Preview: The Ritual by Erica Dakin

Chapter One of the Ritual

Concentrate, steady, stay relaxed. My mantra ran through my head in a constant litany, more out of habit than out of a real need to focus on the words. It was an old trick, one I’d developed from the very first lesson with my master Naerev, back when I had just started learning my ‘trade’, and it had stuck.

I felt a bead of sweat trickle down between my breasts, but ignored it as I ran my fingers across the lockpicks in their velvet roll, finally settling on the one I thought might open the lock on the jewellery coffer in front of me.

I slipped it into the tiny lock and closed my eyes, allowing my fingers to feel the delicate movement of the intricate mechanism as I tried to prise it open. It took a few heartbeats, but then I heard a muted click and grinned, satisfied.

Another bead of sweat formed, trickling down my temple, and I allowed myself a moment to wipe it away before I carefully lifted the lid to examine the contents. I recognised the pieces I’d seen earlier and my grin widened when I saw several more of even higher value. Foolish elf, to display his wealth so ostentatiously, yet neglect to implement sufficient measures to keep rogues like me out. No dogs in the house or on the property, locks on the windows and doors that were barely a challenge to me, and finally this jewellery coffer, also with a cheap lock and in a dressing chamber off the main bedroom rather than in a room where people slept.

A loud snore emanated from that same bedroom, and my elation dropped a notch when I remembered how that elven lord, so peacefully asleep next door, had swanned around with his human whore on his arm earlier in the day. Few elvish men were as open about their obsession with humans as this one, but it was common enough that there was an entire industry catering for it. And unfortunately, such couplings were sufficiently fertile to often result in children, half elvish and half human, like my sister and I. Cross-breeds who could never have their own children, for all half-elves were invariably barren.

I quickly started transferring the jewellery into my velvet loot bag, suddenly wanting to be out of there, away from the repulsive thought that his whore might still be there, and that they had fucked each other to exhaustion.

Then the door creaked and I froze, cold sweat sending a shiver down my back. The snoring had stopped – had I been discovered? I remained poised like that for several moments before something brushed against my shin, and I almost yelped with surprise. Cold, stark terror gripped me for an instant before my brain worked it out: a cat.

I carefully let my breath escape and reached down to scratch the animal’s silky ear before pushing it away. It started purring, loud enough to wake the dead, and I realised that I had outstayed my welcome. Both Shani and I needed to eat, so my first priority was to get out of here undetected and with enough loot to give us some good, hard coin. Opportunities like this particular house did not come along often enough that I could afford to waste it by getting caught.

It was a matter of moments to climb out the window and shimmy down the ivy growing against the house, and from there I skulked to the spot where I had hidden my cloak and a rag to scrub my face. The boot grease wouldn’t come off altogether like that, but even at this time of the night, in this part of the city, the streets were busy enough that I didn’t want to stand out as much as I did with a black face and in skin-tight black velvet.

Luck really was with me tonight, it seemed. I reached my bundle just as a beggar was about to make off with it, and he nearly jumped out of his skin when I grabbed him by the arm.

“Drop it, that’s mine,” I said, keeping my voice low.

His eyes gleamed at me from a handsome face nearly as black as mine, except with dirt rather than grease. Half-elf, it flashed through my mind, but although he was grimy and smelled, and although he hunched over in something akin to deference, he replied, “Mine now, found it fair and square.”

I produced a dagger from my sleeve and pressed it against his cheek. “I said, drop it, it’s mine.”

I saw him swallow, then he did just that, taking a step back and spreading his empty hands for me to see. “Fine, it’s yours.” I continued to glare at him until he took another two steps back, then he turned away. “It looked warm, is all,” he muttered, and I felt a small stab of remorse. Ridiculous, since it wasn’t my fault that he was a beggar, nor could I afford to lose my cloak, but before I could stop myself I had dug a silver from the pocket in my sleeve and tossed it at him, cursing myself for my silly sentimentalism. One of these days it’d get me killed.

I didn’t wait for his response, instead striding away and pulling the cloak around me. I fetched the rag from the pocket and pulled up the hood, and brushed at my face as I moved from shadow to shadow through the streets of Mazar. The lamp lighters had done their job in this affluent district, but before long I reached the seedier part of town and the lights became sparser. I didn’t mind – it made it easier to avoid the guards, though most of them were inattentive anyway, dozing away in sheltered corners or leaning on their pikes.

When the scent of horse manure and mud became stronger I knew I was nearly back at the inn, and I idly skirted around another beggar, this one asleep – or passed out drunk – in the gutter. We had picked our lodgings more for its rough, easy to climb walls than its other virtues, though luck would have it that the rooms were mostly vermin-free and the food was better than average. Apart from that they also didn’t ban half-elves from staying, as many of them did, which meant a rare occasion for us to feel like more than second-rate citizens and social outcasts. I quickly ascended the wall and slipped through the window, and heard my sister stir when I landed lightly on the floor.

“Rin?” she asked sleepily, before rubbing her eyes and clambering out of bed. “I hadn’t expected you back so quickly, so I went to sleep.”

She moved to the table, and as she took up a cloth and wetted it in a bowl of soapy water left there for that purpose I sat down facing her, giving a half-hearted shrug. “Job was easier than I thought it would be, plus I wanted to get out of there before I threw up.”

Shani raised her eyebrows. “Oh?”

I grimaced and sighed. “I heard him snore. Couldn’t help but wonder if he still had his whore with him.”

Her expression went flat, and she started scouring my face a little more viciously. “I still don’t understand why the king allows it,” she muttered.

“Because he can’t enforce it without help of the local elven lords, and they’re not likely to get rid of their favourite pastime,” I said patiently. “Ow, Shani, that hurts!”

She eased off. “Sorry, but I just don’t get it. He hates our kind, and they’re perpetuating our existence.”

I sighed and took her wrist. “Why do we always end up having this conversation? You know how it works. Elves call the shots, and if they want to fuck humans they’ll do as they please. Humans keep everything going in the meantime, keen to keep their cushy jobs, so they’re not likely to protest. And we…”

“We get by as best we can, I know,” she said resignedly. “But for a king who professes to loathe us as much as he does, he’s doing surprisingly little about it.”

I shrugged. “I suppose persecuting us is more fun than preventing our existence. He’s been king for what, fifteen decades? Life must get boring after such a long time.”

“Well, excuse me if I can’t feel much sympathy,” she said, dropping the cloth on the table. “There, you’re clean.”

“Thanks.” I smiled at her and studied her face in the light of the single candle, noting with relief that she had already put the issue behind her again. My sister was a dreamer and an inveterate optimist, always hopeful that life would somehow get better, that things would change, and although she refused to ever believe otherwise, she never dwelt on it for too long and was quick to move on and let go. I, on the other hand, was the cautious one, the pessimist, the one who always expected the worst. I suppose we balanced each other out.

For all our differences, I had never needed a mirror – I only ever needed to look at Shani. I knew her dark brown eyes were also mine, that her fiery red hair echoed my own colouring and that my skin glowed with the exact same muted tan. My face ended in the same pointed chin, showed the same high cheekbones, featured the same straight, almost aristocratic nose. People had called us beautiful, and eerily alike, and eventually I had lopped off my hair just below the chin, both out of frustration of always being mistaken for my twin sister and out of practicality. It wasn’t easy – or smart, for that matter – to be a thief with hair reaching down to your waist, and a night in a prison cell after a pursuing victim had snatched me by the braid had been the final thing to convince me of it.

I had owed my life to Naerev after that, escaping the gallows when he fetched me out in the middle of the night, and two weeks after that I had left him. I would rather continue to learn my trade on my own than give him the kind of gratitude he seemed to expect of me after that.

Shani followed me, of course. Different though our vocations may have been, neither of us would ever desert the other, for all we had was each other, ever since our escape from the half-elf orphanage at thirteen. Had we stayed, we might have been picked up as slaves like so many of our kind, or else kicked out at seventeen to fend for ourselves – except that Shani had started to show signs of being a sorceress, which meant she would have been enslaved by some elven lord within days. The talent was rare and extremely valuable, and since I had no magic we would have been split up – a thought neither of us could bear.

Once the last traces of illegal activity had been wiped from my face I rested my forehead against my sister’s, and set my hand on her shoulder in silent camaraderie. We were as alike as two stars in the sky, and as different as the sun and the moon. Neither of us knew what we wanted from life, so we took it as it came, following our whims and letting fate drive us or guide us, never certain which of the two it was.

Society restricted us; Shani was right about King Sovander hating half-elves. To him we were abominations, worse than vermin. If he could have eradicated us he would have, but half-elves were too numerous, and the rest of the elvish nobility were too used to having us as their slaves.

Those of us who weren’t slaves lived like we did: on the edge. Some were thieves, like me, but most half-elves scrounged at odd jobs, hiding away as labourers for tolerant human artisans and disappearing whenever the royal guards came by to check for illegal half-elf workers, since it was forbidden for us to carry out any skilled labour, on penalty of death.

Naerev had taught me to pickpocket, to steal small items unnoticed from shops and market stalls, and how to carry out the basics of burglary. It had been hard to continue it after leaving him, but in the year since then Shani and I had developed other – though equally illegal – ways of obtaining money, and we got by.

