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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Lightstones - Chapter 1 - The Beginning

This chapter is a free preview now that the book has been published on Kindle. If you have Kindle, please buy my book :-) The Clan Chronicles - Book One - The Lightstones

Slipping my hand into the stranger's pocket proved to be almost absurdly easy. I quickly helped myself to his purse, then beat a hasty retreat. So long as I got away before the victim realized what I had done, I'd be in the clear.
Hey you!” The victim shouted as I turned the corner into an alley.
I took a quick peek to see if I needed to run or perhaps hide as quickly as possible. As it turned out, he was shouting at someone else completely. The recipient was a fairly handsome but utterly dirty and disheveled man who stared at my victim with confused curiosity.
You stole my purse!” The victim accused him. “You bumped into me a moment ago, and now my purse is missing!”
Oh no! This may seem like a good thing since no one suspected me, but it was almost the worst thing I could think of! In our Kingdom, the punishment for stealing was severe. He would lose a hand at the very least; the punishment was proportional to the value of what was stolen.
You're mistaken!” The accused one protested. “I haven't stolen anything!”
Their loud interaction had attracted the attention of a few town guards. The accused one held up his hands soothingly, certain that he had done nothing wrong.
I know it was you!” The victim insisted.
Is there a problem?” A guard asked.
That man stole all the money I was carrying!”
Yes, my Lord,” the guards all murmured, quickly taking the accused one into custody.
I'm telling you, I've done nothing wrong! You can search me and you won't find anything!”
I bit my lip as I watched this scene. I had no idea I'd stolen from a Lord! Sure, he looked wealthy, but this large town had it's fair share of merchants with fat purses. Not that it would have mattered to me had I known, but stealing from a Lord automatically increased the severity of a punishment.
The guards performed a quick search, and then looked at each other uncertainly. “He's telling the truth... He has nothing, not even a purse of his own.”
Don't you find that strange?” The Lord asked with a sneer. “I'm certain that it was he who stole from me. He probably hid my purse somewhere nearby so that he could pretend to be innocent. I demand that he be executed for his crime!”
The guards looked around at each other, and then nodded. “Yes, my Lord.”
Two of them roughly shoved the innocent man to his knees, and then prepared to behead him with a sword.
Wait! You have the wrong man!” The accused one insisted.
By this time, I had tossed the purse into a muck-filled gutter and completely covered it in slime and most likely excrement. Wiping my hand off on my clothes, I prepared to do something insane.
Pulling my cap down as securely as possible so that I wouldn't lose it, I squared my shoulders and ran straight at the soon to be execute man. Luckily, I gained enough speed to knock him onto his ass just before they could behead him. I also managed to trip and knock over half the guards.
Before I lost the element of surprise, I grabbed the innocent man's hand, got to my feet, and ran like the Goddess of Death was after me. I had no time to thank every God that existed that the man I'd just rescued had the mental and physical acuity to get to his feet and run with me before the guards recovered from their abrupt interruption.
This way!” I hissed.
Get them!” The Lord roared. “The boy shall be executed too!”
Yes, my Lord!” The guards shouted in agreement as the took off after us.
I wished I had a moment to sigh in relief. If they believed I was a boy, then I had a really simple way to evade capture – provided I could get out of sight long enough to change my appearance...
My biggest problem was that I was still fairly new to this town and had only memorized a small portion of it so far. I tugged the man I'd saved down an alley I knew wasn't a dead end, but then he tugged me in the opposite direction of that which I'd planned to go at the other end.
For someone who should be grateful that I'd rescued him, he sure was argumentative about which direction we went. Every time I tried to turn us towards more familiar surroundings, he firmly pulled me in a different direction. Luckily, we'd managed to escape our pursuers for the moment.
I paused to catch my breath, and growled at him, whispering, “What is wrong with you?! Now I have no idea where we are!”
He glared at me. “You kept trying to bring us down dark and nasty alleyways! Not only is that the first place they'll look, but the risk of finding ourselves in a dead end is too high!”
He ran a hand through his hair in frustration and sighed. “But I'm completely lost now too...”
