the magic was failing even here, how much worse would it be on the fringes, nearer the surrounding desert? Without more mages--and soon--Far Terra would die. She prayed silently that she would prove to have useful magic when she was tested.

Ailsa's hands clenched on the reins at the sound of voices behind her. She wasn't far enough ahead of the others, yet. She would have enjoyed a farewell ride with her friends before she left Far Terra to go to the Institute of Magical Arts, but the other girls who'd decided to join them set her teeth on edge. They didn't seem to care about the ride or the forest. All they wanted to do was either to flirt with the princes, Savyon and Cergio, or make snide comments about Ailsa--as if she wasn't even there.

She didn't need them to remind her that no one was going to flirt with Ailsa, even if she tried. Ailsa had grown up knowing that what was expected of her was to go unnoticed as much as possible. Don't stand out. Don't answer back. Don't make herself a target. It used to be easier, before her few friends got interested girls. The girls never seemed to understand the young men's friendship with a social pariah. Things would be different if her father hadn't been forced to abdicate the throne in favor of Sav's father.

Ailsa didn't want to spend another moment in their company. The trail ahead was clear and wide. The others were sure to catch up to her, but there was a side trail not far ahead. Narrower and more difficult. The girls certainly wouldn't attempt it. And she wanted to let Pearl run, anyway. Ailsa turned her heels in to Pearl's sides to urge her forward again.

"Ailsa, wait," Sav called from behind her.

Ailsa paused for just a moment, turning back to look at him. He'd obviously pushed ahead to catch up with her, but the others weren't far behind him. She grinned, deciding to throw out a challenge she knew he couldn't refuse. "There's an old oak farther on, about a quarter mile. Race you there!" She leaned forward and dug her heels into Pearl's sides.

Sav's big, leggy black caught up to her and then passed her. Ailsa's lips thinned. She wasn't going to be second-best. Not today. She'd already eaten as much humility as she could stomach. At the last moment, she jerked the reins to the side and guided Pearl onto the narrower track, which also cut off a sweeping bend in the main trail. It wasn't cheating. She'd only specified the destination, not the path.

Pearl slowed. Ailsa sat up in the saddle to look ahead. Three fallen logs lay across this less-used trail, with no room for a horse to take a full stride between them. The undergrowth was too dense to allow any chance of going around them. She had two choices, go back and end up not only losing to Sav, but giving the others a chance to catch up to her, too. Or go on, over those logs. Pearl could jump any one of them easily. Three together with barely room for the mare to gather herself for the next jump was risky. Pearl could do it, if any horse could. And she'd still have a chance of beating Sav.

Ailsa bent low over the withers of her horse and urged her forward. Pearl lifted off, easily clearing the first log, landing, and lifting off again. It felt like flying. Ailsa laughed as the wind of Pearl's speed whipped her hair into her face. They broke out onto the main trail again only a couple of lengths ahead of Sav.

This time they were going to do it. This time they were going to win. Ailsa turned her head to look over her shoulder. Sav's long-legged black was gaining on them, but everyone else was lost in the dust, too far behind to have a prayer of catching up.

She wasn't going to come in second. Not this time. A tiny whirlwind of fallen leaves would distract his horse and slow Sav down. She was tempted, but using magic really would be cheating. And that would take the luster off the win. Instead she leaned forward to whisper encouragement into Pearl's ear. "Go, girl. You can do it." The mare put on a burst of speed. Ailsa whooped and raised her arms in triumph as they passed the oak tree that marked the finish line.

She jumped down and hugged Pearl's neck, then grabbed a cloth from her saddlebags and began wiping her down. "You're wonderful. You're the best horse ever."

Sav pulled his black stallion up beside her and dismounted.

Ailsa paused her rub down of Pearl to turn to him. "I told you she could beat your black, didn't I? She's faster than she looks."

Savyon patted Pearl's shoulder. "No. She just runs her heart out for you. It's not the same thing." His eyes glowed oddly as he met Ailsa's. "It's a gift. To be able to inspire that kind of loyalty. She runs beyond her abilities for you."

Ailsa blushed and concentrated on wiping the sweat off Pearl's gleaming coat. If he was about to accuse her of using magic to win the race--when she'd specifically restrained herself, too--she'd . . . she'd hit him, prince or not.

Sav looked back down the forest path to a narrow place where the others were bottled up behind Cergio, who had somehow gotten his bay gelding turned sideways on the trail. He swallowed and grabbed Ailsa's hand. "Ailsa, I . . . I . . ."