It wasn’t much of a life, I reflected as I rolled into bed, but at least we were free. It was more than many of our kind could say.

 *   *   *   *   *

Yet life always seemed to rub our fate in our face, sometimes casually and sometimes with vigour, as I discovered the next day. We were at the market – not the posh one in the elvish district, but the mid-town one, where you could get anything from cattle through poultry to fabrics and weapons – idly scoping out further targets and eyeing the wares. I picked a few pockets while I was at it, but I had fenced my nightly haul that morning and my purse was heavy with solid, untraceable coin, so I did it more out of habit than for any other reason.

My gaze wandered past a wicker cage full of nervously clucking chickens, then rested for a few moments with vague amusement on two carters up ahead, who were bickering loudly over whose ox-cart had the right of way. By now it was neither, since one ox had entangled itself in the harness of the other and it was lowing mournfully, but the carters paid it no heed and continued their argument.

For a heartbeat I thought it was them who were the cause of the small congregation next to them, but then I realised that the people in it were all facing towards the proclamation board at the side of the square, and were studying one particular notice on it. We struggled our way through the crowd to see, and the reason for the interest became abundantly clear when I read the notice:

Citizens of Arlennis,

Due to the theft of the King’s most prized possession, an act intolerable and inexcusable to the Gods as well as His Majesty, it has been decreed that in each town and city of Arlennis twenty half-elves shall be arrested and executed to atone for this crime and to appease the Gods.

 Any who resist, obstruct or oppose this decree shall be treated in the same way.

 By order of Sovander Mo’hanna, by the Grace of the Gods King of Arlennis.

“Most prized possession, eh?” someone commented. “What was that then?”

Someone else snorted in contempt. “Can’t have been his soul, elves don’t have one! Nah, they say it was some keepsake from his youth.”

“And they stole it? From the palace?”

I could understand the disbelief. The palace was crammed to the hilt with security, and boasted enough sorcerers for everything to be warded as well as locked.

“Like a ghost, they were. No locks damaged, no wards broken,” the knowing man asserted to everyone. “Kingy’s furious, as you can see.”

“And that’s all they stole? No gold, no jewels?” the first speaker asked.

“Nope. Just that one thing, whatever it was. Seems daft to me, to risk that much for nothing useful, but then it wasn’t me what stole it.” The man laughed, a rich guffaw that had a few others chortling along.

The exchange had taken place while I was still deciphering the script, and by the time I reached the end Shani was already tugging at my sleeve. She was a better and faster reader than I, and understood sooner that we had to leave, and quickly. Yet I still stood, aghast at this curt, cold announcement that could mean death for the two of us if we simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Which could be now. “You’d better run, luvvie,” an old lady next to me muttered. I stared at her, and she pointed towards the other side of the square.

I followed her gesture, and a cold hand clamped around my heart as I recognised the vivid blue and green tabards of the royal guards. There were five of them, standing out boldly on their gigantic Tizarian steeds, and they towered over everyone else present, their eyes scanning the crowd.

“Thanks,” I muttered, finally giving in to Shani’s incessant tugging and ducking away from the people at the board. Not everyone would be as sympathetic as the old lady, certainly not this close to the royal court in Arlis, though there were also few people who would outright hand us in – Sovander wasn’t popular among humans either.

We moved away from the guards, past the last few market vendors, and after a last glance at the blue and green figures in the distance I swiftly darted between two stalls to make my exit.

At least, that was my intention. Rather than the smooth manoeuvre I had planned I collided with a solid body clad in sturdy dark clothes. My subconscious registered the subtleties of a thief’s outfit, but as I steadied myself, muttered an apology and glanced at the face of the man I had bumped into, all my thoughts were washed away. For several moments that felt like an eternity, all I could see were his eyes – the deepest, darkest eyes I had ever seen. They were black as velvet, impossible to read, and I could have drowned in them had he not drawn back a little and nodded his head to me.

“Mylady,” he murmured, brushing the creases from my sleeves, his voice polite but with a hint of mockery. It was subtle, but like knows like, and the slightly upturned corner of his mouth was an expression I had worn all too often myself: thinly veiled arrogance and contempt.

It was annoying to have such a look aimed at me, but not surprising, since he was a half-elf too. Many of our kind had been forced to develop survival techniques, and a forbidding mask of arrogance often staved off unwanted questions. No, what really annoyed me was my instant attraction to this man. His hair was as dark as his eyes, haphazardly cut and brushing his shoulders, and it framed a strong, angular face with a straight nose and lush black eyebrows. The combination was devilishly sexy, and far too disconcerting for my comfort. I muttered another platitude before turning around to get away from his unsettling presence, only to bump once again into a man in dark clothing.

The déjà vu was so strong that for a moment I was paralysed in stark and utter terror. Once more there were blackest eyes, a mocking mouth, black shaggy hair, and my confused mind could not comprehend how this could happen twice in a row, in opposite directions. Only when I turned my head and saw the original man still behind me, his grin now more pronounced, did I understand: twins!

For a few moments more I stared back and forth between them, wondering at the coincidence of one identical twin running into another, but then I remembered the guards, and Shani.

I spotted her a few feet behind the first man, her eyes sending frantic messages to me. This time I did not bother saying anything, I merely ducked around him and rushed to my sister.

“What happened there?” she asked, frowning at me and trying to pull me along and away. I shook my head, unable to explain and distracted by a nagging feeling that something was wrong. When I turned around once more to look back at the twins the feeling clicked: one of them grinned at me and waved a purse. My purse.

I cursed and started back, closely followed by Shani, but the men did not wait for me. Cocky they may have been, but they weren’t stupid.

Had I not been an experienced pickpocket myself, they would have lost me within moments. As it was, I knew the tricks they would play, because they were my own tricks. I knew how they would try to melt into the crowd, which direction they were most likely to take, and although Shani was no thief, she and I had been together long enough for her to follow me without problems. Even so, I quickly recognised the mastery we were up against. Any moves of mine which should have anticipated theirs turned out to be a moment too late. I had trouble keeping pace, and realised with growing despair that catching them would be impossible.

It made me furious. I was the thief, I held the money; Shani trusted me with it. Being robbed by a master was no excuse; thieves did not get robbed. So when I saw their dark heads move back in the direction of the royal guards, I acted on impulse. If we could not have that money, neither could they.

“Thieves! Over there, half-elf thieves!” I shouted, pointing. People turned their heads and craned their necks, and I called again for good measure: “Filthy black-haired thieves!”

The guards perked up and the crowd closed in, their attention too riveted on the two men to notice that my sister and I were half-elves too. I caught a glimpse of two dark, struggling figures between bright blue and green, and with a satisfied grin I ducked down, yanked Shani with me and disappeared down a side street.

It wasn’t until we stopped in a quiet alley somewhere and Shani turned her accusing gaze on me that I fully realised what I had just done. Remorse hit immediately, further enforced by her words.

“I can’t believe you just did that,” she hissed, and I lowered my eyes in shame. She waited, but when I offered no explanation she continued, “What in Eternity got into you? Yes, they stole our money, but they’ll get executed now, Rin. Executed. They were half-elves! How could you?”

“We’ll… We’ll spring them out,” I stammered, unable to think of another solution. “They won’t hang them until they have twenty, so we should have time. It’ll be hard, but you’re right, I shouldn’t have done that. I was…” I hesitated, trying to make sense of myself in my mind, and had to admit that I had simply been too annoyed at my instant attraction to the first man to think straight. “I don’t know what came over me,” I finished, too embarrassed to voice the truth, even to Shani.

She gave me a pensive, puzzled look. “You mean it? We’ll get them out?” When I nodded she grinned and pulled me into a hug, and I knew I was forgiven. We retreated to a hiding spot and began our preparations for what I knew would be the hardest task of my life so far.

 *   *   *   *   *

Whatever thoughts I had had about the difficulty of that night’s rescue mission – and I had not been optimistic – the reality proved three times worse. We had carefully scouted out the local prison and had found it disturbingly well guarded and fortified. It was part of Mazar’s court house and guard station, a large, complex building which would have a labyrinth of rooms and corridors inside. The guards looked alert and well-armed, and neither of us dared to use the seduction trick we often performed on tavern visitors – right now all it was likely to accomplish would be our own arrest to be added to the half-elf tally for execution.

It wasn’t until two measures after sunset that we were finally rewarded with a small side door which only had one guard. Shani worked her quiet magic, sending him to sleep, and I spent a quarter measure sweating over the lock before it finally succumbed.

Things didn’t improve much after that. There were a lot of doors, most of them locked, and all of them were as hard as the first one. On top of that virtually every corridor required Shani’s intervention; either an illusion to distract a guard, or another sleep spell to take them out altogether. I avoided her eyes as we worked, unwilling to see my own worry echoed. My lockpicking was getting us in, and her spells were keeping us going, but we were both tiring fast.

It happened when we got to the seventh locked door. I was tired beyond belief and losing concentration, my fingers almost too slippery to work the delicate lockpicks, but I stubbornly refused to admit defeat. I had just selected a pick and inserted it into the keyhole when the door suddenly opened inward, neatly wrenching the metal tool out of my fingers. Only years of training to be silent while at work stopped me from shrieking, but in that first instant of terror I was convinced that we had been caught and everything had been in vain. Then I looked up, drowned once again in a velvety black gaze, and my heart galloped away in a different kind of panic.

