This is the first chapter of Aynho Writer and Published Author, Philip Davies’s second novel in his Destiny series. At the bottom of the extract is an open invitation to the launch of the book at Blackwell’s in Oxford.
“Destiny’s Revenge”, by Philip S Davies.
CHAPTER ONE: BALL
Katelin could think of many preferable ways to spend an evening, but if dancing was the worst that fate could throw at her, then she’d endure the embarrassing ordeal. Tonight was Princess Rashelin’s Twenty-First Birthday Ball, and she’d promised her cousin that she would enjoy it. For Rashelin’s sake, she would make sure that nothing spoiled the celebration.
Before she left her rooms Katelin remembered to check that she looked sufficiently queenly. She felt too young to be Queen. Had her eighteenth birthday been only six months ago? She touched the sapphires in her necklace that matched the blue of her gown. Her fingers ran down the plaits in her dark brown hair, held in place by clips and a silver circlet. This would have to do, because she wouldn’t be allowed her favoured ponytail tonight.
Her gown brushed the stone steps as she descended the three flights of stairs. Music and conversation wafted up from below and her apprehension grew.
Guests in their finest attire were milling through the entrance to the Hall of the Court, while to one side, fiddling with his hands, stood Initiate Prento. He gave Katelin his customary bow as he kissed her hand, and his lanky legs meant it was a long way down. As he straightened, she smiled at his ginger curls and freckled face, and wondered whether, over time, all this bowing would strain his back.
“You nervous?” she asked.
Prento nodded. “Everyone’s here: the Royal Family, nobles, ministers, visiting dignitaries. And then there’s me. What am I doing here, Kat?”
“You’re with me. You’re a friend of the Queen.” She looked him up and down. “And besides, I see you’re wearing your best robes.”
Prento’s mouth quirked. “My robes are all the same, Kat. They’re long. They’re dark blue. I’m an Initiate. This is what I get to wear. There’s no ‘best’ about any of them.”
Katelin laughed and took his arm. “They’re your newest and cleanest robes, then. I find the plainness of your clothes refreshing beside the over-the-top finery of the rest of us.”
“And you remember our agreement,” Prento said. “We don’t have to dance with each other. No more dancing than we have to. Only with those who know what they’re doing and will make us both look good.”
“Agreed. We’re in this together: it’s you and me against the dancing. Come on. Let’s make our stunning entrance to the party.”
She pulled him towards the doors to the Hall, and the other guests made way for her. Yardles, the Royal Steward, inclined his head, his eyes twinkling at them under his combed-back silver hair. “You’re a breath-taking pair indeed,” he said.
Yardles knocked his staff twice on the threshold, and announced: “Her Majesty, Queen Katelin of the Old Kingdom of Anestra and the Western Coast; and Initiate Prento, cleric of the Divine.”
Prento cringed, but Katelin propelled him forwards into the Hall.
They both gasped.
This wasn’t Katelin’s favourite place in the Castle by a long way, but Rashelin had worked her magic on it.
The oil lamps had been replaced by chandeliers whose candles gave the Hall a soft, warm glow. Along the stone walls hung dark blue banners with the emblem of the Anestran flag: the radiant silver Crown. Tonight the banners were interspersed with hangings of magenta, each emblazoned with ‘21’ in gold. From the high roof beams hung silver streamers that made the Hall feel like a marquee. Katelin’s gaze rose to the roof itself where silver stars twinkled between the streamers. How had Rashelin done that? It was like being outside, candlelit at night, dancing beneath the stars.
Katelin tightened her grasp on Prento’s arm, dizzy from looking upwards. He’d been doing the same, and the two of them almost lurched backwards in the doorway. That was enough to set off their giggles and settle the nerves.
The Hall was half full of guests, and servants circulated with trays of savoury and sweet delicacies and glasses of wine. Katelin and Prento weaved their way towards the dais for the Royal Family at the far end, skirting around the more open space in the middle where braver souls danced to the music. Katelin did her best to smile, nod and greet people as she went. Most she knew, a few she didn’t; some she liked, and some she’d avoid all evening, but this was what the Queen had to do. Prento wore a fixed smile.
Beside the top table, arms folded, stood the young barbarian woman, Sigzay. The candlelight reflected off her spiky white hair and narrowed grey eyes, but it was her clothing that was causing the sensation. Sigzay had never been one to hide her long legs and full curved figure, but Katelin thought she’d surpassed herself tonight. She couldn’t decide whether the white … thing … was a very short dress or a slightly long tunic. Not that there was much to it, anyway, with strategically placed gaps revealing maximum skin, including a tattoo of a wolf on her shoulder. The white knee-high boots completed the effect, drawing every male eye towards her.
Good for her. Katelin could never do such a thing, but someone needed to shake up the stuffy Anestran Court. And each eye that followed Sigzay would be one less to scrutinise her all evening.
“Sigzay, hello,” Katelin called. “Hedger persuaded you to join us in the end?”
Sigzay’s words were always careful, and spoken with the accent of her tribe. “He say I can refuse dance, except I choose. Already four men I turn down.”
Katelin grinned. “I’m not surprised. And I love your … um … dress.” She elbowed Prento, noticing how the young man’s eyes were popping. Sigzay’s outfit revealed more skin than Initiates were accustomed to seeing.
“You remember Initiate Prento,” Katelin said, introducing him. “And Prento, Sigzay has returned to Anestra from her home in the north, to be with Hedger again.”
“I remember him,” Sigzay said, and held out a hand.
Katelin almost laughed at Prento’s nervousness in taking it. The poor thing appeared unable to believe his luck at being this close to so much visible female flesh.
“My Lady Sigzay,” Prento managed, and stooped to kiss her hand.
You are invited to the Launch of
by Philip S Davies
on Saturday 10th June
between 3.00 and 6.00 p.m.,
at Blackwell’s Bookshop,
48-51 Broad St., Oxford, OX1 3BQ.
R.S.V.P., if you can, to: firstname.lastname@example.org.