Wednesday 13 May 2020

Fire & Ice #Blitz

Young Adult Fantasy
Date Published: April 15, 2019
Publisher: Halo Publishing International

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Fire and Ice is a fantasy young adult novel that follows a young woman on a big adventure, filled with love, mystery, and suspense.

Ash is forced into an arranged marriage, which does not turn out for the better, causing her to take refuge with the man she was supposed to marry. From there, she tries to find her parents' true murderers while surviving their attempts to find her. During this journey, she must fight her feelings for the man she believes to have killed her parents and his friends who accept her with open arms.


It was another bright and pleasant day, and yet the mood was somber despite the many voices that tittered happily in the Cartier Castle. The castle was very old and had not been overtaken for many centuries. It was maintained very well, and its many well-washed windows were in perfect condition. It was through one of these windows that a young woman was staring from her bedroom into the fields beyond the black onyx walls. The young woman normally hated black, but today it felt right that the walls were weeping with her. Her hair was in a shaggy double braid that she had slept in. She pulled on it with a scorched and scarred hand while she gazed at the sky. She was hoping He would heed her silent prayer for peace and protection as she entered a new and unwanted phase in her life. Her name was Ash Cartier, and it wasn’t the first time she wished that she wasn’t the daughter of a wealthy and important chieftain in Dasica. Her country promoted itself as a place of peace and prosperity, but Ash knew better.

When she was younger[LB1] , she had accompanied her mother to a local market to look at unnecessary baubles that her mother, Marie, wanted for a festival. Her mother had found some strange pin that “talked to her,” as she would always say when she wanted something. While waiting for her, Ash had gone exploring and had met an old man with a face that spoke of many happy times as well as of hard times.

He had looked at her with a twinkle in his green eyes. “Do you want to hear something beautiful, little one?” he had asked her. A sweet smile had crossed his face, showing a mouth of clean teeth, although a few were missing.

She had nodded and he had told her of a man who was not just a man but who had loved everyone in the world. This man had wanted to save them from what was to come so he had died to protect them. The man’s green eyes had moistened as he told this story, making Ash think it was more than a fictional tale.

At the end of the story, Ash had asked if they were safe because of what this man, named Joshua, had done. The man had shaken his head sadly and replied that there was something that they had to do if they wanted to be safe forever. He had said that they had to relinquish their control over their lives and become part of His family. Confused, Ash had questioned how they could be part of a dead man’s family, but the old man had smiled and tapped her head, praising her as a thinker. He then had explained that even though Joshua had been a man, he was also something else. The man then had looked around them to see if anyone was listening and pulled Ash close enough to whisper in her ear that Joshua is also the Creator!

Ash had sucked in a breath. Even though she had only been five years old at the time, she knew that talking about gods could get you into serious trouble, and could even be viewed as treason against the leaders, because it affirmed that they weren’t in total control.

The man had slipped a giant book into her small hands, telling her to read it in order to learn more about Joshua. He also had warned her to not show anyone the Book. She had nodded and had just hidden the Book when her mother had called for her. (After Ash’s departure, her mother had bought three other pins aside from the first one that had “spoken to her.”) The man had grabbed her arm as she turned and had told her to find him if she ever wanted to talk more about the story.

She had nodded again and run to where her mother was standing, looking for her. Marie admonished Ash not to wander off and they soon had returned home to the twelve-towered castle. Once there, Ash had run to her room and locked the door, in order to start reading the interesting book in safety.

From that book, she learned about how the world came to exist, and much more. It had taken her an entire month of reading to go through it one time. Not satisfied with that, she continued to read it over and over, sprawled on her bed, trying to understand the Creator better. As she learned more and grew up, Ash continued to meet with and talk to the old man as much as possible.

Ash looked at the bed and smiled seeing the indent of where she had always sprawled to read the Book. Then her smile faltered as her blue eyes turned to look at her hands covered in white, luminescent scars. They were slightly lighter than her already-fair skin. She had gotten the scars from being burned, as a punishment for disobeying her father. Her eyes released a few rivulets of water that she let drip down her face. There was a knock at her door, and she looked at the clock on her wall above the writing desk. It was time. She sighed and straightened up. She was nineteen, not six, and slouching would not be acceptable.

