This part was deleted from my novel for various reasons but I really like it so I decided to post it here. I hope you enjoy.
A gentleman dressed in travel clothes befitting one of privilege stood in the arched doorway of the manor’s sitting room. He glanced at his watch one last time, returned it to his vest pocket, then cleared his throat to announce his presence.
Two children, a brother and sister, both ten years old, spun around in surprise.
“Grandfather! You’re home!” They flew into his open arms; their feet dangled above the floor. Kisses smothered his aged and weathered face.
Grandfather returned their affection, planting multiple kisses on each of their cheeks. “Ah, it is good to see you again,” he said, setting them down, “but tell me, why are you two imps still awake? It is well past your bedtime.”
The children glanced at their mother standing in the doorway and hugged him tighter. “We were waiting for you,” the boy said.
“It’s true,” the girl chimed. “Mother said if we were good we could stay awake until you arrived.”
He unraveled their arms, crossed his own and put on a serious face. “And have you been good? Do not lie or there will be hell to pay.”
They both nodded their heads with enthusiasm.
“Yes. Of course you have,” he said; his sapphire eyes twinkled with amusement. He withdrew a long-handled pipe from his pocket and put it to his mouth. “Well. What are you waiting for? You have done as your mother permitted. Now off to bed, both of you.” He stole a wink at his daughter who smiled in return.
“But Grandfather, you’ve just arrived,” the boy protested. “We’d never be able to sleep now. You’ve been away for so long and we want to hear of your adventures. Please?”
“Yes, Grandfather,” the girl pouted. “You always tell such wonderful stories.”
Grandfather bent over and touched the tip of her nose with his finger. “Well, Gertie, seeing as you put it that way, perhaps if you spread the cushions before the fireplace I shall tell you one. Shea, fetch my luggage from the hall.”
“Is it all right, Mother?” Shea asked, his faced turned upward, his eyes wide. “May we listen to a story? Please?”
“Yes, please, Mother?” Gertie said.
She glanced from her children’s eager faces then to her father who issued a knowing smile and a single nod. “Well — I suppose, but just this once.” She whispered in her father’s ear, “You’re as incorrigible as they are, Papa.”
“Some things never change, Eliza. Besides, you don’t seem to be any worse off because of it.” He kissed her forehead.
“Only because Mother made sure my feet were planted in the ground and not in the stars,” she teased. “I’ll be back with something to drink. Shea, do as your grandfather asked and collect his bag, please.”
Grandfather sat in a wide, blue and white paisley chair, his stockinged feet propped on the embroidered footstool. Golden light from the oil lamps danced across the gleaming surfaces of the family portraits.
“What have you got in here, Grandfather?” Shea asked, his muscles strained under the weight of the leather satchel.
Grandfather lifted the bag as if it weighed nothing at all and set it in his lap. “You shall see, but before I show it to you, you must both promise to never breathe a word of what you are about to see to anyone.”
“Ah, the treasure bag of secrets,” Eliza said, setting down a tray topped with mugs of steaming hot apple cider and cinnamon sticks to stir with. “The best stories I ever heard came from that bag, children.”
Grandfather stared at the tray, his brow creased. “I’m judging by the three mugs you aren’t staying to hear another?”
“Not tonight, Papa. I have an early day tomorrow. Charles returns from Tortello in the morn . . .”
“Father comes home tomorrow?” the children shouted in unison. Their eyes reflected the happiness in their voices.
“Yes. He should be here when you wake.”
Shea and Gertie jumped up and down in delight.
“All right, little imps,” Grandfather said. “Settle down.” He glanced up at his daughter and reached for her hand. “I suppose then I shall say good-night.”
She leaned over and kissed him. “Good-night, Papa. I love you. Oh, and please try to get them to sleep before sunrise.”
“I’ll do my best.” He smiled. “Children, say good-night to your mother.”
Grandfather waited until all the hugs and kisses were exhausted and Eliza was gone before he continued. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes. You were about to promise to never breathe a word about what you are about to see to anyone. Do I have your promise?”
