From October 25 through November 15th I’m hosting an official read-along of Air Awakens in advance of Fire Falling’s release. There will be all kinds of exclusives, discussions, and giveaways for this. To kick it off, I thought I’d release the original first chapter of Air Awakens (that was cut in the final book). For more background on this scene, to talk about it, and to make sure you know about everything I’m giving away and releasing for this event be sure to join by saying “yes” on Facebook.
It’s fun to note about this particular scene that, while it was cut, it still remains cannon. If anything, it would be a prologue to the current books.
Disclaimer 1: As with all my “deleted scenes”, they were removed and therefore not run through the full editing process like my manuscripts were. You will find mistakes. You have been warned.
Disclaimer 2: The age Vhalla notes for Baldair is incorrect to current cannon. The ages were slightly modified from my original draft to the published version.
At times it was the kind of quiet that would make your ears ring. Rows upon rows of books encased in cherry wood with golden gilded, shelves created a haven of knowledge. Despite possessing high vaulted ceilings and a mastery of masonry unlike anything else in the realms the Imperial Library had been coated in tapestries and a thick cerulean carpet that muffled even the heaviest of footsteps, almost. This was one such day where the weight and gait of a particular prince somehow thudded so hard that it made her toes curl into the plush pillow of the window bench where she sat.
A booming call rang out through the silence, “Mohned! Mohned! ”
Prince Baldair, Vhalla thought, unmoving though surprised. No one else could be so loud in a place designed for quiet.
“My prince,” a familiar sagely voice returned, “We had not expected your return to the capital so soon. How goes the campaigns in the North?”
Ruckus laughter followed this question, too loud, but a friendly, hearty sound that warmed you as much as it vibrated your bones. “They have all but crumbled, good Master of Tome.” The prince had a rich and light voice.
“Then you have come to give us accounts of your victories?” Mohned inquired.
“Perhaps in good time,” the prince mused. “But let’s not shoot the bird before it flies.” She could hear the grin in his voice alone. “I have actually come for some work on the cultures of the Northern peoples. There has been enough blood and father would much prefer to end this war as peacefully as possible.”
She missed the mutterings of agreement from Master Mohned with a roll of her eyes. As if sparing a handful more lives would lessen the blood on the hands of the Empire. If diplomacy was something the Emperor had cared about then maybe he should have thought about that earlier, Vhalla flipped her page. But, if history had taught her anything it was that the way of Empires was paved in blood and bodies.
“Vhalla, Vhalla!” She was snapped back by the mention of her name. Hastily shutting the book and putting it on her seat she scurried on light feet through the rows to the source of the voice, giving the prince a low bow. Master Mohned shot her a disapproving stare at her delay. “Vhalla how many times have I told you it is your job to sort, file, and tend to the books, not just read them?”
She winced; Vhalla opened her mouth to stumble over some excuse, or equally disappointing apology, when the laughter of the prince rang through her again.
“One of your appetences Mohned?” he inquired.
“Just so, she’d have promise if she was able to get her nose out of the books long enough to do her job.”
Vhalla stared down at her feet fidgeting with her fingers, feeling like a scolded child.
“Oh do not be so harsh on the girl Mohned.” The prince reached for Vhalla’s hand, freeing it from her own clutches by trailing his fingertips gently down her arm until they locked with hers. Bringing it to his mouth he brushed the back of her knuckles with his lips. “Though, if not for your tone I would have thought you had a secret collection of beautiful ladies stashed within these walls.”
She looked up at him with a blush burning her cheeks. Vhalla had always been shorter than most girls, not by much, but enough that she had to look up at most people. Unsurprisingly, the Prince was a good hand taller and she had to tilt her head slightly to look at him. He was a handsome man, in every conventional way, so much so that Vhalla recalled paintings of gods by just looking at him.
He had a square jaw with the hint of stubble that was slightly darker than his messily cropped golden hair that hung around his ears and mid-neck. Everything down to the small cleft in his chin brought the whisper of the palace serving girls back to her mind: The Heartbreaker Prince, Baldair. He flashed her a toothy, dashing, smile. It was apparent he was well aware of the effect he was having on her and Vhalla quickly looked away, retrieving her hand.
“Please excuse me Master, how may I be of service?” Vhalla turned to the aincent looking man who had been her teacher and guidance since she was a girl.
