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Knights In Dark Leather
Book Two Of The Higher Ground Series
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-036-X
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 319 Pages
Published: November 2012

From inside the flap

After a great flood destroyed civilization, a band of adventurers hunting for treasure challenges Cerridwen’s quest to lead Britland into a better future. She and her friends race against their rivals to Saint Eyes, where they hope to find a mural that leads the way to a powerful moonstone ring influencing the world.

Knights In Dark Leather (Excerpt)

Chapter One

Waves rolled in from the ocean and retreated with a hiss. Lulled by the rhythm, Cerridwen strolled along the dry sand with Trevly. She longed to stroke him again but held back. His aura pulsed with more violet than blue, his usual colour of the caretaker. Cerridwen had never met anyone else who could see the haze of colour around people, but she treasured her gift.

Concerned, she glanced down at his hand. The blisters had faded after his dive into the sea. What had happened between them after their embrace? Skin on skin-so good. Until he cried out in pain with the burn. She wanted him, needed him. Why couldn’t they become close like other couples? She longed for his hands to explore her body again. Maybe if she did the touching, the fire wouldn’t burn him.

She tugged on his arm, ready to pull back if necessary. "Trevly. What are we going to do? About us, I mean."

"Nothing can stop me loving you." His words drifted away on the breeze.

She tried to catch them, hold them close to her heart. Uncertain of how she could fulfil her quest alone, she needed his gentle care. She had to stop this strange affliction from keeping them apart. "Normal contact is all right," she whispered.

Trevly must have read the words on her lips because he held out his hand and Cerridwen slipped hers into his warmer one.

Her gaze flicked to the ocean. Cerridwen gasped. Out of the sea a monster wave rose, blocking out the sky. Taller than two men. She clutched Trevly tighter.

The water crashed into her. Hard. Cold. The world a blur. Tumbling twisting water everywhere.

The drag ripped Trevly’s hand away. Salt water filled her nose, her mouth, sucked her down, down. Lifted up and churned in the wave’s power, Cerridwen pictured her mangled body dragged by the monster to the bottom of the world. A clear thought struck through her fear. She’d never see the ring her mother told her about.

Hitting the hard ground, she slid over the debris and smashed into a dune. With a hiss and gurgle, the wave abandoned her heavy body. She sucked in a breath. Trevly! The sea washed over her again, dragged her back.

No! She reached out but found no hold on the sand closest to the dunes. At last, she grabbed a rock on her slide towards the sea. She sat up, took a big gulp of air, and looked around, wiping wet hair tangled with seaweed from her face.

She screamed, "Trevly."

A groan mingled with a crash of water. Where was he?

Another wave surged and gurgled with regret as it slid away, leaving more rocks and branches on the sand beside her. She dragged herself inland on all fours, body aching with every move. Sand stuck to her clothes and encrusted her face, but she was alive.

Trevly’s blond head pop up behind a mound of wet sand. "Wen?"

"Here." She waved her arms, spitting to remove the crunch between her teeth. "Are..." Her voice wobbled. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, just a little bruised." His words sounded so cold and distant. But when he struggled to his feet and stumbled down, her heart jumped to meet him.

"Oh, Trevly. I’m glad you’re alive."

"Come here." He grabbed her arms and pulled her up. His eyes scrutinized her face. He took her chin in his hand and turned her head, picking off seaweed from her cheek. "You didn’t get hurt?"

"Nothing serious."

His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. "I’ve got to hold you. Curse the consequences." He pulled her into his arms.

Protected, she nestled her head against his chest and felt his words rumble through his ribs.

"For a moment, I thought Mother Nature had taken you back because..."

With a sense of foreboding, Cerridwen looked up into his hazel eyes. "Because?"

"I dared to touch you."

Tears burned in her eyes. "We’re touching now." A tremor ran through his body. Cerridwen pulled back in alarm. "You think the wave was a warning?"

"I wish I knew. Seawater to cool our passion?"

She battled her fear and concentrated. "Maybe the watery monster gave us a nudge to move on?"

Trevly glanced back at the ocean, then lifted his gaze to the sky. Seagulls circled and screeched against the wind. "I sense no hostility in nature now."