“Come in, please,” she said in her soft, lilting Glaydin accent, mimicking how a lady should speak, or at least as her mother said ladies should speak. Since the royal court was situated far away in the capital of Dasica, Ash had never actually heard someone from the court speak.

Ash was not surprised when her mother came in with her three ladies’ maids. However, she was surprised to see Carmel Baum, the woman who had been her trainer until the day before, as well. Her old trainer smiled at her gently. “Gillith Preslar sends his condolences for not being able to come to the wedding today, but wishes you all happiness on your special day,” Carmel informed Ash in her thick eastern accent.

Tears of fear and anguish pricked Ash’s eyes, but she nodded to Carmel. She met her trainer’s red eyes in the mirror while the maids took off her shift and began to usher her to the steaming tub of water with essential oils to cleanse her. The trainer clapped her hand on Ash’s now-bare shoulder and left. Ash smiled, feeling some warmth enter her. That small action held more meaning than anything the old fighter could have said, which wasn’t surprising since Carmel had been hired for her fighting ability, not for her way with words. Ash realized that she was much like that, even though she had a fiery temper that needed to be constantly reined in.

Ash finally focused on her mother, who was delivering commands to the maids at a rapid pace. Marie wore a dress that left her shoulders uncovered, with the straps hanging just off the shoulders very fashionably. The bodice hugged her mother’s tall, but slim, body and puffed out into a ballroom-like skirt that fell almost to the floor. The dress was a green velvet with silver thread that matched her short bob and which was woven into the material in order to create fancy designs that meant absolutely nothing.  Marie also wore a tripled-tiered necklace with jade beads and figurines, as well as a matching brooch, earrings, and hair comb. Ash rolled her eyes at the excessive nature of her mother, which she had never understood. The maids were also wearing their special clothes under protective white aprons.

“I guess everyone is waiting on me to get clothed and be led to the slaughter,” grumbled Ash.

Her mother’s dark brown eyes shot toward her. “Do not say such things, child! You should be happy. This is your wedding day. At least pretend to be,” said Marie, her dark eyes twinkling with something akin to joy.

Ash met her gaze as the maids finished cleaning her from head to toe. “I’ll pretend to enjoy it as much as you pretend to care for me,” she replied, her anger unleashing slightly. “If you did care, you wouldn’t have encouraged Father to accept this horrid man’s proposal. You simply want to get rid of your embarrassing daughter who believes in such treasonous thoughts. So, what better way of accomplishing that than by throwing her into the hands of a man who is loyal only to himself?”

Marie’s eyes flashed dangerously, and the maids paused nervously before continuing their work. “First, you have never met him. However, it is true that I would rather die than spend another day knowing you believe in such stupidity! Third, you were never a lady! You would rather learn about swordsmanship than the rules of court. You are too reckless, Ash, and I will not have you in this house. So, yes, I helped encourage your father to ally with the most powerful man on this side of the mountains. Trading you for substances we needed was an easy decision to make,” admitted Marie as she swept out of the room. “Make sure she’s ready!” was all she said, and then she was gone.

Ash’s jaw dropped. She knew this was a political alliance and a way to silence her, but she didn’t know she was being sold! The maids dried her off and added creams and lotions to her skin in order to cover her scars for the day. Then Ash finally spotted the dress, and her heart sank. It was a monstrosity of white satin and tulle! She didn’t mind dresses and liked to look nice, but this dress was floor-length and filled with little fancy baubles that could pay off all the debts that the Cartier family had! More than that, it looked like a prison, to keep Ash from trying to escape.

She sent up a quick prayer for guidance as the maids applied makeup to her naked body. It was a vain attempt to cover the rest of the scars from the accidents during training under Carmel, as well as from other times. The maids then put her in the three pairs of underclothes, and, lastly, the dress. They finished the fine makeup work last of all. When they were finally done, the maids ushered her to the floor-length mirror, where she finally got to see herself. Ash gasped at what she saw. Though the dress was huge, it made her look like a princess, and the makeup made her blue eyes look like burning spheres. Her hair was kept down but had a braided crown with small blue flowers woven in.