I covered his mouth with my free hand and tilted my head to better listen.
Looks like we're going to have to split up again. You go that way, and we'll continue on this way,” some guards agreed in the distance.
I groaned softly, unable to figure out what to do. He pointed to a door guarded by a pair of statues. The door and the statues all looked like they had been expensive and ornate once, but were worn down by time and the weather. Even so, it was probably a chapel to one God or another, and therefore might offer us sanctuary.
We burst through the door and closed it again as quietly as possible. In the effort, our hands separated for the first time since I'd grabbed him. We both leaned against the door in relief, sending up quick prayers that we were now safe.
Welcome to the temple of Saint David and Saint Joanna. Step forward, and we will help you so that you don't have to run anymore,” a kindly old priest beckoned to us.
Attendants appeared rather suddenly. They held out a book to the man standing next to me.
All you need to do is sign, and no one will ever be able to threaten you again.”
I watched as he signed the spot they pointed to under the column titled Saint David. The book was held out to me after he was done, and the attendants insisted that I sign under the column titled Saint Joanna.
I shrugged – if they were really willing to provide us sanctuary, I'd be a fool to refuse – and wrote my name; Nyona Shaiha.
Excellent!” The priest exclaimed as the assistants helped both of us into robes. His looked like a somewhat expensive monk's robe, as did mine, but mine was definitely feminine. The attendant fussed with my long hair just enough to place a circlet with a veil on my head. She also washed my face, scrubbing hard enough that I'm sure my cheeks were rosy and practically glowing.
I glanced at my companion in confusion. His face had also been washed, but he had a hood to his robe rather than a veil. What was going on here?
The attendants finished with us, and gestured that we should face the priest.
I am not going to drone on as tradition dictates because things have always been done differently here,” the priest began. “I'll get directly to the point.”
Just then, the door slammed open, and a man called out, “You there! Have you seen a man and a boy, each dark of hair?”
The priest smiled and shook his head. “Certainly not. The only people here are us, and we are performing the ceremony of Saints David and Joanna.”
I fiddled with my long dirty-blonde hair nervously, and forced myself not to look at the guard. Apparently, the guards had mistaken my cap for my hair color, which happened surprisingly often... The idiots!
Saint David and Saint Joanna risked everything,” the priest began. I took deep purposeful breaths and forced myself not to look at the guard – who I could feel watching our backs curiously.
The priest continued. “They were tortured and threatened with death. They escaped and eventually found refuge in a temple dedicated to the Queen of the Gods. She blessed them, and they have been a symbol of hope to others for thousands of years.”
If this was true, I wonder why I've never heard of them before?
I am not going to ask you if you will take each other; you have already proven that by finding your way here. Instead, I ask only this: Ianto Lightstone, will you continue to risk everything to be with and protect this woman?”
The man next to me cleared his throat several times, almost turning to look at the guard, but then nodded his head. The priest grinned, and then turned to me. Wait a minute! What's going on here?!
And do you, Nyona Shaiha, vow to sacrifice everything to stand by this man's side?”
Uh... this sounded suspiciously like a wedding! Marriage laws were absolute; if we did this, there would never be a way to undo it... It's not like I was against getting married, but no man wanted to marry a street rat and thief!
The guard cleared his throat. “I seem to be making you nervous. Don't worry, I'm after a pair of thieves, not forbidden lovers eloping. I just love weddings!”
Oh Gods! I took a deep breath and nodded. This was enough for the priest, who seemed almost as happy as if he had just wed his true love.
With the power invested in me by the Queen of the Gods, in the tradition of Saints David and Joanna, I now bind your souls together for all of eternity!”
I swayed woozily and almost fainted. My unexpectedly sudden husband caught me, using his arm and the sleeve of his robe to cradle my head and cover my face. I had just enough presence of mind to use my sleeve to obscure his face from the guard. This meant that I had one arm around his neck rather intimately.
The priest laughed. “Yes, you may seal your union with a kiss.”
I saw my new husband glance toward the guard. Exhaling a nervous breath, he shifted me; bringing me closer to him as he leaned his head closer to me. Our lips met with a sensation like tiny bolts of lightning striking me straight to my core.
