ILLUMINATED by Jackie Castle
Genre: YA Fantasy
Winter’s grip on the mountain realm crept along the stony dungeon floor and seeped through the girl’s thin slippers. A biting chill encircled her legs, as gooseflesh spread up her back and down to her chapped hands. Shivering, she wished spring would hurry and show itself.
She pitched fresh hay into what were once stalls for horses and other livestock. Now King Darnel, ruler over the city of Racah, used the area to hold new slaves captured from the neighboring towns his forces had overtaken.
Her hand slipped over the weathered handle. A sharp jab sent tears welling in her eyes. She dropped the pitch fork, sucking at her splintered palm, covered in scrapes and scabs from previous injuries. To think, she’d traded a life of fine warm clothes and leisurely work for this. She picked the sliver from her hand. Every last injury was completely worth it.
She spun toward the voice. Tarek stood in the doorway. Four pheasants hung by their legs from a strip of leather tied around Tarek’s belt. He wore the customary gray trousers and black shirt of the kitchen help. A spiteful grin crinkled the edges of his green eyes as he took in her work. Long, wheat-colored hair fell in his face and over the collar of his tunic.
At nineteen, he towered her by nearly a foot in height and possibly two years in age. She had no memories of her past, including when and where she was actually born, or even more disturbing, her real name. From what little she did remember, she placed her own age somewhere around seventeen summers.
Darnel, who’d somehow managed to steal her memories, had ordered everyone to call her Princess, and they did so with much snickering and laughter. His little joke, she was sure.
Tarek pushed open the sliding door. A wave of cold air swirled in, stirring up dust and flecks of hay. “Ben wants you to bring a bucket of water out to the new arrivals. Right now.”
She replaced the tool on its peg, then grabbed her thin cloak before heading outside.
Tarek blocked the exit, leaning against the frame with arms crossed over his strong chest. Where she spent most of her time cleaning, taking care of Ben, her overseer, or searching the various tunnels worming beneath the mountain fortress, he hunted outdoors or chopped wood. Her pale white skin stood in complete contrast to his darkened sun-kissed color. Oh, what she’d do to trade places with him. Yet she’d not complain. Her job in the dungeon was much more preferable to the one she previously held.
“Looks like this group came a long way. What a wasted bunch of bones. Though, something about them must be important, if you ask me.”
Wanting to get away from him, she darted around and hurried toward the pump. The charcoal-gray castle towered hundreds of feet above, the stone walls blending into the cliffs. Below, nestled amongst the crags and plateaus lay Racah, consisting of stonework buildings and forlorn homes surrounded by high ramparts and steep peaks that circled the city.
Tarek trailed her like a lost puppy. “That Baykok Captain, the creepy one they call Bezoar? He brought them in himself.”
She froze, her gut twisted. She had no desire to meet the inhuman creature-man today. Grabbing the pail, she set it under the spout. Her splintered hand burned when she grasped the lever and pumped.
Tarek leaned closer until his tanned face was inches from hers. “And,” a taunt hid just below the surface of Tarek’s words. “You’ll be happy to know your father is out there to greet our new guests, as well.” He bit his upper lip, keeping the mocking grin in check.
She gave the pump two more good pulls. “Aren’t you suppose to help cook for tonight's banquet? Wonder what Darnel would say if he found out you were shirking your own responsibilities to play messenger boy?”
His annoying grin grew slack. Brows furrowed, he spat, “King Darnel. And I work hard. Even his majesty has bragged on my hunting skills. Unlike you, I appreciate my position and only want to serve my King to the best of my ability.”
“Such a good little lap dog you are. Why don’t you go fetch a bone or dig a hole and leave me to my own work?” She took up the handle and made her way toward the front of the prison where Ben would be waiting.
The weight of the bucket lightened as Tarek held the handle from the opposite side. She glared at him, despite being somewhat grateful for his help. He said nothing more as they walked. When the group came into view, nearly fifty people dressed in dreary, ragged clothing, she stopped a moment to gather her wits and steady her panicked thoughts. Just as Tarek said, Bezoar and Master both attended this group's arrival.
“He’s not my father.”
Tarek’s brow arched.
“I wasn’t born to him.” She met his narrow-eyed gaze. “I wasn’t. I came from another place, like them. And like you. This isn't my true home.”
His chest rose with a deep intake of breath which he slowly blew out. “Perhaps, Princess, we are better off here in Racah. I am. My family now has work, food to eat, decent shelter. Where we came from, nothing grew. Everyone was starving.” He brushed away the blond bangs from his face with his free hand. “Look at them. Their clothes are torn, ragged. Bet they will be glad, as well, once they see the King means them no harm.”
Princess shook her head. Tarek had no idea of the evil Darnel was capable of. She hoped he’d never find out.
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Tell us 5 random things about you the person, not the author
1) I love taking walks in wooded places.
2) I enjoy digging in the dirt and planting things. If only I had a knack for getting them to grow. eeish.
3) I work in a book store so I can be around books, more than for the pay. Which isn't very much, thank you.
4) Wrote my first book in the 6th grade and when the teacher read it to the whole class, I knew then I wanted to be a writer.
5) I'm the Queen of the Castle Library, my book lovers blog for parents wanting to help their kids love reading.
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