The man laced his wrinkled fingers before him, “The prince requires a book on the tribes in the country of Shaldan. Perhaps you could direct him to one that would be fairly inclusive to culture and government decorum?”
She nodded, her mind flipping through the mass of titles and books she had acquired throughout the years until she settled on one. “The Complete Compendium of the Northern Peoples, it is a little out of date… but it still remains one of the most cohesive works to date on the ways of the North.”
“Just what I would have recommended myself.” Master Mohned gave a nod of approval.
Vhalla passed his test and relished in the small swell of pride she felt in her chest. She had never been particularly good at anything so she remained in wonder every time she somehow continued to not mess things up throughout her apprenticeship.
“So then, this Compendium…” The prince began. He glanced between the Master and her. Vhalla looked expectantly at Mohned. His wrinkled face turned to her and he tilted his head to the side.
“Oh, right, right, right this way.” She tripped over herself after getting silent approval from the Master. Vhalla might have actually tripped over her feet had it not been for the prince offering his elbow for her to take. “A left here…” She mumbled quietly feeling the large muscle of his bicep through the thin shirt he wore.
“So, your name is Vhalla?” Even an obvious question sounded delightful upon Prince Baldair’s tongue.
“Yes, my prince, Vhalla Yarl.” She repeated, stiff and formal.
“Do I detect a hint of a Cyvenese accent?” He grinned at her.
“Yes my Prince… I was born in Cyven. My family has a wheat farm, not far from the western boarder.” She paused and stared up at him.
“I don’t recall much in Cyven…” He rubbed his chin.
“That’s because there isn’t much.” She smiled a little, thinking of home. “The land is fertile and soft; it’s better suited to agriculture than building.” He made a low noise in the back of his throat.
“I’ve only visited. My father’s campaign for the acquisition of Cyven was well before my birth.” Prince Baldair rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Mine as well.” She agreed rather obviously. The prince was about six years of years older than her, if her memory of Imperial bloodlines was correct. “As you aptly pointed out there wasn’t much in Cyven for fighting. I think it was more peaceful as forfeit came faster.”
“So then how does a Cyvenian farmer’s daughter end up in the Imperial Library?” The question was not unkind.
“My father joined the Imperial Service during the War in the Crystal Caverns. While he was gone my mother passed away.” Vhalla paused, remembering her mother’s illness. She shook the memories away with a literal turn of her head. “He decided to go home and tend the farm as soon as he was able, earning a discharge. Though, his service record earned him a place in the palace guard. He decided he would rather keep the farm and live in the home he built with my mother.”
“So he exchanged a ticket for the palace guard for a ticket as a palace apprentice for you.” The prince gave a knowing smile and she realized that they hadn’t been walking for some time now. She let go of his arm quickly, avoiding sinking into those kind blue eyes. They reminded her of the rich blue of the ancient ice that lived in the mountains and she had a feeling they had the same capacity to freeze one to the spot.
“Right, then,” she grabbed a rolling ladder from the end of the bookshelf, sliding it to where he waited. Climbing up about halfway she scanned the titles. “It should be….” Successful, she plucked just the tome she was looking for off the shelf. Vhalla began to climb back down and tried to turn to address him. “Here it is. It’s an original you know, so please treat it-“
Her foot slipped and she felt herself losing her balance. With one hand she clutched the book to her chest, refusing to let it fall haphazardly to the floor. Her other hand was pulled from the rung of the ladder and she missed her chance to right herself.
First there was silence in her ears, then a quick wind as her body tipped backward and her toes parted from the ladder rung: her hand grabbing nothing but air, her muscles bracing for impact, a silent curse on her lips. Two strong arms caught her mid-air and then the world was him, his scent, his deep and easy breaths, the strong beat of his heart under his light clothing, and his hands on the flesh of her arms and under her knees.
She opened her eyes to look up at him, unaware that she had even closed them. He had that same toothy grin that turned up the corners of his eyes as it stretched wide across his face. Prince Baldair gently set her down, the book still clutched over her frantically beating heart. Entirely from the fall, she assured herself over the blood rushing through her ears.
“Forgive me my prince, you shouldn’t be burdened by one as lowly as I.” She stared at her feet, a curtain of frizzy ashen brown hair covering her face. She’d always been a little clumsy, or out of sorts, at the worst of times. It was a miracle that not one of her copious previous falls had hurt her more. To her surprise he just laughed.
“Come now, do not burden yourself so.” She tilted her head up to look at him.