Why was Sav stammering? He'd never been shy with her before. They'd known each other practically since she could walk, after all. And even if she did occasionally get a little irritated with him, she would never really hit him. She looked up into his eyes. "What is it, Sav?"

With a shout, Ailsa's cousin, Perion, slipped around Cergio's horse's flank and raced towards them. The girls followed at a slower pace, chatting with Cergio.

Sav grimaced and drew a deep breath. "You will be coming to the ball tonight, won't you?"

Ailsa smiled. "Yes, of course. It'll be my last chance before I go south to school. I doubt I'll get invited to very many parties there. Anyway, I'll be there to study, not socialize."

He squeezed her hand. "Promise me a dance?"

Ailsa smiled. "As many as you like, Sav. As always." She turned back to Pearl to hide her face. Who else am I going to dance with? Perion? Aunt Izbel will prod him to ask me once or twice, but I know he'd rather be dancing with Delea. And Cergio will be on his next romantic campaign. He won't have time for me.

"I'll see you there, then," Sav said and released her hand just as the others rode up.


Savyon patted his horse on its shoulder as he turned it over to the groom. Turning away, he kicked at pebbles in the gravel walk between the stable and the palace. Why did he have to get tongue-tied? Why couldn't he be as good at this as his younger brother? Cergio never seemed to have any trouble talking to girls. Quite the reverse.

Cergio fell into step beside him. "So? Did you ask her?"

Savyon scowled at his brother. "No. You let the others get through too soon. I didn't have time."

One of Cergio's eyebrows quirked up. "How much time does it take? It's a simple yes-or-no question, isn't it?"

"You can't just blurt out a question like that without a little . . . preparation," Savyon answered stiffly.

Cergio snorted. "No, you mean you can't. If you'd've been doing this right, the proposal shouldn't come as a complete surprise to her."

Savyon's ears turned pink. Cergio's idea of the right way to court a girl just wasn't something he could see himself doing. Still . . . he probably could have found some way to show his feelings--if he hadn't been so afraid of making things awkward between them and losing Ailsa as a friend.

Cergio choked back a laugh. "Oh, no. You've still been going on as if you're just childhood friends, haven't you? Have you even tried to kiss her?"

Savyon paused as they neared the side door of the sprawling palace. "Of course not. Not before we're formally betrothed."

Cergio rolled his eyes heavenward. "We're not living in the time before the Empire, Sav! You're going to give the poor girl a heart attack if you just spring a proposal on her out of the blue."

"That's what I said. I can't just blurt it out," Savyon said.

"If you'd been showing her how you feel these last few months--say, since she came of marriageable age at her last birthday--you wouldn't have been blurting it out." Cergio sighed, black hair bouncing as he shook his head. "Never mind. It's too late to do anything about that now. You planning to ask her at the ball tonight?"

"Yes. If I can get her alone long enough."

"Well, there's that patio down at the end of the garden. It's a good place to go look at the stars. For the rest, you're on your own." Cergio opened the door and stalked off down the corridor.

"But how do I get her to the end of the garden when the ball will be in the grand hall?" Savyon yelled after his brother. Cergio would likely know how to do it gracefully. He liked to have half the barons' daughters trying to flirt with him. That kind of attention only made Savyon want to turn and bolt into the library. Not that that was a viable alternative for a prince.

"You'll figure it out." Cergio called back cheerfully. "Or not. It'll be fun to watch, either way."


  1. I really enjoyed the world building here, and I love dual POVs. I felt like my connection really picked up with the race scene, with nice drops of information without it being too much. I did wonder why she thought no one would flirt with her, and I thought Sav's voice was the stronger of the two. I would definitely keep reading!

  2. I enjoyed the dual POV also. Really adds dimension to the relationship.

    Small comment on the opening: If the dead and dying trees in the heart of a forest are such a great danger to the realm, I would have liked to get a more visceral view of them. Especially if the story will hearken back to this underlying problem later.

  3. Hmm, I foresee something unexpected happening at the ball and thwarting Sav's plans. I also like the dual POV; it gives the relationship more depth. I felt more connection with Sav than Ailsa, but I think this is because Ailsa's POV is mostly description and Sav's is mostly dialogue/character interaction. I felt like the scene where Sav is trying to ask her goes by a little too quickly. Maybe build up to this more? Like showing how nervous he is before he grabs her hand and starts talking.

    Good luck!


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