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COVER REVEAL FIRST LOOK:
Castles of the Eyrie Book Two
(added Mar 27, 2022)
A note from Evie: I am in love with my cover artist's interpretation of Rangar Barendur. He captured his vulnerability and his roughness perfectly!
THE MAP OF THE EYRIE KINGDOMS
(added Feb 12, 2022)
THE MISSING KNIFE (added Feb 6, 2022)
The place Bryn loved most in Barendur Hold wasn’t technically a place at all; it was a former place. She had discovered it one day while exploring the castle; Rangar had left that morning for a training exercise with the Baer army, leaving her to her own devices. After climbing the winding tower stairs to the castle’s flat stone roof where Mage Marna had first carved hexmarks into her skin, she had discovered an old, dilapidated wooden shed once used for homing pigeons. The roof had mostly caved in, and it was clear from the windswept piles of dirt that no one had set foot here for many years. But once Bryn had swept it out and thrown open the wire-cage windows, she found that the pigeon shed had the most beautiful view in the entire kingdom. It was perched at the corner of the castle’s roof, looking down over the sea cliffs and the distant, uninhabitable rocky islands out at sea.
Here was a place she could have total privacy. As much as she’d come to love life in the Baersladen, theirs was a very communal existence. Even the royal family slept on the floor of the Great Hall with the commoners and livestock. The Baer people had few personal possessions, preferring to share tools and even clothing. But Bryn had grown up used to having her own room and her own belongings. While she saw the value of a more cooperative system, sometimes she craved a space of her own.
She dug a maiden rose out of her pocket and hung it in the dilapidated rafters to dry and then set a silver comb and a wooden cup Rangar had given her on a makeshift shelf.
All my worldly belongings.
It was a scant treasury for a princess, but Bryn didn’t mind. It was hers.
Footsteps sounded outside the pigeon shed, and in the next instant, the creaky old door swung open on its broken hinges. A familiar, scarred face looked in. “There you are.”
“Rangar!” She pressed a hand to her chest. “You startled me. I thought I was alone up here. Didn’t you go to the forest this morning with the army?”
“I was summoned back early,” he said, eyes searching over the abandoned pigeon shed that she’d cleaned of dust and cobwebs. “My father had business to discuss. I thought I’d find you to see if you wanted to join me for the midday meal in the Great Hall. I’ve been looking for you for the better part of an hour.” His mouth hitched in a teasing grin. “I didn’t expect to find you hanging out with the birds.”
She folded her arms tightly. “The pigeons are long gone.”
He ran his hand over the makeshift shelf with her few meager belongings. “I remember this place from my childhood. The head mage then used homing pigeons to communicate with some of the more remote villages in the Baersladen. I used to come up here and feed them table scraps after breakfast. It was my first chore; I was four years old.” His hand stopped at the end of the shelf where the window began. The waves beyond were hypnotic in their crashing rhythm.
Bryn went to stand beside him, enjoying the quiet moment of seclusion with him. “I didn’t think anyone would mind if I put some of my things here. I’m not quite used to the Baer way of sharing everything.”
“Your secret is safe with me.” But he frowned as he looked over her belongings. “Where is the knife?”
Her eyebrows rose. She knew exactly which knife he was talking about but decided to feign innocence. “What knife?”
“The knife I gave you when we fled Castle Mir. At the river.” His eyes hardened. “When you thought I was a knave who was going to assail your honor.”
Rangar had actually given her two knives. One had been a small dagger with hexmarks carved into the hilt that she’d lost when the castle had gone up in flames. The second knife she’d managed to hang onto until they’d reached Barendur Hold, where she’d left it with her clothes while soaking in a hot bath, and the bathhouse servants had taken it away.
She flushed as she admitted, “I lost it.”
After the bath, she had found the servants and attempted to ask about the knife, but she hadn’t spoken Baer at the time, and they hadn’t understood her hand gestures. She’d mostly forgotten about it since then and hadn’t asked about it again; the Baersladen felt so safe that she hadn’t worried about protecting herself. Not when Rangar practically made it his career to watch over her.