He stood there, stock still with his own picks still raised, and for several heartbeats his expression held total and utter astonishment, his gaze locked to mine. Then his eyes flickered with something I could not recognise, and he pulled himself together and moulded his face back into its mask of mocking arrogance. Only then could I tear my eyes away to acknowledge his brother behind him. His face too was set in that same expression, but although they looked more alike than even Shani and I ever had, I knew in that instant that I would never mix them up. They were both equally handsome, but that immediate, infuriating tug of attraction only happened when I looked at the thief, not at the other.

“We came to rescue you,” Shani said softly, breaking the frozen scene. I winced at how loud it sounded, and so did the twin at the back, but the man in front of me curled his lips into a contemptuous smile, never taking his eyes off me.

“Cute, Little Firelocks, but as you can see also wholly unnecessary.” His voice was barely above a whisper, but it was as velvety as his eyes, and I had to suppress a shiver at the unwanted sensations it provoked. I felt stupid for not realising that a master thief – like I had already assessed him to be – would need no help in escaping from a prison, and inadequate for being dead on my feet after picking only six locks, while he looked as fresh as if he had just emerged from an invigorating bath.

I was still contemplating my own failures when the first twin tapped two fingers against his head in a mocking salute and said, still only just above a whisper, “Well, ladies, it has been a pleasure, but I’m afraid we cannot stay to chat.” With that he brushed past me, his brother close behind him.

In that instant my temper came flaring back and I yanked my lockpick out of the door before whirling around and grabbing the thief’s arm. “That’s it?” I hissed. “We risk our own lives to get you out and that’s all you have to say?”

He stopped and turned his head, raising an eyebrow. “I seem to recall it was you who got us here in the first place?”

I blushed, but stood my ground and did not let go. “I seem to recall it was you who broke the thieves’ code and stole my purse,” I snapped.

For a heartbeat I thought that barb had hit home: his expression showed a quick flash of something close to admiration, but then the mask was back and the sneering grin returned. “Oh, you’re a thief? I hadn’t noticed.”

Behind me, Shani sucked in a hissing breath, and my fury tripled. I think I was about to do something supremely stupid when the other twin raised his hand and put it on his brother’s shoulder. “Zash,” was all he said, but that one word held a myriad of messages. Impatience, annoyance, appeasement and a warning – it was all there, and after a breath or two the first twin gave a grudging nod.

“Fine, I suppose I shouldn’t have done that,” he muttered. It appeared that that was all I was going to get though: he smoothly took my hand, pressed a kiss on my fingers and gave a quick, sarcastic bow before turning away and saying, “We still can’t stay to chat though. Really must dash.”

As he darted down the corridor his brother glanced at us and made an almost imperceptible head gesture to follow them. Not that I needed that encouragement; my feet had already started moving, and within two heartbeats Shani and I had caught up with them.

“Wait,” I whispered, once again yanking a dark sleeve. This time when his head whipped back his eyes showed plain and unchecked fury.

Now what?” His anger was almost palpable, but anger I could handle, unlike his mocking courteousness.

“Were you planning to go out the front door?” I challenged him. “You may be good, but you’re not that good.” That barb did hit home: I saw his anger flare higher before he gritted his teeth and tamped it down.

“I take it you have a better suggestion?”

“As a matter of fact, I have. You could go out the side entrance, the way we two came in. Some of the guards will probably still be asleep.”

“Asleep, eh?” The contemptuous smile was back, curling around his mouth.

“Yes, asleep,” Shani cut in. “We don’t kill people. I’m a sorceress.”

At that, the second twin’s head whipped up and I saw pleased astonishment in his eyes as he gazed at my sister. His brother, however, shook his head in disgust and turned. “Very well then, do lead on. It seems there’s no getting rid of you pests,” he hissed.

I glared at him as I moved into the lead. Pests! And that coming from someone who barely looks any older than we are! I didn’t voice the thought, however, just took satisfaction from having broken his mask and focused my concentration back on our environment. As it was, we were lucky not to have been caught yet.

As we snuck our way back out of the building, I once again had the thief’s mastery confirmed. He made no sound at all when moving, and his ability to blend into the shadows was beyond anything I’d ever seen. Naerev had not been nearly as good as that. It only made me more determined; I might not have been as good as this mysterious thief, but I was a damn sight better than a beginner, and felt the need to prove that to him.

Perhaps it was that ambition, or that spark of competition he lit in me, but we very quickly became attuned to each other. We anticipated each other’s movements, and although our communications gestures were ordinary thieves’ cant, neither of us needed more than half a hand movement to understand what was meant. Shani and the other twin, too, fell into an easy pattern, both of them obviously used to taking their cues from us in the front, yet allowing each other room.

Mercifully we reached the side door without incident, though it wasn’t until we were all outside and out of sight in a dark alley that I allowed myself to breathe more easily. I was acutely aware of the thief twin’s proximity, and although I wasn’t looking at him I could almost feel his midnight eyes boring into my back.

Now that the immediate danger was over I had nothing to distract me from my unwanted and unprovoked attraction to him, and I was struggling to find something to say. I wanted him a long, long way away from me, but at the same time I wanted to stay with him, get to know him and learn from him. I had never felt this conflicted in my life, and it still infuriated me. Before I found any words, however, a subdued glow appeared behind me, and both of us whirled around, ready to face whatever had found us.

It wasn’t what I had expected. Shani and the other twin stood facing each other, a large, red rose made of slowly swirling smoke suspended between their dark silhouettes. It originated from the second twin’s hand, and his teasing smile was meant for my sister alone.

Her smile in return was guarded, but although I couldn’t see the expression in her eyes, her body language told me that she was more than pleased. She wasn’t going to give in to this man’s charms easily though – as I watched the rose slowly drift upwards and towards her, she lifted her hand and made a few gestures.

A dragon’s head, red and gold in the darkness, materialised beside the rose and delicately, almost daintily bit the flower off its stem. I chuckled as both images disappeared, impressed as always with my sister’s imagery. The second twin’s delighted grin showed that he, too, was pleased with the exchange.

The thief gave a resigned sigh beside me and I turned to him and commented, “Well, what are the chances of that, eh? Not just two identical twins, not just two thieves, but two sorcerers as well.” I delighted in the flash of annoyance passing across his face – anything to break that infuriating mask of arrogance and mockery – then walked up to Shani and her suitor.

“Long overdue, I suppose, but I think introductions wouldn’t be out of place by now,” I said, interrupting their absorption of each other. “My name is Chiarin, and this is Shaniel.”

“Shaniel…” the sorcerer repeated, as if to taste the sound. Then he focused on me and inclined his head. “Pleasure to meet you, ladies. I am Miorev, or just Mior. My grumpy brother there is Zashter.”

“And now that that’s over with, let’s go for tea and biscuits in the park, I’m sure everyone would be delighted,” Zashter said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. Mior frowned, but before he could say anything his brother snapped, “Oh, for the love of the Gods, can we get going? We’ve already wasted more time than I would have ever thought was possible.”

Mior hesitated, but now it was Shani’s turn to get annoyed. “So sorry to have intruded upon your precious time,” she hissed. “So sorry for getting in your way and presenting our purse for you to steal. And believe me, we are truly sorry for risking our own insignificant lives to try and rescue what we thought might be some kindred spirits!”

I should learn from my sister. It was the first time I’d seen Zashter truly taken aback, and this time the guilt on his face was unmistakeable. He briefly sought his brother’s eyes, then looked down and fumbled inside his jerkin.

“Here,” he said, thrusting something towards me. It took only a moment for me to recognise my purse, still heavy with coin.

“Take it, it’s all the apology you’ll get out of him,” Mior commented. “My brother isn’t much for saying sorry.”

I gave a distracted nod, still staring at Zashter in surprise. “How did you manage to hang on to that in prison?”

That brought back the arrogant grin. “I didn’t,” he said. “Mazar’s prison guards are kind – or lazy – enough to keep the evidence room practically next door to the cells.”

“Well… Thank you,” I said sincerely. He showed surprise for a heartbeat, then gave a curt nod, turned on his heels and stalked off without even checking whether Mior followed him.

I watched his retreating back with something akin to despair. The jumble of conflicting emotions in my head hadn’t subsided yet, and I found myself still wanting to stay near him, both to satisfy my craving for a good teacher and simply because I was attracted to him. “Wait!” I called before I could stop myself.

Mior was the first to turn around, his face almost hopeful, though he was looking at Shani, not me. Zashter took a moment longer, then he also stopped and turned around. “Now what?” It was snappish, but almost resigned, and somehow less forbidding than he had been up until then.

I didn’t know how to continue though, and stuttered through a few unintelligible syllables before I blurted out, “We’d like to go with you.”

From the corner of my eyes I saw Shani’s head snap towards me, but I didn’t look at her. If I did, I’d be lost. I had a sudden sensation, an unmistakeable feeling that we were at a crossroads in our lives, and that whatever happened here would determine our destiny. I tried to keep the desperation out of my voice as I continued, this time certain of what I needed to say.