I moaned, completely unaware of the clapping from the attendants and the guard. He gained my attention a moment later though by congratulating us and wishing us a long and happy life. I looked at him in surprise, discovering that a second guard had joined him at some point.
With a fond smile at us, the second guard tapped the first on the arm. “We have to keep searching.”
With a nod of agreement, the first guard waved goodbye, then turned and led the way out of the temple. After they were gone, we sighed in relief.
The priest started speaking again as if answering a question. “We can provide sanctuary for one night only, but then you must be on your way.”
I cleared my throat, inexplicably enjoying the feel of my husband's arms around me. He was apparently keeping up appearances in case the guards returned.
Uh... there's been a mistake,” I stated once I found my voice. “We were simply running from execution... I don't even know this man!”
The priest gave me a sugary sweet smile. “Did you risk your life to save this man?”
Well... yes,” I admitted.
Then you were guided by Saint Joanna,” he stated. “It matters not. What has been done cannot be undone. By law, you two are forever joined. Not even death will free you...”
I turned to rest my forehead on my husband's chest and sighed in defeat. It was certainly true that marriage laws were absolute and that nothing could unbind a married couple. I think it may even have been irreversible the moment we signed the book!
My husband was trembling, which caused me to look up at him to find out why. He was as white as fresh snow in the winter, as brief as that might be since it quickly turned gray or yellow and then black. Ironically, he also turned gray, and then slightly greenish.
I gasped and clutched him tightly as he nearly fainted! The attendants helped me drag him to a warm and cozy little room. We dropped him onto the bed, and then the attendants took the robes from us.
There's a large tub in the corner that's been prepared for you. We understand that all to often a couple has to run to our temple from great distances and cannot stop to bathe properly. Consider it our gift to you both that you do not need to spend your first night together reeking from the stench of your journey,” a kind matronly attendant informed me, pointing at the tub.
The attendants all bowed to us respectfully and then left the room. They told me to set my dirty clothes in the hall to be washed just before shutting the door. This made me wonder if we were going to have to pay for the service, and if so, how?
One glance at my husband told me that he was still in a state of shock. He lay on his back staring at the ceiling as if he was asleep with his eyes open, muttering as if he was having an intense dream. It occurred to me to wonder why I wasn't also raving mad at the sudden change in our circumstances...
I bit my lip as I returned my gaze to the tub. It had been so long since I had a real bath, and even that had been freezing cold. The soft breathy steam floating from tub beckoned to me like the song from the legendary snakes of Mesmer Island. Squirming with indecision, I glanced at my husband once more.
I wasn't particularly free with my body, and only a rare few had ever seen me naked before. Even so, the prospect of a bath far outweighed my sense of modesty. The little bit he would see even if he was looking in my direction would quickly be hidden in this massive wooden tub.
Coming to a decision, I stripped out of my dirty, rough-spun shirt and ragged, hole-filled pants. In an effort to hide my body in the tub as quickly as possible, I simply let my clothes fall to the floor, and then practically dived into the tub. I lay down the best I could without falling under the water and drowning. The warmth soothed me; this was an almost unimaginable luxury!
I ran away from home to avoid marriage...” My husband muttered just barely audibly, and then sighed.
I couldn't decide whether to talk to him and risk attracting his attention, or remain silent and risk prompting him to come check on me. He continued, obviously talking to himself rather than me.
I didn't want to get married so soon... but if I'd known this was going to happen, I think I would have just stayed home and gone through with it.”
That hurt for some reason, and I sat up just enough to peek over the side of the tub at him. I pushed the confusing pain to the back of my mind. “Hmm... what would happen if you told them that you were already married? Wouldn't that invalidate our marriage?”
I was trying to set him at ease, but he stiffened as if offended. “Not only is that lying – which could potentially also get me executed – but it would be proven false when a messenger sent to verify whether it was true or not returned empty handed. With the laws of the Kingdom so very strict, trying to get out of a marriage by claiming that it's invalid would have us both held in a cell until it was proven at the very least, and likely executed for trying to break the bond of marriage.”