She expected him to admonish her for losing yet another knife, but he only frowned in concern and said, “You should keep a knife on you, Bryn. We still don’t know what Captain Carr might be planning or what spies he might have sent after you.”
She leaned against the open window. “You’re right, but it wouldn’t do any good. I don’t know how to use a knife for anything besides buttering toast.”
“I’ll teach you.” His voice lowered as he took her hand. He gently stroked a finger down her open palm. “I’ll teach you how to fit the hilt into your palm for the best hold.” He turned her hand over and folded each of her fingers inward one by one. “I’ll show you how to adjust your grip.” He moved behind her, his chest flush with her back, as he guided her hand in a jabbing motion. “I’ll show you where to stab a man.”
Bryn felt her skin warm at his proximity. His breath brushed her neck whenever he spoke. His body against hers was all sharp contrasts: he was nothing but rigid muscle, and she soft and graceful.
When he released her hand, she wished he hadn’t.
“I’ll try to find the knife,” she said. “Now that I can speak Baer, I’ll ask around.” It had been a unique knife. The hilt was set with alternating iron and wooden bands—anyone who saw it would immediately identify it as Rangar’s knife. Bryn was surprised it hadn’t already turned up and been returned to her or Rangar directly. It had to be somewhere in the castle. Something about the situation made her a little nervous; was there a chance someone had found it and kept it for themselves? That wasn’t the Baer way, but anything was possible. If they had, why?
“I’ll get you a new one,” Rangar said. “Your own knife.” He took her hand, pulling her closer with a devilish look in his eye. “And I’ll enjoy teaching you how to use it. As long as you promise not to use it on me.”
She smirked as she let herself melt into his arms. “No promises. I’m still debating if you’re a knave or not.”
“Maybe I am,” he said, lowering his lips to hers. “And maybe you like that.”
His kiss started softly but soon turned more passionate. For once, they had complete privacy in the rooftop space, with only the ocean as a witness. Bryn tried to let her worries melt away as their lips devoured one another.
The knife will turn up, she reassured herself, though worry still snagged like a thorn in her gut. And hopefully not in an enemy’s hand.
BRYN & RANGAR (added Jan 18, 2022)
by artist dibyoshree
A MIDWINTER SCARLIGHT SCENE (added Dec 6, 2021)
ONE YEAR AGO
Castle Mir’s ballroom was decorated with pine garlands and countless golden ornaments to honor the saints. It was the most beautiful midwinter feast that Bryn could remember. Her mother, the Queen, had truly outdone herself to impress their visitors from Wollin and Dresel.
“Are you pleased to see your betrothed again tonight?” Bryn asked her sister. Elysander had been betrothed from birth to a duke from Dresel and had only met the man a handful of times. He was Elysander’s same age and, while not a large or imposing man, had appealing brown eyes. Bryn had never heard Elysander speak an ill word against her betrothed—a paragon of a dutiful daughter. Bryn teased, “Will tonight be the night you let him do more than hold your hand?”
Elysander rolled her eyes and then elbowed Bryn in the side. “You know that mother is looking for a husband for you tonight, too, don’t you? So, it might not be that long before you’re letting a man do more than hold your hand.”
Bryn’s jaw fell open before she could pretend not to be flustered. “I won’t be sixteen until next year.”
“Sixteen is when you should become engaged,” Elysander explained. “Naturally, Mother will be scouring the kingdoms for husband possibilities long before that. Why do you think she’s gone to such expense to decorate the castle and invite all the unwed royal men from Wollin and Dresel?”
It sullied Bryn’s mood to think of herself as a pawn in her mother’s games. It was her duty to marry someone for a political alliance, yes, but it didn’t mean she had to like it.
Most of their guests had arrived some hours ago and were already thick into the festivities. Midwinter feast wasn’t as formal as other annual gatherings; food was laid out on tables, and attendees were free to grab whatever they liked; no fine china plates or silverware on this night. Musicians were playing a lovely velta for the dancing couples in the center of the ballroom.