The tightness of his grip loosened and she wondered again at his ability to communicate with all living things. Her eyes swept the horizon and she breathed a sigh of amazement. "Look."

A grey hump rose from the waves and spouted. Awed, she watched the creature glide back into the depths of the ocean with a whiplash of its tail fin. "What was that?"

"A whale, I think," Trevly’s eyes lit with excitement. "This is the first time I’ve seen one."

"I remember stories," Cerridwen said. "One swallowed Jones whole but didn’t harm him."

"I never want to go into the sea again." Trevly released her.

Cerridwen whispered, "The whale isn’t afraid."

"No, but it won’t dare to come ashore." His eyes locked on hers. "Two signs, Wen. We need to leave Hailing. We’ve stayed too long already."

"Only half a moon cycle." She squeezed the last drips from her hair. "And we found the wise woman, just like my mother dreamed."

"What a strange woman."

"At least she told us where to find the mural."

Trevly grunted. "Saint Eyes. That’s towards the setting sun." He grinned at her difficulty with direction.

Together, they climbed the steep hill. Cloud cover blocked the spring sun and Cerridwen shivered in her wet clothes. A breeze slapped at her baggy pants where they didn’t stick to her thighs.

Nature Boy and Spirit Girl, Maud, the wise woman, had called them. Cerridwen’s mind spun. Flashes of Maud’s conversation came to her, then slipped away. Calm down.

Reaching the crest, Trevly climbed over a large boulder exposed by the recent storm and held out his hand for her. "We should pack and be on our way." He led her further along the path. "I can’t wait to find out what Maud meant with her strange talk yesterday."

"She spoke to you this morning, didn’t she?"

"Yes." Trevly averted his gaze and took a deep breath.

Maybe she wasn’t supposed to know, but Cerridwen asked anyway. "About the ring?"

Trevly cleared his throat. "Yes, she told me again how important it is that you find the ring." He faced her. "And that your dream visions of the past will help us lead Britland into a better future."

"Better in what way?" she asked.

He shook his head. "I can’t tell you, but she said the ring will allow you to see the present, whatever that means. As if you can’t already."

Cerridwen took a deep breath to hold back her vague worry. "I didn’t expect that talking to Maud was only the first step." They strolled along the path leading to Hailing village where they’d spent the last half a moon cycle.

"I know what you mean." Trevly touched her shoulder. "Tell me again what your mother said about the mural buried under the sand. Something like, ’It will show you the way to the ring’. Anything else?"

"Mother couldn’t say much in her weak state." The sorrow of her mother’s death bit into her heart again. Love hurt. "But she mentioned a ring that lit up the world." Cerridwen paused, recalling her vow to find the picture mural. This drove her on. A promise should never be broken.

Trevly veered back to look at her. His lustrous eyes showed affection, making her heart beat fast.

"In her dream vision, she saw me wearing the ring on my finger. She called it the key to the future. I don’t know how that might work."

He nodded and glanced ahead again. Smoke rose above several rooftops. "Nearly there."

"But how can I possibly lead Britland to a better future?"

"Maud said you’ll play an important part." He waved his arm over the landscape. "This is why we met. I’m sure of it."

"We haven’t got very far," she mumbled. He ignored her comment, but his expression pierced her with sincerity. "Maybe we can’t enjoy closeness until we’ve found the mural that will lead us to the ring."

"Hey, Wen, Trevly!" Leaning on his stick, Raymond, the diver from the village, hobbled towards them. His broad shoulders flexed with each step.

Beside her, Trevly groaned. His blue aura flared red for a moment, showing resentment.

"Are you all right?" Raymond asked. "I saw the wave. One of those freaks. I heard about a wave that hit the coast before I was born. It swept away seven people. I shouted a warning. But you two just stood there. Oblivious. "

"Yes, we’re fine. Just cold." She wrapped her arms around her chest. "How’s your leg, Raymond?"

"The wound’s healing. Thanks to your care. Garlic leaves work fast." He smiled widely. "A fish taking a nibble at my leg can’t stop me for long." Raymond leaned forward. "I want to come with you. Everyone’s talking about what Maud said. I’d be a help to you on the way to Saint Eyes, with my diving and-"

"But Hailing is your home," Cerridwen interrupted, glancing towards the village.