He sat up and glared in my direction as if I should have known this. I knew that almost all the offenses could lead to execution, but I didn't think that the priest would be obligated to detain us until it was proven. I had rather hoped that we would be given the benefit of reasonable doubt, the marriage dissolved peacefully, and then allowed to go on our merry way.
Sorry... I'm not exactly well versed in all the laws,” I muttered. “I figured that all I really need to know is that just about everything can get me killed.”
His expression changed, and he flopped back onto the bed. “Why did you risk your life to save mine?”
I held my breath and wondered if he would assume that I didn't really know if I remained silent. When I didn't say anything for at least a minute, he sat up to look at me again. Damn! I didn't want him to see even my bare shoulder.
I slowly release the breath I was holding, and decided to be as honest as possible without confessing to all my sins. “I happen to know who really stole that Lord's purse, so I knew you were innocent. I don't fully understand why myself, but I just couldn't let an innocent man be killed. Especially, since they weren't even bothering to look for proof!”
He groaned. “Our laws may be harsh, but a person is supposed to be proven guilty before execution. If they only knew –” he cut himself short, and then rushed on. “Well, I could have all of them executed!”
He certainly thinks highly of himself! Even if he was a Lord or the son of a Lord, he would still have to outrank the Lord that accused him of thievery in order to have anyone executed. I settled back into the tub, and thought this over.
It had happened pretty quickly, but I think that the Priest had called my new husband Ianto Lightstone. If I wasn't remembering it incorrectly, that would make him part of Clan Lightstone, one of the most powerful families in the Kingdom! This news hit me like a barrel of fish being tossed around the docks, and I hit my head and gasped as I fell into the tub and nearly drowned.
Grabbing the side of the tub and sitting up, I coughed to expel the water from my lungs. My husband startled me by thumping on my back, which caused me to gasp and then cough all the harder. He continued to pat my back until I stopped coughing. I immediately drew my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around me to hide as much as possible.
Better?” He asked in concern.
I nodded shyly.
That's good,” he murmured, a hand swirling around in the water absently. “That's just about the perfect temperature...”
I inhaled and held my breath to prevent a gasp of dismay irritating my sore and scratchy throat. For those that could afford it, bathing was usually done in large public bathhouses. Both genders usually bathed together, and so he probably thought nothing of it.
Me, on the other hand, I couldn't afford to go to a bath house, and as a result, I wasn't used to anyone seeing me naked. In the streets, nudity was an invitation... One that I preferred to avoid at all costs.
Too many men go deaf when a woman says no, and my best defense was to wear pants and hide my hair so that they'd mistake me for a boy. That way, if they grabbed me for a couple thrusts, they usually let me go when they realized I wasn't a boy after all. Usually...
While I was lost in my thoughts, my husband was busy stripping to take advantage of the water before it got cold. He proved a moment later that this tub's big enough for the both of us. Especially with me huddling to one side.
Thank you for saving my life,” my husband praised me as he busily started to scrub himself clean.
I simply nodded.
So, uh... Mrs. Lightstone... What do you think we should do?”
I realize that he simply couldn't remember my name, but when he called me by his last name like that, I suddenly felt hot, and I think my entire body blushed. I softly snorted at myself in derision for getting carried away.
Well, I think we should get out of this town as quickly as possible to avoid the consequences of the guards realizing who we are,” I reasoned. I hadn't lived here long, so I wouldn't be too sad to leave, but even so, the pickings had been pretty good.
I agree,” he stated. “Listen, since I'm taking up the room you need to properly wash your hair, why don't you turn around and I'll wash it for you?”
I took a breath to give me time to think this over. With my back to him, he wouldn't see the parts of my body that most men lusted after. Nodding, I shifted until I was between his legs facing away from him.
He wasted no time lathering up my hair, and I felt his fingers working to thoroughly remove all the dirt. His touch made my head tingle. The tingling slowly spread until my entire body was quivering ever so slightly.
He carefully tilted my head backward and used the empty pitcher provided to gather up water and rinse my hair. He repeated this several times until he was satisfied that all the soap and grime was gone. I held myself rigidly still as I listened to him wash his own hair.