Her father ascended to the dais that held his and his wife’s thrones. He waved a hand toward the musicians, silencing them. Almost immediately, the room fell obediently quiet.
“Where are my children? Mars, Elysander, Bryn, come join me.”
Bryn was surprised to be included—her father usually only involved Mars in formal affairs and Elysander occasionally. Never her.
She and Elysander exchanged a look and made their way through the crowd to the dais. Mars joined them there, cheeks red—he’d been dancing with a girl from Wollin.
Their father announced, “Our visitors from the distant kingdoms would like to present the entire Liren family with a midwinter present.” He signaled to a Wollin prince, who joined them on stage.
“We are honored by your generous welcome to your kingdom,” the prince said. “In return, our hunters have scoured the woods at the border between the Mirien and Wollin and exterminated the beasts responsible for so much missing livestock.”
The prince motioned to the ballroom doors. They were flung open, and a dozen servants came in, dressed in Wollin reds, carrying pelt after pelt. Beautiful gray fur stacked high. There had to be dozens of pelts.
“One hundred wolf pelts,” the Wollin prince declared.
The audience erupted in applause at the extraordinary gift. Bryn’s father, the king, looked pleased, but Bryn only felt sick. She pressed a hand on her side, knowing the scars hidden beneath her dress.
So many wolves.
Nine years ago, she’d been attacked by wolves and would have lost her life if Rangar Barendur of the Baersladen hadn’t saved her. She had been no fan of wolves ever since that day, but even so, it turned her stomach to see so many pelts. She knew for a fact that wolves were not responsible for the missing livestock—she’d overheard her brother speaking of human poachers from Wollin. So these wolves had been slaughtered for sport. Or worse, to cover human crimes.
“Excuse me.” She stumbled down from the dais, feeling ill. Anger flashed in her father’s eyes, but she ignored him. Instead, she pushed her way through the crowd, trying not to think about one hundred slaughtered wolf carcasses, and went out into the cool night air on the balcony overlooking the remembrance garden.
She breathed in winter air until her hair cleared. Overhead, the night was clear and moonless. The Winter Star shone on the southern horizon brighter than she had ever seen it before.
Does Rangar Barendur see this same star?
She hadn’t seen the youngest Baer prince since that night nine years ago when they were both just children. The entire Barendur family was forbidden from setting foot in the Mirien after claiming that Bryn belonged to them.
She shivered, wondering if he still believed that.
How old would Rangar be now? Nearly Mars’s age. Practically a man. She found herself running her hand along the soft lace at her dress’s collar, thinking of the prince. Wolves had scarred his face, surely destroying his beauty, but she still found herself immensely curious to know what Rangar looked like now. What would he have thought of the slaughtered wolves? He had only slain the wolves in self-defense, never as a gift.
Far away, beyond forests and mountains, Rangar Barendur listened to the distant music of the festivities within Barendur Hold’s Great Hall. He had spent the evening drinking with his brothers and feasting and dancing with any Baer girl who asked. But at some point, it had gotten too much. He’d grown weary of the merriment and stepped outside into the Hold’s courtyard to look up at the Winter Star.
It wasn’t long before he had company. A girl in a cloak made her way down the courtyard path. When she reached him, she pulled back her cloak’s hood.
Aya, a girl training with Saraj to become a falconer—a girl he’d danced with more than once that night, not to mention the few times they’d snuck off into an empty hallway and made love in the dark.
She trailed her fingers over his arm, a smile on her lips. “Want some company?”
His body responded in ways that his mind didn’t agree with. Aya was beautiful and strong, but as he’d been staring at the Winter Star, all he could think about was Bryn Liren’s fair hair, almost as bright as the star itself.
“Not tonight, Aya,” he said as gently as he could while not leaving room for question. “Try Val.”
She raised an eyebrow and shrugged, then went off to find another man to warm her bed. Valenden was always ready for a tryst, and there were plenty of Baer men who had their eye on Aya.