“I know you’re a team, but so are we. I know how you two work together, because we work the same. We’re not nearly as good as you two are – I’ve never seen such mastery – but we can learn from you, and we can help you. You saw how well we worked together, without ever having done so before. Please, let us come with you. I don’t know why you’re here, or where you’re going, but I don’t care. Please.”

For several heartbeats no one moved. Zashter’s face was unreadable in the dark and I held my breath, barely realising I was doing so. Then, as he seemed about to say something, Mior took two quick strides and started whispering in his ear. I could not hear any of it, but Zashter’s face turned pensive as he listened, until he finally gave a nod.

“Very well then,” he said, and I let my pent up breath escape. It seemed too easy a victory, but at that moment I was too elated to care. I resolutely pushed my conflicting emotions into a deep, dark corner of my mind and concentrated instead on the joy I felt at finally having a teacher again. My heart still fluttered whenever I looked at Zashter, but I ignored it as best I could.

“Right then,” he said, turning to business. “The first thing we’ll need to do is get out of Mazar. The ground is getting a little too hot under our feet here. Do you two have any belongings stashed anywhere?”

Shani nodded quickly. “We hid our backpacks near the town wall before we came to find you. We figured we might need a quick escape.”

“Good, go fetch them,” Zashter said, turning away again. “We’ll wait for you near the west gate, there’s a spot near there where we can climb over the wall.”

“I’ll go,” I said, motioning for Shani to follow the two men, and was rewarded with an approving nod from both.

“You know rule number one then – trust no one,” Zashter said, a hint of mockery now back in his voice.

“It’ll be a long time before I trust you,” I muttered as I walked away, and blushed furiously as his rich laughter followed me down the street.

o-o-o-o

Did you enjoy reading the first chapter of the Ritual by Erica Dakin? Of course! For more information about the book and the author, check out Erica Dakin’s website.

SSV Staff aka the Best!

What is Silk Screen Views?
SSV is a blog about books, writing, authors, literary related entertainment and hobbies that perk our interest. I started this blog at the end of February of 2013 on a whim to do something I have not yet done, and it quickly grew into a larger entity with goals and ideas that everyone on SSV shares.

This little blog would not be possible without the wonderful staff members that make up Silk Screen Views. If it wasn’t for the amazing crew, SSV would have died off when I became engrossed in other parts of my life. Thanksgiving just passed and I feel that this post is perfect way to wrap up this week.

Silk Screen Views’ Crew is the Best!!!

Thank you from the bottom of my silly heart! I know I haven’t said thank you enough for everything you guys have done over the past several months. I may be the founder, but all I’ve been for the past few months is a glorified posting director. SSV would not be what it is without you guys sharing your love of books and writing. It would be nothing without you all putting in drafts for me to publish.

I love the fact that each of us are wildly different and yet we share a love of books, writing and diverse passions with zeal. I think it’s great that we can all read a book and have really different outlooks on it. We may all have loved reading it but it isn’t necessarily for the same reasons.

Thank you for being the best group of individuals, being a part of what makes SSV tick and putting up with me when I’m not entirely present. I promise to make more time for our little piece of the net.

Darth Val ~ You and I share a brand of geekdom in our love of comics. Though you are more mainstream and American than I. I grew up on Asian comics and read more manga. Yet, I am a fan of western delights like Sandman, X-Men, Superman, Batman and others. Thanks for being someone that I can count on.

Snarktastic Sonja ~ We love so many of the same books and series! Yet our reasons for loving them can be vastly different beyond the surface. I love that! You say you’re picky. You say that you don’t like to read a certain type of story that has certain elements and yet I’ll totally be surprised by you reading stuff I wouldn’t think you would touch. Some of them you love and some you dislike with utmost contempt. Just admit it, you’re an adventurer at heart and you’ll dive into anything if it seems interesting.

Irate Izzy ~ You’re my best friend, my sister from another mother/father, my partner in crime and a pain in my ass! No matter what, I’ll be there for you buddy! Even if you are the laziest staff member on SSV. This is true. Even she will say so. =P

Emma, the Greedy Reader ~ Despite some challenges due to electronics and sore fingers, Emma has been a trooper and totally great about sharing her love of stories. You should keep an eye out for her. She’s an up and coming author in her own right. We’re lucky to have her on SSV.

Bookaholic Olga ~ Not only is Olga a writer and a talented woman with interesting views, she is a prolific reader that reminds me to go back and re-read old loves. Books I haven’t thought about for years, I’ve gone in search of to read again because of reviews she’s posted here. She’s a woman with pretty cool accomplishments but you wouldn’t know that from just talking to her because she’s really down to earth.

Contrary Erica ~ Pssst! Erica, we are most likely the most rambunctiously opinionated on SSV. Not counting Mark. We’re the ones to more likely to be brassy in our remarks. I know I am in real life. I am a bit more tactful when I write but sometimes, I’m just blaringly blunt. Sorry to spill the secret. grins We also share a love of reading erotica. I am not alone! Thanks for sharing your writing, thoughts and awesomely bright self here on SSV.

Marathon Mark ~ Mark is the ONLY male on SSV staff. The only one! There are lots of male readers and writers out there but only one to join SSV’s dark forces. He has a way of spinning his views and thoughts in a way that makes really cool images in my mind. Usually, I love it. Sometimes, I wish it wasn’t that vivid. Some things just shouldn’t be visualized. You would think that I would know that lesson well by now. I’ve lived long enough! I love reading his reviews. Intentionally or not, I end up grinning or laughing a lot when I read Mark’s posts.

Thank you! Thank you for being amazing individuals with varied talents, a love of books & writing, and being a part of what makes Silk Screen Views a great blog. I love ya’ll! Bunches and bunches!

If you would like to get to know the crew better, check out Silhouette to get a look at SSV and look up our rowdy bunch by looking at SSV Reviewers and Guest Reviewers pages. Curious about Silk Screen Views? Check out the Nexus and explore!

A Shire Romance Contents – Story by Erica Dakin

NOTE:  Erica’s story A Shire Romance has come to an end. It’s a bit of a shock to me that I won’t be seeing a new segment released each week! I’m actually sad that’s it’s over. In honor of Erica’s story, I’ve made this contents page to help readers easily find the segments and read it in order. I hope you enjoy it!

~Soo the Instigator

A classic romance with a Hobbit twist!

When Tamsyn left for Somerset that morning, little did she realise that she’d end the day somewhere she didn’t even realise existed. Nor did Perry know when he set out for a stroll that day that his life would be utterly changed. Thrown together by chance and torn apart by their responsibilities, their future lies in Tamsyn’s hands.

Note from Author:  This is the first full-length novel I ever wrote. It’s a few years old, and I know it’s far from perfect. That was never the intention either, since it isn’t something I can publish traditionally due to copyright issues. I like the story, however, so I hope people reading this will enjoy it on those terms. Please be aware it contains explicit language and scenes.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1 – How It All Began
Chapter 2 – Perry
Chapter 3 – A Kiss or Two
Chapter 4 – Perry’s Family
Chapter 5 – Hobbit Psychology
Chapter 6 – Cooking for Hobbits
Chapter 7 – Dinner and Roses
Chapter 8 – Judo
Chapter 9 – The Melon Patch
Chapter 10 – The White Tree
Chapter 11 – The Chat with Faramir
Chapter 12 – Radagast’s Explanation
Chapter 13 – Desire
Chapter 14 – Sword Practice
Chapter 15 – Alderick’s Party
Chapter 16 – Trouble
Chapter 17 – Aftermath
Chapter 18 – The Story of Isadora Bolger
Chapter 19 – One Night Together
Chapter 20 – Goodbye to the Shire
Chapter 21 – Back in England
Chapter 22 – Catch Up
Chapter 23 – Trouble Ahead
Chapter 24 – The Board Meeting
Chapter 25 – Radagast’s Magic
Chapter 26 – Now What?
Chapter 27 – Tamsyn’s Plan
Chapter 28 – Back to the Shire
Chapter 29 – Reunion
Chapter 30 – Welcome Back
Chapter 31 – The Wedding
Chapter 32 – The Epilogue


o–o-o–o

A Shire Romance was written by Erica Dakin. You can find out more about Contrary Erica on the Guest Reviewers page and check out her website to find out more information about her work.

A Shire Romance (Epilogue)

A classic romance with a Hobbit twist!

When Tamsyn left for Somerset that morning, little did she realise that she’d end the day somewhere she didn’t even realise existed. Nor did Perry know when he set out for a stroll that day that his life would be utterly changed. Thrown together by chance and torn apart by their responsibilities, their future lies in Tamsyn’s hands.

Note to Readers:  This is the first full-length novel I ever wrote. It’s a few years old, and I know it’s far from perfect. That was never the intention either, since it isn’t something I can publish traditionally due to copyright issues. I like the story, however, so I hope people reading this will enjoy it on those terms. Please be aware it contains explicit language and scenes.

EPILOGUE

“Mother, where are my riding trousers?”

Tamsyn sighed and stretched her back, wincing at the stabs of pain shooting upwards. “I’m washing them, dear,” she called back, pulling the last of the garments through the wringer attached to the washtub, then placing them in the basket next to her.