The water in the tub darkened far more than I would have thought possible. Just exactly how dirty was his hair? I resisted to urge to see it for myself.
When he was finished, he shifted to relax in the tub and enjoy the warmth for as long as it lasted. He chuckled unexpectedly.
You should really finish scrubbing.”
I nodded, and forced myself to pay him no attention while I quickly washed all the remaining dirt from my body. The strangest sensation joined the tingling. It felt like my body was trying to silently entice him to touch me.
Tossing the soap aside and then scooping water to splash myself clean, I forced myself to breath as slowly as possible. If left on it's own, my body would be panting rapidly. Possibly even hyperventilating!
I squirmed in indecision as I wondered whether to remain in this wonderful warmth; enduring the strange things happening to my body. Perhaps it would be better to get out and dry off as quickly as possible. Then what? I didn't have clean clothes to put on, and I didn't want to put my dirty ones back on until they were clean, as promised. Would I be forced to wear nothing but a towel all night?
You're shivering,” he murmured. “Here, get warmed up...”
I inhaled a gasp as he pulled me to him. I now lay on him, one ear resting on his chest. The rest of my body was more fully covered by the water, which was thankfully still almost the perfect temperature.
I held my breath and braced myself for the moment when he did what men do... It would be awkward in this tub, I think, but I was certain that a bit of awkwardness wouldn't stop him. He had every right to my body after all...
Silence stretched out between us, and my trembling gradually faded. Aside from the strange tingling in my body, I relaxed almost completely, listening to his soft and even breathing. I was lulled almost to sleep, and was shocked to realize some time later that he was asleep!
I was relieved and disappointed at the same time... Sitting up carefully, I decided that getting dried off before he woke up was probably my best option. Slowly exiting the tub, I was courteous enough not to wake him.
There was a set of soft and fluffy towels and a set of equally as soft and fluffy robes laying next to the tub, and I sighed in pleasure as I rubbed my body dry. The feel of the robe on my skin was so buttery that I actually purred! This unexpected situation was giving me a once in a lifetime opportunity to pretend that I was someone who could afford such niceties.
I picked up my clothes, and then stared at them in indecision. The attendants had told me to set my clothes out for them to wash, but... Honestly, it would probably be for the best if I simply put them back on and slipped away like a thief in the night... which would technically be true even though I wasn't stealing anything at the moment.
Set mine out too, please,” my husband murmured sleepily. I closed my eyes to resist the urge to look at him and give away how startled I was that he was awake. I must not have been as courteous as I thought!
Nodding, I bent to pick up his clothes, glancing surreptitiously at him. He was watching me through half open eyes, and probably had been the entire time I'd been naked and rubbing myself dry.
Blushing, I forced myself to concentrate on the task at hand. As soon as our clothes were in the hall and the door shut again, I looked around the room. There was literally nothing but the tub, a bed, and a small table with two chairs.
Now that I could no longer escape, I had no choice but to crawl into bed. Perhaps if I created a cocoon out of the blankets, he'd decide not to waste his energy on the effort of uncovering me. As I set about rearranging the bedding into something resembling a nest, he stood and exited the tub.
My attention was utterly drawn to him. So much so that I completely stopped what I was doing in order to stare at him. His naked body was a sight to behold!
He briskly used the other towel to dry off, and then ignored the robe as he walked towards the bed.
Oh my! Oh Gods! Was he going to pounce on me without so much as a word?!
I inadvertently scrambled to the corner of the bed farthest away from him, feeling like a terrified rabbit trying to escape a predator. Only I had no where else to go.
He chuckled, and smiled at me reassuringly. “I'm not going to make you do anything you don't want to. My mother explained – long before I'd ever bedded anyone – that a woman's first time was painful and terrifying, and that a man should never force it on the unwilling.”
I looked away, my face utterly red once again. “Yes... it was... but that didn't matter to him.”
My husband frowned. “Then are you already married?”
I shook my head, unable to meet his eyes for some reason.
