House of Enchanted: The Revelations of Oriceran, Soul Stone Mage, Book 1
By Sarah Noffke & Martha Carr
Behind a closed set of double doors, the ambassadors from many of the surrounding lands sat around a table. Usually the House of Enchanted didn’t host people from outside their borders, especially humans from the Land of Terran. However, it wasn’t every year or even every hundred years that a new witch became queen. The Virgo clan was strong, and contributed to the well-being of many of their neighbors. The Light Elves and the Gnomes, for example, looked to them for their expertise using herbs and applications of practical magic. For this reason, the coronation was drawing interest from many on Oriceran.
“She’s still so young. Why does Azure need to become queen now?” The ambassador for the Crystals leaned forward from his place on the far side of the room so he could see the head of the table. His frosted breath hung in the air, especially noticeable in the firelight illuminating the large room. His hair was a shimmering silver, worked into multiple braids and pulled back into a thick ponytail.
“Why my daughter shall ascend and take my crown isn’t your concern. I have ruled the Virgoans for several hundred years, and now it’s time I step down,” Queen Emeri told them, her voice growing hoarse.
The queen spotted the reflective eyes of a creature sitting on the cupboard just behind the ambassador. She stood, pushing her chair out. The others in the room stood as well, in a show of respect.
“Excuse me.” Queen Emeri swept from the room, her long green dress brushing the floor. She paused at the tall door and turned to gaze at the animal still perched on the cupboard against the far wall. The cat jumped down and strolled across the space, looking up at her with a casual expression. She opened the door and let the feline exit first, following close behind and pulling the door shut from the corridor.
She turned to find exactly the person she’d expected. “Mother, you sent your spy.” The queen pointed at the unassuming orange tabby.
The ancient witch wore a bright blue evening robe, although it was daytime. A clip with a lavender amethyst that matched her hair was tucked into her short bob. “I did,” she admitted at once with a sparkle in her eyes and a smile. “How else will I know what happened? You won’t tell me.”
The queen sighed. “Mother, you were once queen. You know I can’t tell you everything. The privacy of council meetings applies to everyone.”
“What I know is that if I hear about what’s going on, then I sleep better at night. You wouldn’t want an old woman fretting over these things, would you?” The smile grew on her face.
“Don’t pull that bullshit,” Emeri said, pushing the cat away. He was still pawing at the door to the council room. The damn felines didn’t work for anyone, or belong to anyone either, but once they agreed to take on a task then they stayed on it. Stubborn creatures.
“Sometimes I think you’re trying to kill me with all the secrets you attempt to keep,” the Queen Mother said.
“We know you’re going to outlive us all. And you already know more than you should,” the queen said.
“I don’t know what you plan to do about Azure’s soul stone.”
“There’s nothing to do until the damn thing is dislodged. And I know what you’re thinking, but we have no idea what it will look like. It could be fine, but if it isn’t then she’ll just keep hers hidden, like I do mine.” The queen was defiant, determined not to show any worry or what was worse with her mother, weakness.
“It’s cute as a troll how you pretend yours is hidden. I might be a batty old fart who you keep in the dark, but I’ve got my ways of knowing the truths you hide from me,” Sari said. “I’m exactly twice your age, as you are twice Azure’s. Stepping down is becoming a tradition, even if my reasons were different. Being the queen isn’t everything. Yes, even I believe that, and greener pastures were calling to me. Besides, once the king was dead…” Her voice trailed off. It was her most tender place.
But just as quickly her demeanor changed and she stiffened her spine. Emeri was used to the transformation. Her mother had taught her how to reign effectively, but any parenting skills Emeri possessed she had picked up on her own.
“You were my heir, and turning over the crown to you made sense at the time. If you are able to toil late into the night crafting new spells, feel fortunate. My duties were more complex, and didn’t leave me time for such luxuries,” the queen mother continued.
Emeri winced at the dig. “You have all the time in the world for luxuries now, Mother. Find a hobby and leave council business to me.”