Her son walked into the washroom, looking contrite. “I’d have done that, mother. I promised, didn’t I?”

“Faramir, I’m not yet so old that I can’t do my son’s washing for him,” she replied. “Besides, you should be packing. We’re leaving tomorrow.”

“I’m done,” he said, brightening up.

She put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow at him. “Really?”

He squirmed. “Well, mostly. I mean, we’ll only be gone two or three weeks, right? I don’t really need to take that much, right?”

“Which I take to mean that you packed one spare shirt, one spare pair of trousers and probably about seven cheeses, am I right?” Tamsyn said sternly.

Faramir tried to meet her gaze, but looked down after only a few seconds. “Only six cheeses,” he muttered, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

Tamsyn shook her head at him, then smiled and tousled his hair. It was the same as hers – straight, thick and stiff as a brush when short, meaning that it usually stuck in every direction. “You and your cheese,” she said fondly. “You should have been a mouse. Go on, go pack again, and properly this time. If you’ve done it right you can have a shower, but I will check first.”

“A shower?” he said, eyes bright. “Can I?”

“Yes, you can, just this once. This is a special occasion, after all. It’s not every day that my eldest son goes off to Bree to get his Gondorian livery.”

“Thanks, mother, you’re the best,” he said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek, then dashing off. He nearly ran into Perry, who came in just as he left, but ducked under his father’s arm and scarpered down the corridor.

“Did I hear you give away our hot water?” Perry asked, walking up to his wife.

“I’m afraid I did, my love,” she replied, smiling at him. “Unless he leaves enough for us to use the shower after him, but somehow I doubt it.”

In the first few years of their marriage, Tamsyn had used her engineering skills to design and build a primitive solar-heated water system with an insulated storage tank, which had been dug into the hill above Great Smials and connected to the big bathroom. It was virtually invisible from the outside, but once enough water was pumped into it, it was heated by the sun and stored, ready to provide a warm shower. It was a fair amount of work to keep it going, but still less than manually filling a bath, and the rule of the house was that the shower was for Perry and Tamsyn’s use only, unless special permission was obtained.

“Shame,” Perry said, pulling her into his arms. “I was looking forward to our shower.”

“We could have a bath instead,” Tamsyn suggested with a sultry smile. “It’s been a while.” She kissed him, then sighed and tried to pull away. “But I need to sort this washing first.”

“Do you?” Perry asked, refusing to let go. He nuzzled her neck and whispered, “What if I have other plans? Surely you can spare five minutes?”

Tamsyn gave him an indignant stare. “Five minutes?”

“Okay, ten?”

“I won’t settle for anything less than fifteen, and you’ll have to make up for it tonight.”

“Make up for what?”

“For rushing me. Lock the door, will you?”

o–o-o–o

Twenty minutes later they lay in each other’s arms on a big pile of blankets in the corner, sated and content. Tamsyn shifted position and let out an involuntary grunt of pain when her back sent another protesting stab upwards.

“Are you alright, my heart?” Perry asked.

“I’m fine, it’s just my back,” she grumbled. “I’m not as young as I used to be, and washing takes it out of me a bit.”

“You ought to have let Faramir do it,” he reproached her.

“Don’t you start,” she muttered. “I’m not decrepit yet. It’s nothing you can’t fix with a massage tonight.”

He gave her a slow smile. “I’m sure I can do that.” Then he turned serious again. “Are you sure you want to come with us tomorrow? You would be the first Took wife to go to Bree.”

“Oh, Eä, not that argument again, I thought we’d settled this. You’re not leaving me behind, Perry,” she said, glaring at him.

“But it’s a long way to Bree.”

Tamsyn snorted. “It’s only three days further than Buckland, and we’ve gone there lots of times. I can ride as well as you and Faramir, and I’m coming with you, period.”

“But I’m still not sure we should leave the children on their own for so long.”

“Oh for…” She sat up and turned to him with an exasperated look. “Paddy is twenty-seven and will be delighted to not have his parents around for a few weeks. I’d worry about him trashing the place, but Frodo and Lily are around and I’m sure they’ll keep him in check. You know Paddy adores his uncle. Iris and Esme will be fine over at Donna and Tommy’s, and they’ll love spending time with Peony and Ruby.”

“And Andy? He’s only nineteen, Tam.”

“Andy is a very sensible child, nothing like his father. He’ll be fine. He’ll help Lily look after Addy and Vinca, and he’ll love every moment of it. He’s fascinated by the twins, and you know it.”

He still looked dubious, and she leaned forward and stroked his face, studying it like she still so often did. There were a few more lines, and his eyes had little crows’ feet at the corners, but at seventy-two his hair was as coal-black as it had been at forty-one, and to Tamsyn he was still the same young man she had fallen in love with so long ago. “Perry, my love, if all of that doesn’t convince you, I have one last argument that you cannot possibly counter,” she said quietly.

“Which is?”

“I have not been away from you for more than a day in over thirty years, and I still don’t think I could bear to be. So do you think that you could do without me for several weeks?”

He looked at her for a moment, then pulled her close. “No, I couldn’t,” he admitted.

“So it’s still settled, like it’s been for weeks. I’m coming with you to Bree. Besides, I’ve always wanted to see–”

She was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Mother? Father?” Paddy’s voice was hesitant. “There’s someone at the door, and… and he looks like one of the big folk. Says his name is Radagast. Should I go and call the shirriffs?”

Perry and Tamsyn stared at each other, then scrambled up and began pulling on their clothes. “It’s fine, Paddy,” Perry called back. “Give him something to eat, we’ll be there in a moment.” He was up and out the door while Tamsyn was still lacing her bodice, but she followed soon after and rushed up to hug the old wizard, sat awkwardly at the kitchen table on a just-too-small chair.

“Radagast, we haven’t seen you in thirty years!” she exclaimed. “What brings you here today?”

“I’m about to go through the portal, and I thought I’d check here first, to see how you and Peregrin are faring. You’re looking well, Tamsyn. You’re as beautiful as ever.”

“See?” Perry said triumphantly. “It’s not just me who thinks so.”

Tamsyn waved him away, suddenly intent. “You say you’re going through the portal?” she asked, grabbing the wizard’s sleeve. “Can you do something for me, please?”

At Radagast’s nod she dashed away and returned a few minutes later with a flat piece of paper, placing it before the wizard. “I’ve had this ready for years, hoping you’d come by. Please take this and put it in a postbox somewhere. You know what they look like?”

Radagast smiled. “I know what they looked like thirty years ago, yes. What is this?”

Tamsyn opened the makeshift envelope and took out a drawing. Years before, Frodo had discovered a talent for drawing, slowly honing his skill. The picture before her was evidence of just how talented he was.

She looked at the image, at herself and Perry, then brushed her fingers past all five of her children. Faramir, with his unruly hair and his father’s eyes, and the quiet, shy character of Donna and Izzy. Paddy, who was such a carbon copy of Perry that it was uncanny sometimes. Iris, with Tamsyn’s hair and Perry’s eyes, and a quiet confidence that made heads turn even though she was only twenty-five. Esme with her hobbit hair and black eyes, and with the same calm confidence as her sister.

And last but not least, Andy, who looked as much like Tamsyn as Paddy looked like Perry. He was easygoing and cheerful, and Tamsyn knew that once he had grown out of his puppy-fat he would be even more handsome than Perry. They all sported the same midnight-black hair as their parents, and Tamsyn felt a fierce pride for all five of them.

She showed the picture to Radagast, then put it back in the envelope. She had addressed it to Andrew McIntyre, at her old address in London. “It’s been a long time, and he may not live there anymore,” she said with a shrug, “but it’s worth a try. I’m sure he won’t mind paying the postage.” Then she walked back into Perry’s embrace.

“I never really got to say this to you at the time, Radagast, but I cannot thank you enough for bringing Tamsyn back to me,” Perry said. “I never knew I could be as happy as I have been these past thirty years. Is there anything at all that I can give you, or do for you?”

Radagast smiled. “Seeing the two of you together and happy is reward enough. I’m glad to have been of service.” He sighed and stood up, remembering at the last moment to stoop, then picked up the envelope. “Farewell Peregrin, farewell Tamsyn. I do not think I shall see you again.”

They watched him disappear into the woods, then turned to each other. “Come, let’s finish packing,” Tamsyn said. “Tomorrow we’re off to Bree.”

Perry smiled. “Tomorrow we’re off to Bree,” he agreed.

o–o-o–o

Andy sat on the sofa, engrossed in a book, when Rhys walked in. “Andy, there’s a really strange letter for you here,” he said. “It looks like it was delivered to the old place, but I guess the porter must have remembered where we moved to. There’s no postage or anything.”

He held out the envelope and Andy accepted it, bemusedly taking in the stiff, parchment-like paper and the makeshift nature of the envelope. Then he saw the handwriting and lost all strength in his legs, dropping heavily onto the sofa.

“Andy? Are you okay?” Rhys asked as Andy ripped open the envelope with trembling hands and took out a picture, hand-drawn in pastels and charcoal. There was a dedication at the bottom:

To Andy, with love. These are Thain Peregrin Took and his wife Tamsyn. Also their children, Faramir, Padraig, Iris, Esmeralda and Andrew.