“You are not what I expected.” Vhalla couldn’t help herself.
“Oh?” The prince tilted his head to the side.
“Most nobility in the palace are just as happy to ignore the existence of people like me.” She dug her toes into the carpet through her thin leather slippers, finishing her words with a mumble.
“People like you?” He looked honestly confused.
She regretted starting this line of conversation; it could only end badly and was not her place. Royalty could treat her however they wanted, that’s what made them royalty, after all. “Servants, apprentices, anyone lower than a dignitary…”
He put his hands on his hips and let out a low noise again from the back of his throat that she was beginning to associate with thought.
“I was raised by ‘people like you.’ ‘People like you’ taught me, changed my soiled clothes, bathed me, and fed me. I’m not like my brother, I am grateful.” It was true, Prince Baldair was known for his kindness to those below him. However, his brother, Prince Aldrik, had a reputation for being decidedly princelier in his dealings with lower ranks. He was often described as a cold man, shut off from the world. She felt no safe way to continue the conversation.
“I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met the Crown Prince Aldrik.” Vhalla considered herself lucky that her comments did not seem to have any backlash with the prince.
They continued back in silence to the central point in the library where Master Mohned sat behind his large desk, working on restoring the bindings on some ancient tome. She passed the book to Prince Baldair with two hands.
“Thank you, apprentice,” he was more formal in front of Mohned, she thought with some amusement. He gave her a small wink that brought Vhalla to fidgeting with her fingers.
“You are welcome my prince.” She bowed to him, and with that he strode out of the library and out of her world.
Vhalla had lived in the capital for almost seven full years now and in the palace for most of that time. Yet, that was her first encounter with a member of the Imperial family. Of course, she had seen the princes before from a distance, and heard countless stories from those who were in positions close to them. But, today may have been the first time Prince Baldair had ever stepped foot in the library. He was known for his prowess on the battlefield and could be found haunting the training grounds or archery ranges, but never the library or more scholarly pursuits like sorcery or healing. That was Prince Aldrik’s domain, and he was said to keep the strangest of hours.
The rest of her day was as uneventful as it began. Master Mohned had drummed up a number of menial tasks for her to do… file this book, repair that page, and scribe something down for memory’s sake. Eventually she found herself back on that same window seat in her secluded corner of the library. The book she’d started was propped back on her knees, but she found herself re-reading pages and still forgetting the words that had been written on them. With a sigh she finally closed the book, marking it with her faded, cloth, bookmark that she had written ‘Please keep this page’ in dark black ink.
The sun began to hang low in the sky and the ivory and marble statues in the palace gardens that spread out before her had been washed in an orange glow. A small host of men on horses rode out on the stone path that cut through the center of them, wide enough for three to ride abreast. She saw the gates at the far end opening to grant them passage out and the white cloak of the prince flowing behind one rider. He was heading back to the front. She wondered if the book would be useful to him at all. If for once the pen may be mighty enough to stay the sword.
After a time of staring at nothing and thinking of everything, the library chimes rang out across the silence. Vhalla sleepily dragged her feet to the floor and stood. Returning the book to where it came from she put her hands on the small of her back and gave a stretch.
Mohned’s desk was empty on her way out; the other apprentices must have made haste for the dining hall. Though, Vhalla did not feel hungry in the slightest. With a glance to assure no prying eyes were upon her, even the palace guards at the back doors had left for the night, Vhalla slipped behind the desk. Her hands moved to a large ledger of books that had been borrowed from the library, opening it and running her fingers down the pages and across the Master’s tight script until she found what she was looking for.
“Prince Baldair…” She murmured, her eyes following across the page to the title of the book which she had retrieved hours before and then, nothing. The due date was blank.
Vhalla smirked to herself; the royal family had no date of return. Everyone else in the realm was just borrowing from them; of course they could have their own books as long as they wanted. They could be wherever they wanted and do whatever they wanted. She couldn’t expect a date the prince would return, it could be never.
Vhalla carefully closed the tome with both hands. Somewhere in her, that she pointedly ignored, a small disappointment budded at that empty space in Mohned’s ledger. That empty space followed her out of the library and down a small side hall where she slipped through a small gap next to a large cabinet into the depths of the palace, across the labyrinth of servants’ halls, and into her own small chamber. The blank space even had the audacity to follow her all the way behind her eyes as she waited for sleep.