Ash turned to the maids, who were beaming. “Thank you!” she said as she took their hands. “You did a wonderful job, and I will pray for you when I go to my new house.”

The maids smiled and nodded, quickly filing out of the room; the last one wiping her eyes a bit. Ash smiled. She was going to miss them, even though they didn’t believe what she did. They were kind, but distant, as if she would infect them with treasonous thoughts. Ash knew she could not do so, but everyone seemed to fear that she would.

She stared at her room and then glanced out the door to see if anyone was coming. For once, the ornate hallway was silent. She crossed to her desk and took out of a secret compartment the Book the old man had given her so long ago. She slipped it into a hidden pocket and turned as she heard muffled footsteps coming down the hall. A few moments later, her father, Lucas Cartier III, appeared in her doorway. She resembled her dad more than she did her mother. She had her father’s brown hair, though his hair had turned fully silver now, along with same fair skin and tall build. Her stubbornness came from her mother, but that was about it. Her father also had a burn scar that ran from the left side of his forehead to his left nostril, and they shared the same energetic blue eyes. Ash looked into her father’s eyes now and saw a look that she had only seen once before: pity. It chilled her to the bone, and she took a slight step back to gather her thankfully-plain-white gloves. She met his gaze once again, and Lucas nodded. It was time.

Their walk through the old castle to the throne room was oddly comforting to Ash. She had walked through these halls many times, normally so quietly that she was like a shadow, which gave her the title “Shadowwalker” in warrior circles. Unfortunately, she wasn’t a warrior now, but rather a mess being handed over to someone who could “clean her up.” Ash shuddered at the thoughts those words brought her, but she knew there was nothing she could do. She had to honour her family’s wishes and pray that she could hold on to what she knew to be right. Soon they were at the large double doors of the throne room and she could hear the music swelling. In a few seconds, her father would escort her into the hands of her new husband. Her stomach twisted at the thought of being with that man, and even though she hadn’t heard much about him, what she had heard made her nervousness skyrocket. She inhaled and exhaled slowly, trying to rid herself of the feeling, and prayed for the third time that day for guidance and safety. Her stomach settled slightly. The heavy doors were open, and the one who was supposed to care for and protect her led her like a lamb to the slaughter.

Ash looked at the throne room. She had been in here many times but every time it amazed her, and this time it was decorated for the occasion. There were lustrous braziers that circled the sixteen columns and cast a golden light on the walls of the room, which was decorated with garlands of lilacs and lilies. A sanguine rug ran down the centre of the room to the doors, splitting the round room in half, with long wooden benches on either side of it. There was a chestnut throne at the front of the room but it was not in use that day.

The rug seemed endless as Ash and her father slowly walked down it. Ash turned and looked at the ceiling, where there was a small skylight that was surrounded by legends and stories telling the Cartier history. Ash finally looked at the people on the raised dais. There was Adam Firedraft at the front: the head elder under her father, the chieftain. He had brown dreadlocks that always fell over his full-but-charming face. He had brown, almost black, eyes that were set far back in his head, making him seem like a snake. He stood a head shorter than the man beside him.

Ash turned her gaze toward the man who she was to call husband and saw shuttered brown eyes that gave her an icy chill. He possessed caramel skin and long, wavy, brown hair that was tied with a simple, black-leather tie. He was half a head taller than her and wore a black suit with a white vest and blue cravat for the occasion. He did not look like the monster that she had imagined, but rather like a man who simply wanted to finish the deal and leave.

Behind him were three people—guards, most likely, due to the fact that they were bristling with weaponry. First, there was a man taller than her almost-husband, with shaggy but well-groomed golden hair and a half-feral face. His golden eyes resembled a griffin’s as they watch their prey, and he stood with the grace of one who understands power. The lady behind him was at the opposite end of the spectrum. She had wavy, green hair that fell into a low bun, with a few strands framing her naturally cheerful face. She was quite short compared to her companion, with the top of her head only reaching his shoulder. Ash wondered if she was a half-elf, but her eyes gave away that she was a full elf, due to them being a violet colour. She winked at Ash and gave her a smile, which buoyed her spirit slightly. Given the situation, Ash responded with a slight smile and looked to see the man beyond her. He had silver hair that had nothing to do with his age and had a set of piercing amber eyes that made him seem insightful as he continued to gaze around the room. He was closer to the height of the golden-haired one than the girl but looked to be just as deadly as the other two. All three were dressed in black clothing with cravats, or a sash in the girl’s case, that matched the groom’s clothing.