Andy stretched out his hand and drew Rhys down onto the sofa beside him. “Rhys,” he said, “there’s something I have to tell you…”

THE END

o–o-o–o

A Shire Romance was written by Erica Dakin. You can find out more about Contrary Erica on the Guest Reviewers page and check out her website to find out more information about her work.

A Shire Romance (Part Thirty-one)

A classic romance with a Hobbit twist!

When Tamsyn left for Somerset that morning, little did she realise that she’d end the day somewhere she didn’t even realise existed. Nor did Perry know when he set out for a stroll that day that his life would be utterly changed. Thrown together by chance and torn apart by their responsibilities, their future lies in Tamsyn’s hands.

Note to Readers:  This is the first full-length novel I ever wrote. It’s a few years old, and I know it’s far from perfect. That was never the intention either, since it isn’t something I can publish traditionally due to copyright issues. I like the story, however, so I hope people reading this will enjoy it on those terms. Please be aware it contains explicit language and scenes.

PART THIRTY-ONE – THE WEDDING

The weeks passed like lightning, and the wedding drew ever closer. It took several days before Tamsyn and Perry could stand to be away from each other for more than a minute at a time, but they steadily got accustomed to each other’s presence again, even if their desire for each other did not lessen one whit. Perry only needed to give Tamsyn one smouldering look and she’d be ready to jump him, and he seemed determined to exploit this to the full. They stole quick kisses between the jobs they had to do in preparation for the wedding, or made quick, passionate love in unlikely places, such as the mathom room where Perry’s livery was stored. Their evenings in bed were spent exploring each other’s bodies in a more leisurely fashion.

Radagast woke up after three days, and left after a further three, declining all requests to stay for the wedding. He stated he preferred to keep his relative anonymity among hobbits, and did not want to disturb their wedding day with his unsettling height.

Perry and Sarry spent a lot of time in the training ground, sparring or teaching Frodo, until one day Tamsyn showed up in a pair of Izzy’s borrowed trousers and a shirt knotted tightly under her breasts for support.

“Teach me,” she said, picking up a wooden sword and turning to Perry. “I want to learn how to fight too.”

Perry stared at her in surprise. “Why would you want to?”

“Because it’s good exercise, and it looks like fun,” she replied with a grin. “Come on, teach me.”

“B…but I might hurt you!”

“So? You’ll just have to teach me how to avoid getting hurt.”

He still shook his head, a dubious look on his face, so she sighed and turned to Sarry. “You teach me then.”

Sarry laughed. “What, and have him kill me when I’m the one who hurts you? Not a chance.”

“You both seem rather intent on hurting me.” Tamsyn sniffed. “All I want is to learn how to fight. Come on, Perry, please?”

“Tam, I love you!” he said, throwing up his hands. “I couldn’t possibly attack you! Every time I’d land a hit it’d be as if I hit myself!”

“God, you’re hopeless, both of you,” Tamsyn muttered, then planted a fist on her hip and raised her chin at Perry. “I’ll fight you for it. No, not with those, I’ll fight you my way,” she added when he looked at his wooden practice sword in confusion.

Understanding dawned on his face and he backed away. “Oh no, sod that. You’d win, and you know it.”

“Exactly,” she said with a grin.

“Wait, what?” Sarry said, scratching his head. “Did I miss something here?”

Tamsyn looked at Perry. “Did you not tell him?”

“Tell me what?” Sarry asked, but Perry shook his head.

“I think I may have mentioned it in passing, but I, um, didn’t elaborate.”

Tamsyn’s grin widened. “Too embarrassed? How about this: for five minutes Sarry can try to catch me. If he does, I’ll go away. If he can’t, you both teach me how to fight with swords. And if I do get hurt…” She shrugged and smiled coyly. “Well, you’ll just have to kiss it better again.”

Perry’s face turned pensive for a moment, then he grinned. “Kiss it better, eh? Fine, it’s a deal. If Sarry is up for it, of course.”

They both turned to the auburn-haired hobbit, who still stared at them in abject confusion. “I’m sure I missed something here, but what you’re saying is that if I manage to catch her within five minutes, we won’t have to teach her how to swordfight?”

“Catch her and hold on to her,” Perry corrected him with a sly smile.

Sarry looked at Tamsyn and her disconcertingly wide grin, then shrugged. “Okay?”

“Good man,” Perry said, and turned to Tamsyn. “Don’t damage him too much, or I think Diamond might have something to say about it.”

“Oh, wait, wait, hang on, I remember now,” Sarry said, edging away from Tamsyn. “Didn’t you mention something about some kind of special thing she can do? Is it too late to back out of this?”

“Yes, it is,” Tamsyn and Perry said together, and Sarry sighed.

“Fine, let’s do this then. It can’t be that bad, you’re only a girl.” He lunged at her, and seemed taken by surprise when she didn’t run away or dodge, but instead caught his outstretched arm and used his momentum to casually flip him into the dirt.

“That, my friend, was the wrong thing to say,” she stated archly.

Sarry grunted and scrambled up, and for the next five minutes Perry watched with interest as his friend was flung to the ground seven successive times, never even getting close to catching hold of Tamsyn.

“He’s tenacious, I’ll give him that,” she remarked as he came at her again. “You gave up sooner than that, Perry.”

“I didn’t have a time limit to reach, my heart,” he replied. “Enough, leave him be. I’ll teach you.”

“As will I,” Sarry said, grinning from ear to ear as he leaned against the fence, wheezing. “On one condition.”

“Which is?”

“You teach me how you do that, because that was amazing.”

“And me,” Perry added.

Tamsyn grinned. “Deal.”

 o–o-o–o

On the morning of the wedding, Tamsyn awoke to find Perry with his head propped up on one arm, watching her with a smile on his face. “Good morning, my love, and happy birthday,” he said, stroking her cheek.

“Good morning,” she replied, kissing his palm. “Are you ready for today?”

Perry considered a moment, then pulled her into his arms. “Tamsyn, dearest, I am very much looking forward to having a big party today, but as far as I’m concerned it’s merely a formality. In my mind we got married the night you came to my bed, the night before you left. I already knew that I wanted you and no other, but that sealed it. Today will only make that official. It will make not one bit of difference in how I feel about you, or how I behave towards you.” He grinned. “I actually think it will make more of a difference to mother, because she won’t have to give us disapproving looks anymore for sharing the same bed.”

Tamsyn smiled and shook her head at him. “Only you could be romantic and unromantic at the same time. Don’t you know that a girl’s wedding day is supposed to be the best day of her life?”

“Mmm,” he said, pulling her closer and nuzzling her neck. “I can make sure it will be.” He trailed his hand down her side and Tamsyn shivered, then pulled back a little.

“Perry, the best day of my life was when I came back here and found that you still loved me,” she said. “The way it felt to be back in your arms after months of being alone… I can’t describe it.”

“I bet I can make you feel like that again,” Perry whispered, pushing her onto her back and running a trail of nibbling kisses from her collarbone to her breast. He stopped just as he reached her nipple and raised his head. “Do you want me to, Tam?”

“Always,” she breathed, and closed her eyes to enjoy the sensations he evoked in her.

Afterwards they snuggled into each other’s arms, and Perry ran his hand over her stomach in a slow, lazy caress. “I don’t think I will ever get enough of you,” he murmured. “I never thought it was possible to love someone as much as I love you.”

“Nor I,” Tamsyn replied. “You’re everything to me, Perry.” Then she sighed and pushed the covers away. “Come, we’d better start getting ready.”

They broke their fast in their dressing gowns, with Esme prattling around in nervous happiness. After that Tamsyn went away with Esme, Diamond and Donna, while Perry moved to a different part of the house with Faramir, Sarry and Paladin.

Tamsyn had discovered that hobbit wedding dresses were pastel rather than white, and had chosen a pale sky blue for hers. The bodice was decorated with dark blue ribbons, and blue fabric flowers trailed down the skirt in a spiral pattern. She had also learnt that it was traditional for hobbit women to wear their own wedding dress to other hobbit weddings, and that the bodice lacing allowed for expanding waistlines in maturity. Diamond’s dress was pale yellow, and Esme’s the delicate green of spring leaves. The distinctive style also made it easy to differentiate between married and unmarried women, since weddings were a favoured occasion for matchmaking or partner-finding.

Donna disappeared into the garden and returned with an armful of forget-me-nots, bluebells and white roses, which were twined into a wreath and set on Tamsyn’s head like a crown. They kept it in place with a few locks of her hair and some strategic hair pins, but the rest of her hair was left unbound.

Finally, after some last-minute fretting and fussing, Esme stepped back and clasped her hands together. “You look stunning, my dear,” she declared. “Perry will think you are beautiful.”

“He thinks that anyway, mother,” Diamond said, though she also nodded her approval. “But you do look stunning, Tam. Absolutely radiant.”

“That’s because I’m happier than I could possibly have imagined, Di,” Tamsyn said, giving her a hug. “I love your brother more than life itself.”

There was a knock on the door, followed by Sarry’s voice. “Are you ready yet? Only Perry is getting restless. He’s on his fifth sandwich by now, and if we don’t get moving he’s going to spill chutney all down his livery.”

