Chapters One & Two

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Chapter One

“Leader?”

“Yes?” Looking out the window of his office at Rhapsen Hall, Prince Duncan Caldwell, Leader of the High Council, spun around.

“Hem…sorry to disturb you.” An eager young man stood at the door with a deferential air. “I knocked, but—”

“That’s all right, Freddie.” After one last glance at the late winter snow melting under Stella’s pale rays, he focused back on the servant. “What is it?”

“Lady Hurst, Lord Ellis and David have just arrived.” At the man’s visible shiver, Duncan was forced to admit spring would still be long in coming, the latest heavy storms having set the record straight.

“Thank you.” Now the sky was clearer, but leaning against the icy windowpanes, Prince Caldwell spotted the black clouds looming in the distance, promising more rain. “I’ll be right out.” However delayed spring was, roads had re-opened to travelers uncaring of the risks, which made his stomach cave in and his heart pound at the thought of his imminent reunion. One last check outside, then he stepped out in the hallway.

As usual during the wintertime, the Hall was deserted, everyone home to oversee their districts’ affairs, leaving behind only a handful of servants. “Hi, David.” And no, his faithful aide had not been among them this year. Catching sight of him, a smile split his face as he opened his arms. “How are you?”

“Fine, sir.” After a slight hesitation, David fell into the embrace, hazel eyes smiling back. “And ready to start a new year here at the Hall.”

“Aye, the Hall needs you badly.” Older than the leader, David had been at his side since the prince’s earliest years, first as his personal valet, now as head of the Hall’s staff. Duncan had the utmost confidence in him, bound by the longtime friendship as well as impressed by the man’s high sense of duty that prevented him from overstepping his bounds. “But it’s not realistic for me to expect you’d be always around. It’s time you start thinking about taking on a couple of assistants to help you and be my reference points, when you’re unavailable.”

“Actually, I’ve been thinking about it and have someone I’ve been meaning to introduce to you, for such a capacity.” Encouraged by Duncan’s silent go on, David continued. “Liabeth Renn is a very smart and efficient young woman whom I’m sure will work perfectly to satisfy your needs.”

“Can’t wait to meet her, then.” Duncan grinned. “You know how I trust your judgment in these matters, something I sorely missed when I was in Black Rose this winter.” Exchanging glances, he had no doubt David understood him. Never before had he required the high cliffs, the roaring sea underneath splashing white foam on the brownish tops, the bright hills and the dark forest underneath. Yes, nothing like Black Rose gave him the sense of freedom or the extra space to train his increasing Virt. Never before, had he felt stronger or more in control of his power, with the skills to fine-tune it to his growing necessities. The trick of shifting energy was becoming second nature to him, now that he was aware of it and could take advantage of the unbalances he himself caused. So he had exercised to go from one place to another without moving, simply by distorting space and energy. To achieve it, he had cut himself off from his connections, also the most significant ones, focusing only within, further benefited by Black Rose’s emptiness.

“I missed it, too.” David averting his gaze gave Duncan the impression he did not want the prince to catch the leap in his heart at the mere mention of the place. “Blue Oasis is nice, but nothing comparable to Black Rose’s wild beauty.” So he had no great love for Cecilia Hurst’s home. What else was new?

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