“If I knew a little more you might find me to be a helpful ally, particularly in the days ahead,” the queen mother stated. She was smiling, but her eyes told a different story.
“I want to be clear: keep what you think you know to yourself, and don’t send Eclipse into council meetings. I’m negotiating to get the humans to cooperate, and it’s already hard enough when they treat us like we’re freaks. I can’t have your familiar interrupting meetings. Understood?” Queen Emeri said.
The older woman eyed the queen, her lavender eyes searching her daughter’s face. “We don’t need anything from them,” she said finally.
“Of course we don’t. But they’re our neighbors on the far side of the Dark Forest, and the treaty states—”
“That we should all get along.” Sari cut the queen off, her voice bored. “They treat us with such disrespect. I’ve tried with those people. You’ve tried with those people. Just take the offensive—that’s the best approach.”
At that moment the door to the council room swung open and the ambassadors for the Gnomes and Crystals marched out.
“Oh, I was just returning,” the queen exclaimed, her face flushing pink.
“That’s not necessary. We’ve finished discussing business for now, and I must return to my kingdom,” the Crystals’ ambassador said, brushing past them.
Queen Emeri turned to the human standing in the doorway. Richard, the emperor of the Land of Terran, stood tall in his charcoal gray suit, which was in marked contrast to the billowy robes worn by the wizards in Virgo. He moved to stand in front of the queen.
“I’m sure Azure will make a fine queen,” he said, his voice soft and even sounding sincere. That was rare for humans from Terran. His tribe had emigrated thousands of years ago when the gates between Oriceran and Earth had last been fully open. Now they were closed, but as the Virgoans had noticed, humans liked to create borders.
“I do agree, and I’m grateful that you think so,” the queen said.
Emperor Richard cleared his throat, his expression firmer and now tense. “However, your reasons for having her take the crown so early really do elude the council. It might benefit everyone if you were more forthcoming.”
“My reasons are none of the council’s concern,” she said, tilting her chin higher as her face took on a pinched look.
“Emeri, I’m simply trying to encourage you—”
“And, Emperor, may I suggest that next time,” she said, cutting him off and directing an outstretched hand at the man walking up behind him, “we only needed one representative from the Land of Terran. Your brother the Duke really didn’t need to accompany you.”
Behind Emperor Richard stood a man in similar clothes, their own idea of a regal costume. Phillip was darker than his brother, and carried his trench coat neatly folded over his forearm. He had attempted a smile, but it was more of a scowl.
“Queen Emeri, I heard the news about Charmsgood missing. Such a mystery,” Phillip said, shaking his head, a mock look of worry on his face. He unfolded the coat and pulled it over his shoulders, smiling.
The queen sized up the Emperor’s brother. “It’s strange how things from Earth—new fashions, new gadgets—keep appearing in the hands of the people from Terran,” she mused, reaching out and removing a short hair from Phillip’s coat. She held it up with a victorious smile. “This appears to be from a breed of dog we don’t have on Oriceran.”
“How could you know that from a single strand?” Phillip asked, scoffing.
“Because I have real magic in me,” the queen said. “I wouldn’t want to have to alert those in power that illegal portals to Earth are being opened and goods smuggled back, things like clothes and pure breeds and who knows what else. Things that are subsequently sold in the Dark Market.” The queen eyed the jacket hanging from Phillip’s shoulders, a fashion not previously seen on Oriceran. That was growing more typical of the people from Terran. More and more they chose not to travel outside their borders—except, apparently, to Earth.
“Well, if you’d prefer not to tattle, then don’t, Queen.” Phillip leaned forward and spoke with pronounced menace in his voice.
FROM SARAH: One of my favorite parts about writing this series was how edgy the witches and wizards were, especially in comparison to the humans. I enjoyed putting my witches in Victorian gowns with a flare. The House of Enchanted also has quite the edgy look to it. Here’s teaser three of book 1 in the Soul Stone Mage series. Releases September 6th!
Check out Sarah Noffke and her books at http://www.sarahnoffke.com