Tamsyn and Diamond laughed, though Esme tutted. “We’re ready, my darling,” Diamond called back. “Go clean him up if you need to.” She arranged a last fold in Tamsyn’s skirt, then they all trooped out with Tamsyn at the back.

She caught a glimpse of Sarry dabbing at Perry’s face with a wet napkin, but then her love looked at her, and the rest of the world ceased to exist. She only saw his eyes at first, green and smoky, and so full of love that she thought she would burst. Then he smiled, and she managed to look at the rest of him. He was wearing his livery; the silvery, slippery shirt and the black velvet tabard with the embroidered white tree, together with matching black trousers, and to Tamsyn he looked breathtaking.

She didn’t even realise that she had walked up to him until he took her hands and pulled her close, kissing her fingers as his gaze roved over her body, her face and the wreath in her hair.

“You have never been more beautiful than you look right now,” he whispered, and kissed her.

After a few moments Sarry cleared his throat. “There will be time for that later, you know,” he said. “Right now we have about two hundred and fifty hobbits waiting for us, and the food is getting cold.”

They laughed, and then Perry took her hand and led her out of the house and to the big field a few streets away, where the wedding would be held. Since hobbits did not have any real religion the wedding would be more of a handfasting, and it would be conducted by Faramir, who was the highest authority in Tuckborough. He wore his own livery for the occasion, and looked as content as a hobbit possibly could.

Tamsyn walked past the assembled hobbits, clinging to Perry’s hand, and they stopped in the middle of a rough circle which had been left open for them. Faramir turned to face them, and when someone handed him a pint of ale Tamsyn realised that this would be quite an informal affair. It made her feel a lot less nervous.

“My dear Tooks, Brandybucks, Bracegirdles and Bagginses,” Faramir began, and Tamsyn had to bite her lip not to laugh, for she felt like she was at Bilbo’s birthday party.

Faramir continued. “Boffins, Bolgers, Chubbs, Proudfeet and anyone else I might have forgotten, I welcome you all to the marriage, at last, of my eldest son.”

There were a few chuckles as Faramir paused for a swig of ale, but then he motioned for Perry and Tamsyn to face each other, and Tamsyn knew that the formal part of the ceremony was at hand. She smiled and looked into Perry’s eyes, seeing her own smile mirrored on his face.

“Peregrin Took, seventeenth of that name, son of Faramir Took, twelfth of that name, son of Adalgrim Took, fourth of that name,” Faramir intoned. “You are here to pledge your life and love to this woman. Will you love her and provide for her?”

“I will, now and forever,” Perry replied, his voice ringing across the field for all hobbits to hear.

Faramir nodded and turned to Tamsyn. “Tamsyn Moriarty, daughter of Padraig and Iris Moriarty, you are here to pledge your life and love to this man. Will you love him and care for him?”

“I will, now and forever,” Tamsyn replied, her voice as confident as Perry’s had been.

“Who stands witness for Peregrin?”

“I do,” Sarry replied, stepping forward. “I have seen their love and it is true.”

“And who stands witness for Tamsyn?”

“I do,” Diamond replied, moving next to her husband. “I have seen their love and it will last.”

“Then I have the authority to declare you husband and wife,” Faramir said with unmistakable, smug pride. He took another swig of ale and added, as an afterthought, “You may kiss each other.”

They did, and in the hush that fell there were a few wistful sighs. The silence stretched and stretched, until Dongo Baggins suddenly called, “Treebeard’s Roots, Perry, let her breathe!”

The entire congregation dissolved into laughter, and it was the signal everyone had been waiting for. A great cheer went up and people started throwing flower petals at Perry and Tamsyn. Somewhere in the back a whistle began a dancing tune, soon joined by a fiddle and a drum, and Perry picked Tamsyn up and twirled her around until they were both dizzy and nearly fell to the ground.

It was a party like only hobbits could organise. There were mountains of food, casks of ale so big that Tamsyn wondered how on earth they managed to transport them, and among it everyone laughed and talked and danced and ate like there was no tomorrow. She was asked to dance by many young hobbits, some of whom she knew and some of whom she didn’t, but she was gloriously happy and would even have danced with Colman Chubb, had he asked her.

After a dance with Sarry he deposited her back into Perry’s embrace with a neat twirl, and Perry’s arms locked around her like a vice. “Now you stay with me,” he said, sitting down and pulling her onto his lap. “I’ve had enough of you dancing with other men.”

“Don’t tell me you’re jealous?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “You know there is no need, my love.”

“I’m not,” he replied with a grin. “I’ve just had enough of you being over there when I want you right here.” He nuzzled her neck and kissed her jaw, and Tamsyn snuggled closer.

“It looks like we might have another wedding soon,” she said, nodding over to the side.

“Hmm?” Perry followed her gaze and saw Donna and Tommy, holding hands and kissing each other. “Oh, wow, I’m impressed, it only took them six months. The way those two are, I figured it’d take them three years before one of them plucked up the courage. Who do you think started it?”

“Donna,” Tamsyn said without hesitation. “She’s got quite decisive recently, plus I think we’ve been teaching her a few things these past weeks.”

“Have we now? Do tell,” Perry said, kissing her jaw again. Then he stopped. “Wait, you don’t mean she’s seen us when…”

Tamsyn chuckled. “She may have. I was sure I heard someone that one time we did it in the pantry.”

He swallowed, staring at her, then shook his head and shrugged. “Well, let’s hope she learned something. I suppose it means it won’t take five years for them to have any children. Speaking of which…” He moved his hand to stroke her stomach. “Do you think we might find a quiet spot somewhere? We still need to keep trying for that son.”

She hugged him and brought her mouth beside his ear. “I don’t think that will be necessary,” she whispered, and licked his earlobe.

Perry went very still. “Tam, you mean… What?”

She pulled back and gave him her widest smile. “I’m pregnant, Perry.”

He stared at her, then looked down at her stomach as if he expected to see a difference already. “Are you sure?”

“Well, not completely,” she admitted. “But I’m two weeks overdue, and normally I’m very regular. Plus my breasts are starting to feel a little sore.”

Perry’s hand, which had been resting on one of them, jerked away as if it were on fire, and he stared at her in consternation.

Tamsyn grabbed his head and kissed him, then gave him a stern look. “Peregrin Took, if you now start treating me as if I’m made of porcelain I’m going to give you such a kicking!” she threatened. “You won’t see or feel anything yet for weeks, and even then I’ll be fine!” She kissed him again and pulled him close, and after a few moments he slid his arms around her and pulled her tight.

“That’s better,” she murmured, and Perry placed a hand on her belly.

“You’re carrying our son,” he said in wonder.

“It could be a daughter, you know,” Tamsyn muttered, placing her hand on top of his.

He laughed and shook his head. “Tam, for over forty generations the eldest Took has always been a son, ever since Faramir the First. I don’t know if it’s magic, and we may have nothing but daughters after that, but our eldest will be a son, take it from me.”

“Really?” She looked down at her stomach again, then shrugged. “Whatever, it’s yours and I’ll love it. And it means we won’t have to try for a child again.”

He gave her such a crestfallen look that she laughed out loud. “Oh, Perry, you’re so easy to wind up sometimes!” Then she snuggled close and whispered, “We may not have to try for our first child anymore, but I think we’ll need lots and lots of practice for our second one.”

His smile was as sudden and as bright as a sunrise over the hill. “Have I told you lately that you’re amazing?” he murmured. “I love you, Tamsyn.”

“And I love you, Perry,” she replied from the bottom of her heart. “Now and forever.”

o–o-o–o

The end? Not quite! Come back one more time for the Epilogue!

A Shire Romance is written by Erica Dakin. You can find out more about Contrary Erica on the Guest Reviewers page and check out her website to find out more information about her work.

A Shire Romance (Part Thirty)

A classic romance with a Hobbit twist!

When Tamsyn left for Somerset that morning, little did she realise that she’d end the day somewhere she didn’t even realise existed. Nor did Perry know when he set out for a stroll that day that his life would be utterly changed. Thrown together by chance and torn apart by their responsibilities, their future lies in Tamsyn’s hands.

Note to Readers:  This is the first full-length novel I ever wrote. It’s a few years old, and I know it’s far from perfect. That was never the intention either, since it isn’t something I can publish traditionally due to copyright issues. I like the story, however, so I hope people reading this will enjoy it on those terms. Please be aware it contains explicit language and scenes.

PART THIRTY – WELCOME BACK

When Tamsyn and Perry walked into the kitchen, hands clasped tightly, it contained not just Esme, Sarry and Diamond, but also Faramir, who looked uncommonly shaky when he stood up.

“Tamsyn,” he said. “They said you were here, but I could barely believe it. Are you… are you here to stay now?” He looked from her to Perry, taking in his son’s glow of intense, utter joy, and breathed a sigh of relief before Tamsyn could even answer.

She reassured him anyway. “Yes, Faramir, I’m here to stay,” she said, walking up to him to give him a hug, though she did not let go of Perry’s hand.

“That’s the best news I’ve had this year,” he said, regaining his calm. “Come, my dear, sit down and talk to us. We’ve missed you like a daughter.”

“You’ve never told me you missed me, father,” Diamond said with a mischievous grin.

“That’s because you were the bane of his life, sister dear,” Perry retorted with a wink.