Finally, Ash and her father made it to where Elder Adam stood. Lucas smiled and nodded at the elder and proceeded to place his daughter’s gloved hands into her future husband’s. Lucas went and sat with his wife, and the ceremony began. It started with the story of how George Cartier I had chosen his bride by lining up all the village women and choosing the one who was the most gentle. This story Ash knew by heart because it had always been told at any event that she had ever gone to. George had decreed that every child in the Cartier line must be wed in the throne room, whether male or female. Ash wished that he had decreed that they must consent to the marriage, but it seemed like the days of chivalry were a thing of the past. She focused on her breathing, and the elder’s droning became background noise.

She almost missed it when he asked her the only question in the entire ceremony that she had to answer. “Ash ‘Shadowwalker’ Cartier, will you promise to care for Fross ‘Slayer’ Arcop for as long as you have breath?”

She sucked in a quiet breath and looked up from where her gaze had been burning a hole into the floor, and looked at the elder and then at Fross. Fross is a stupid name, she thought. When she met his gaze, he raised his eyebrows, looking slightly perplexed at her hesitation, and she realized that this man should be approached with care. Keeping her gaze there, she began to answer the elder, but just as she opened her mouth there was a loud, resounding crash, followed by the sound of an explosion.

The throne room shook and was filled with smoke, dust, and the screams of people. Ash was roughly handed off by someone and dragged through the mess.

There were the sounds of gunshots and of swords cutting people down as Ash was taken away. By the time she saw who had grabbed her, they were almost to her room. The green-haired lady pushed her into her room and locked the door, not saying a word, and ran away, the carpet muffling her footsteps.

Ash was in shock. Who would want to ruin the wedding? she wondered as she started to react. She slipped out of her dress and threw the Book and a few other items into a knapsack that she tied to her waist, on top of the pants and long-sleeved shirt that she had thrown on. They were mismatched, but at that moment Ash didn’t care. She was getting out, and fast! Then she tied her bedsheets together to form a makeshift rope, tied the rope to a bedpost, and stepped out of the window. She quickly scaled down the tower and was able to jump to the outer black wall and slide down into a grassy plain.

Ash was free. She quickly walked away, pulling her hood and scarf up over the masterpiece that the maids had done. They are probably dead now. The thought popped into her head and she quickly shoved it away. Ash had to stay free. She could mourn the dead later. They probably were dead even if Ash didn’t want to accept that just yet. Her father had always been light on guards and warriors due to the fact that they would like to get paid for their work. So they had only had four guards, Carmel Baum, and a young warrior, Gillith Preslar, who had become Ash’s best—and only—friend. She and Gill had grown up together under Carmel’s training, and he was like a brother to her.

Now she worried about him. If he comes back, what will he do? Should I leave a message for him or just pray that he finds his way? She decided to go to the old hunting house, which she knew was nearby, and, hopefully, he would figure out where she was. She smiled a real smile for the first time that day and slowed down a bit to enjoy her newfound freedom, even though it had come at a terrible cost.

Then there was a shout. “Hey, you! Come back to your wedding!” a rough, male voice shouted.

Ash froze. Was she caught? How had they found her? Then she looked at her hands and saw that she still wore the gloves. She chided herself for her stupidity and bolted into the woods. As she reached the entrance to the forest, an ironic thought popped into her head: She was now being in hunted in the woods where she had once been a hunter.

About the Author

Upcoming teen author Victoria R. Maybury grew up in Togo, West Africa where she learned about many cultures and ways of life that can be seen in her writing today. After she and her family moved to Canada, Maybury was inspired by a dream to compose her first book.

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