Raymond pivoted and limped along beside her. "Thanks to the storm, everything I had is lost even my ties with the past now that my house is gone."

Trevly frowned and examined Raymond’s bandaged leg.

"Don’t even consider coming with us. We need to move fast and free. No offence, but you’d slow us down." He strode faster.

Catching up with the competing men, Cerridwen glanced from one to the other, torn between her worry about Trevly’s rivalry and concern for Raymond. But extra protection would be welcome on a journey into the unknown. She knew so little of the world.

"Tell me something, Raymond," Trevly said.

"What’s that?"

"Do you trust Maud’s visions?"

Raymond chuckled. "She may sound crazy but I can’t remember her ever being wrong."

They approached the neat dwellings either side of the pathway. Hugo ran towards them. One year younger than her, he acted like a boy at sixteen with his playfulness and restless energy, although he’d soon be a man. He skidded to a halt. "There you are!" Hugo bounced on his toes, hardly out of breath, black braids swishing around his head. "Did you see the wave? Thank the Lord you’re all right." He drew a breath. "Are you going to Saint Eyes?"

Trevly nodded. "We’re leaving today."

"Good! I saw the three newcomers, Sasha and her friends, leaving with their packs at the break of dawn." Hugo searched along the road as if he expected them to still be there.

"They didn’t say goodbye?" Cerridwen felt a pang of disappointment. She liked Aron and Boris. Only Sasha had been difficult.

"Shows they were in a hurry," Raymond grumbled. "They heard what Maud said. Everyone knows."

Trevly took Cerridwen’s arm and guided her along the path. "I bet Sasha and those two fellows are on the way to Saint Eyes already."

"Why?" Cerridwen brushed her hair out of her face. "We’re only going to look at a picture."

"Remember how Sasha’s eyes glowed when you spoke about the treasure in that museum from your dream?" Raymond straightened his massive shoulders. "Maybe she wants to find the picture and the ring before you. We should pack a few essentials and leave."

"Come on, Raymond," Trevly goaded. "You can’t go anywhere with that leg."

"I can. Look how well it’s healed." He hobbled to the other side of the road and back again at a faster pace, obviously hiding his discomfort. "I’ll be fine. We’ll need food. If the route is along the coast, I can dive for shellfish and show Wen how to do that."

"And I want to explore the most western tip of Britland," Hugo said. "I’m a man now and should make my own decisions."

Cerridwen smiled at his eagerness. "So you are. But could your mother manage without you?"

Trevly reached out to clamp him on the shoulder, but Hugo evaded his touch as if afraid that contact might drain his determination.

Raymond smirked.

"I’m coming, and that’s final," Hugo said.

Cerridwen saw her dream of time alone with Trevly fading. Would an injured man and a partly grown one contribute anything against devious Sasha, strong Boris and wily Aron?

"Listen, Hugo," Trevly said. "You’ve proved yourself already."

"Then why don’t you want me to come along?"

"We don’t know what waits for us," Cerridwen said.

"Or where this quest will lead," Trevly said.

Hugo flashed a bright smile. "That’s why I’d better watch out for you both."

Cerridwen glanced from Hugo’s excited face to Raymond’s hopeful expression. She couldn’t disappoint them. Leave the decision to Trevly.

Maybe Trevly saw the spark in her eyes, because he finally gave up his resistance and nodded. A grin spread across his face. "I think we should set out as soon as possible."

"I’ll go and pack right now." Hugo dashed away.

Studying his back, Cerridwen reflected on Hugo’s aura, which combined tan with light blue. Quiet and supportive, he would make a fine companion with his sensitivity.

The importance of her mother’s dying words washed over her and she strengthened herself to face the challenge.

Trevly’s blue and violet aura pulsed with indigo now. The colours signalled honesty and awareness, combined with independence, fearlessness, sensitivity and strength. She held onto the hope that he’d get along with Raymond the orange. Thrill-seeker and daredevil, he loved a challenge and physical danger. Her earlier assessment of their lack of strength faded.

Maybe she wouldn’t have Trevly all to herself, but she couldn’t wish for better companions in their race to the mural.