“This, coming from you!” Sarry joined in. “Come on, give us some proper introductions. Where are your manners?”

Perry smiled. “Tamsyn, dearest, this is Saradoc Brandybuck the Seventh, eldest son of Master Meriadoc the Fifteenth of Buckland and destined to be Master after him, Eä help them. And this is my eldest sister Diamond, Sarry’s wife, and their son Theoden. Sarry, Diamond, this is Tamsyn Moriarty, the love of my life and my wife in all but name.”

The significance of what he said appeared to be lost only on Esme, who was too busy wiping away tears to have listened closely. Faramir’s eyes widened, but then he looked at the way the two lovers still clung to each other, and gave an almost imperceptible nod. Sarry’s grin showed emphatic approval, and Diamond gave Tamsyn a slow wink, bouncing her son in her arms.

“I’m glad to finally meet you,” Tamsyn said. “I have always regretted that I didn’t get the chance to meet you last time I was here.”

“We will get you to make up for that,” Diamond said. “Hopefully Perry will be better company as well now, he’s been insufferable without you.”

“He’s always been insufferable,” Sarry said with a snort, and deftly caught the apple that Perry aimed at his head.

“Git,” Perry said with a grin. “Mother, is there anything to eat? I’m hungry.”

Everyone at the table froze for a second, and Tamsyn got a lump in her throat. “Let me guess, he’s not said that since I left? I know the feeling. I’ve not been hungry either, but now that I’m here I find that I’m famished.” She looked into Perry’s eyes, seeing the understanding that it was not just food she was talking about, and for a few moments they forgot there was anyone else in the room when they kissed each other.

They were interrupted when Esme placed a big bowl of stew in front of both of them, and Tamsyn blushed as she picked up her fork and started to eat.

“So, when shall we have the wedding then?” Faramir asked.

Tamsyn looked at Perry. “Tomorrow?” he suggested, and she laughed and nearly choked on her stew.

“Certainly not!” Esme huffed. “You’re the eldest son of the Thain! We’ll have to invite half the Shire, and Tamsyn doesn’t even have a dress yet! Diamond, you’ll help me with that, won’t you? Your fingers are defter than mine, and my eyes aren’t what they used to be.”

“Gladly,” Diamond said. “That is, if you want me to, Tamsyn?”

“I would love for you to help,” Tamsyn said. “I’m afraid I know little to nothing of hobbit weddings, so I’m entirely at your mercy.”

“Good, that’s settled then,” Esme said. “But that still doesn’t give us a date.”

“What about Mid-Year’s Day?” Sarry suggested. “That’s always a good day for a party.”

“That’s my birthday,” Tamsyn said, who had worked it out on the hobbit calendar. “I think… I think marrying Perry would be the best birthday present I have ever had.”

“Tamsyn, if I may be so bold… How old will you be on your birthday?” Faramir asked.

“I will be twenty-eight. But humans in my world are considered to be adults at eighteen. I’m not sure what my hobbit age would be; from what I have observed with your children the difference isn’t entirely linear, but I think I’m very close to Perry’s age, maybe even a little older.”

“You don’t look it,” Diamond said. “You could easily pass for a twenty-eight-year-old hobbit girl.”

“Then how about we stick to what I claimed before, and I’ll turn thirty-three on my birthday? That would explain why we’ve waited until then, when my beloved would clearly have wanted to settle down sooner.”

Faramir nodded. “That works. We’ll start preparations for that.”

“Right,” Perry said, pushing his empty bowl away. “If that’s sorted, I will take my wife and find her something decent to wear rather than that sorry excuse for a dress.” He stood up and Tamsyn followed, and they made it halfway through the kitchen before Esme found her voice.

“Peregrin! What do you think you’re doing?”

He turned around, resting his hands on Tamsyn’s shoulders. “I just said. I’m going to take this rag off her and find her something decent to wear.”

“But… but let me prepare a room for her first,” Esme spluttered. “She can’t stay in Diamond’s room this time, now that Diamond is here.”

Perry sighed. “Mother, she is staying in my room.” He sounded exasperated, but there was also an edge to his voice that told Tamsyn he wouldn’t budge on this. She leaned against him, and he slid his arms around her waist.

“She… You… What?” Esme stammered. “She can’t, Peregrin!”

“Can’t she?” he asked. “Mother, for seven months I have tried to sleep in that room, knowing that I had lost her forever. Today she has given me my life back. Do you really think I’ll let her be apart from me for even a moment now that she’s back with me again?”

Esme stared at him, still in shock, then her eyes turned pleading when she looked at Tamsyn, who smiled but shook her head. “Don’t look at me, Esme. Didn’t I tell you whose side I would always take in an argument?”

The stalemate lasted for a few more seconds, then the tension was broken when Diamond laughed. “Oh, mother, stop being so prim and proper. It’s not like Sarry and I didn’t do the same thing.”

Esme turned incredulous eyes on her daughter as Sarry walked up and put his arm around her. “Come on, did you really think that Theo was born early?” Diamond continued. “If anything, he was late. Weren’t you, little one?”

“F…Faramir, say something!” Esme said in a last resort effort.

“Very well.” Faramir sighed and turned to Perry. “Son, go find your wife a decent dress to wear and take that extra nightstand with the pitcher and bowl from Tulia’s room. I’m sure Tamsyn would prefer to have her own clean water in the morning rather than using your dirty dregs.” Esme started to splutter again, but Faramir raised his hand. “Enough, Esme. They need each other, and that’s the end of it.”

“Come, let’s leave them to it,” Perry whispered in Tamsyn’s ear, and she followed him while Faramir continued to placate his wife.

“I’ll go get that chest out of Diamond’s room,” Perry said as they walked down the corridor. “Just wait in my room.” He gave her a gentle push and smiled as she went inside. The door clicked closed behind her, and even those few moments without him felt like a loss to her.

In an impulse she pulled her shift over her head and dropped it to the floor, kicking it aside. There was a bumping noise as the door opened again and Perry came in, dragging the heavy wooden chest with him, and while he moved it to the foot of the bed, next to his own clothes chest, Tamsyn closed the door again.

Perry turned at the click of the lock, and Tamsyn dragged her fingers through her hair, spreading it like a curtain before letting it fall back to her naked body. Perry gazed at her as if hypnotised, his eyes changing from loving to lustful. With a quick motion he pulled off his shirt and tossed it away, then shrugged off his trousers and underwear so he stood before her in glorious nakedness.

For a few seconds Tamsyn feasted her eyes on him, then she closed the distance between them, pushed him until he sat down on the bed and straddled him. He pulled her close and shivered when her hair brushed his skin as she bent to kiss him.

“How can I want you again?” he wondered. “You’ve satisfied me twice already… Is this normal?”

Tamsyn chuckled. “I have a feeling that for us, it will be.” With that she started moving her hips, and there was no further talk.

 o–o-o–o

The rest of the day Tamsyn spent talking to Sarry and Diamond, who were everything she had expected them to be. Sarry was as mischievous as Perry, even if he had been tempered somewhat by fatherhood, and Diamond was a confident, self-assured woman who was obviously fond of her eldest brother and did not hesitate to take his side against their parents. She and Sarry were very much in love, and when Tamsyn held their little boy she felt her motherly instincts soar. She fervently hoped she would have a child of her own to cradle soon.

They went to bed early; emotional turmoil as well as prolonged lack of sleep had finally caught up to them, and their mutual presence was enough to let them both fall asleep within seconds.

It was the middle of the night when Tamsyn awoke with a shock. Groggily she took stock of her environment, wondering what had woken her, but then she heard a strangled cry of distress from Perry and realised he was having a nightmare.

“Tamsyn!” he called, and she wrapped her arms around him.

“Hush, Perry, hush,” she crooned, cradling him close. “I’m here. I’ll always be here.”

He woke up then, and when he found himself in her arms he started caressing her feverishly, stroking her breasts as he kissed her hard. She sensed that what he needed right then was the comfort of her body, so she rolled over and pulled him on top of her, spreading her legs to invite him into her. She gasped when he complied, then lost herself in his lovemaking until they both tipped over into bliss.

Afterwards he remained on top of her as they caught their breath, and she ran her fingers along his back in long, lazy strokes, waiting for him to calm down. His heart was racing, and it took a while before it steadied and he raised his head.

“I thought you’d gone again,” he said. “I thought I was alone again. I’ve had this nightmare almost every night since you left, only to wake and find it the truth.”

“Not this night, my love,” Tamsyn said. “Nor any night from now on. I’m yours, I’m here.”

“I love you so,” he whispered, stroking her face. “Thank you so much for coming back to me.”

“Anything for you, my love.” She rolled him off her and nestled herself in the crook of his arm. “Go on, go back to sleep. Don’t fear your nightmares, I’m here to guard against them.”

He squeezed her tight for a moment, then relaxed, and within seconds his breathing evened into sleep. Tamsyn followed soon after, falling asleep to the steady beat of his heart in her ear.

o–o-o–o

What will the wedding be like? Find out in the next installment of  A Shire Romance! The story will be a weekly release until completion.  

A Shire Romance is written by Erica Dakin. You can find out more about Contrary Erica on the Guest Reviewers page and check out her website to find out more information about her work.