Alone in the courtyard, Rangar let his mind wander about his Mir princess. The year before, he and his brothers had snuck into the Mirien to see her from afar. She wasn’t a child anymore. Soon, she’d be of marrying age. Her mother, the queen, wouldn’t hesitate to promise her hand to whatever royal offered the best alliance. Some other prince would soon have his hands all over her.
He shifted uncomfortably. He’d saved her life, and her soul belonged to him. It had ached not to be close to her all these years, never knowing if she was safe. The fralen bond between Savior and Saved was not something to take lightly.
He ran his hands over the scars on his face, wishing that it was her hand on him instead.
BONUS SCENE FROM RANGAR'S POV (added Aug 5, 2021)
The Harvest Moon Gathering, Kingdom of Mir
Three Years Ago
“After this, dear brother, you owe us.”
Valenden, Trei, and Rangar—the three teenage princes of the Baersladen—crouched in the brambles at the edge of Saint’s Forest. The wheat field beyond, harvested a few days before, was now the site of the Mirien’s fabled Harvest Moon Gathering. An enormous bonfire licked orange flames high into the night sky. Sparks floated up and blended in with the stars. Residents of the Mirien, as well as Ruma and the forest kingdoms, danced and drank mead in the warm glow.
Valenden elbowed his young brother, Rangar. “I’m quite serious—you’ll owe us. If our father learns we came here instead of to Rossen, he’ll skin all three of us. Even though you are the only reason we’re here. You and that thing between your legs.”
Trei, the eldest brother, burst out laughing.
Rangar growled, “Shut it, Val. You wanted to come, too.”
“Only because I’ve heard the mead cannot be rivaled. Speaking of, we have to figure out a way to get our hands on a bottle or two…"
The brothers watched the festival with longing in their eyes. Though technically the Baersladen royal family was always invited to attend, their father forbade it, and for good reason. Seven years ago, Rangar had saved the life of the youngest Mir princess, which made her his—though her family hadn’t seen things the same way, and ever since, violence threatened to break out if they returned.
Trei slapped Rangar. “Look. Your girl. There.”
A young lady, not quite a woman, dressed in a dusty rose-colored gown and a crown of wheat berries and dried flowers clasped hands and spun in circles, laughing, with two other young royals.
Rangar felt his breath still. Bryn.
It had been seven years since he’d seen her. Since he’d fought off the wolves attacking her and earned grotesque scars across his face in return. Whether he liked to admit it to himself or not, he’d thought of Bryn almost every day since then. Especially at night, when his mind was free to wander—it always seemed to wander back to her.
“Well, go on, then,” Valenden prodded. “Go confess that you’re hopelessly enthralled by her. And nab a few bottles of mead while you’re at it.”
“I cannot approach her,” Rangar growled.
“Well then why the hell did we travel half a day to come?” Valenden asked.
Trei rested a hand on Val’s shoulder. “Rangar is right. The risk is too great. He wanted to see her again and now he has. We’ve got what we came for.”
Valenden again protested about sampling the mead, while Rangar couldn’t take his eyes off of Bryn. Laughing and dizzy, she broke away from the other girls and stumbled a ways away from the bonfire to catch her breath. She turned away from the crowd and unfastened a button from the top of her gown to help herself breathe. Rangar was just close enough to see the silver button pop off, fall into the field. Bryn didn’t seem to notice.
Trei gave his brothers a tap. “Let’s go. It’s a long ride back to Rossen.”
“You go,” Rangar said. “I’ll catch up.”
Trei raised his eyebrows, but he and Valenden headed back to where their horses waited deeper in the forest.
Rangar waited until Lady Bryn was called by her brother to hand out prizes for the greatest harvests, and ducking low, crept to where she had stood. It took him some time, but he found the silver button gleaming amid the wheat stalks.
He slipped it into the lining of his cloak before going to rejoin his brothers.
Not much. Just a token.
But until she could truly be his, until she was of age, it was as much of her as he could have.