He sighed. “Look, I know that this has been a strange day for both of us. I was running from marriage, and it caught me anyway. Perhaps we should both get some rest, and then figure out what to do tomorrow.”
I continued to stare at my hands in my lap. “If I... disappear... then you'd be free. You could go back home, and... even though it would be technically invalid, no one would ever know that if you decided to marry her after all...”
I cannot do such a thing, and I'm not referring to the risk of execution if I were found out. My honor simply would not allow me to let a woman think she was marrying me while I knew that it wasn't valid. Even if the truth never came out, the guilt would eat at me. I'd be afraid that someone would expose the truth, and then my innocent wife and any possible children would be the ones to suffer for my lie.”
Honor? Seriously? This was a strange concept to me. Almost no one I knew from the streets had such a high moral standard. Our honor was usually evoked on a temporary basis, and even then, an extenuating circumstance was likely the cause of it.
So, what you are saying,” I stated for clarification. “Is that no matter how much you don't like it, you are stuck with me.”
He snorted a wry laugh. “Actually, I think I rather like being married to someone who would risk her life to save mine. It makes me feel... safe, I guess.”
I gaped at him in astonishment. He liked being married to me? Me?! A thieving street rat?!
He met my incredulous gaze with his honest and steady one. My heart – which had been racing for one reason or another almost every moment since I'd saved his life – suddenly started thundering. I looked to my chest to see if it was trying to break free.
Impulsively, I decided that I may as well make the best of our abrupt and utterly unbreakable bond. My hands shook as I pulled open my robe. Still not looking at him, I tossed the robe onto the floor, and then crawled closer to him.
Taking a deeply fortifying breath, I lifted my face until I was looking at him, and then pressed my lips to his. Once again, I felt like a bolt of lightning struck me to my core. He placed his hands on my jaw line as he deepened our kiss. Suddenly, I was drowning in the need to have his hands touch me everywhere!
His hands shifted to my arms, and he pushed me away slightly as he pulled back. “You don't have to do this,” he assured me. “It's obvious by your actions that you fear the intimate actions between a man and a woman. I would not demand nor expect the use of your body simply because we are married.”
Damnit! He's going to make me say it out loud! I slowly inhaled, and then exhaled.
For the first time... I actually do want... to be touched,” I admitted with a blush.
I think the mental control he had vanished, because I suddenly found myself pulled onto his lap. He kissed me again, only this time, his kiss was demanding. Greedy. Possessive...
A moment later, he rolled me under him, and suddenly I was utterly filled. My body tensed slightly at his unexpected invasion, but then relaxed again when I realized that there was no pain. He felt surprisingly good inside me.
I moaned as he slowly moved in and out of me a few times. His thrusts increased in speed until he was pounding into me with everything he had. I continued to moan and pant, feeling so wonderful that I had no words to describe it. My body got hotter and hotter until it simply exploded.
I felt completely shattered! My body shook from the pleasure for a few moments, and I realized that the squealing I heard was coming from me. I held my husband to me tightly and lightly bit his shoulder in an attempt to muffle the noises coming from my mouth.
He responded by grabbing my hips and burying himself as deeply as possible. His body shook and jerked a couple of times. There was a hot wetness inside me that was a clear sign that he was done.
I felt conflicted. Normally, I was grateful when a man filled me up. It meant that I could finally escape and cover whatever part of my body he had exposed to slake his lust with. This time, I was more than a little disappointed that he was finished with me.
He lay on top of me, and then kissed my neck as he whispered in my ear. “I'm sorry that was over so quickly, but it's been a while. I promise I'll do better next time.”
The only source of light in the room – now that it was dark outside – was provided by a candle. It dimmed rather suddenly, signaling that it was almost burned out. This seemed perfect at the moment, and I closed my eyes. I felt lethargic, and – based on the sound of soft snores emanating from my husband – I guess that he was already asleep.
What a strange day! If anyone had told me this morning that I'd be married tonight and willingly sharing my body with a man I had never met before, I'd have called them insane! I prayed that tomorrow was nowhere near as tumultuous as today! I'm not certain I could survive another day like this...

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