Twin heads bobbed up and down.
He snapped the latches of the bag. Strong hands reached into the shadowy depths and with great care, removed the treasure.
Gertie gasped. “It’s beautiful.”
Shea collapsed to his knees, his mouth gaping. “I don’t believe it! Grandfather, that’s one of the stolen books of the Chronicles!”
Surprise swept over Grandfather’s face. “Stolen? What are you talking about — and how do you know of the Chronicles?”
“We saw a drawing once.”
“In the tavern,” Gertie answered for her brother.
Shea thumped her on the arm.
Grandfather raised an eyebrow. “What were the two of you doing in the tavern?” His eyes darted between the twins.
“We were chasing Morgan McGreary,”Gertie said, “because we caught him stealing a basket of apples from our cellar.”
“Who showed you the drawing?”
“A crazy man with a hairy face and shaggy wet hair.”
“Did he have a name?”
Shea shrugged. “I’m sure he did, though he didn’t share it with us.”
Grandfather cast his grandson a wry look. “This is no time to be smart. Now tell me what you know before I find myself overcome by a grand desire to fetch your mother so you may tell her the story instead of me.”
Shea spoke with a quick tongue. “Umm. Well, it’s a great story, really”
Grandfather settled back, an elbow on the arm of the chair, his cheek rested on a bunched fist, and said, “I’m sure it is, and I’m quite anxious to hear it.”
“It all started when the stranger arrived,” Gertie said. “We were in the tavern and it was raining something awful when all of a sudden this man runs inside shouting about books and riders.”
Shea interjected. “At first it was hard to tell what he was talking about. Then Mr. McGreary gave him a shot of liquor. Actually it was more like three shots. Of the stuff you like.”
“Whiskey, Shea. It is called whiskey,” Grandfather said, “and my like or dislike of it is no one’s business, above all yours.”
“I was only telling you what happened, Grandfather. Anyway, this man starts shouting to everyone that the second and third books of the Chronicles had been stolen from the sacred vault in the Ancestral Library in Avaleen and that we were all in danger.”
“You should have heard everyone,” Gertie said, springing to her feet. “They all started laughing and shouting and clucking about so that no one could hear anything else he had to say — that is until he jumped up on the bar, muddy boots and all. Mrs. McGreary took a broom after him.”
Shea took over, leaping to the sofa as he acted out the story. “The man crouched down and pulled a knife. He said he was traveling on the Windyburrow Road north of Bindsworth, just past dusk, when no less than a dozen men dressed in black and draped in red sashes and gold braiding flew past him on horses as dark as night. The next morning, they blew past him again, the wind at their backs, but this time they dropped something.”
“What did they drop?” Grandfather asked, his eyes fixed on Gertie who was busy rummaging through the trunk in the corner. She returned with a folded cloth in her hand.
Grandfather held it up by its corners and let it fall open. Imprinted in its fibers was the cover of the very book he held in his lap. His face fell into a worried frown. “Where did you get this, Gertie?”
“The man dropped it on the ground outside the tavern.”
“You see,” Shea jumped in, “it was right after the man showed everyone the cloth that Mr. McGreary threw him out. You should have seen him! I have never seen Mr. McGreary so angry. He was yelling at the man, telling him he should be ashamed of himself for spreading lies. He said everyone knew the books were nothing more than fables, hog’s breath. That’s when the fights broke out.”
“Yes. Lots of them. I guess the folks who believe the books exist didn’t like it when the others said it was all rubbish. Before long, everyone was fighting and tables were breaking. That was when Gertie and I left.”
“I found the cloth on the ground beside the well,” Gertie said. “The man must have dropped it when he mounted his horse. I tucked it into my smock and then we ran home.”
Grandfather rubbed his chin in thought. “When did all this happen?”
Shea shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t remember exactly. Eight or nine months ago. It was spring.”
The room became silent except for the crackle of the fire. Outside, thunder rolled and a driving rain beat against the windows.
“Grandfather?” Gertie was behind him, unbraiding his plait of hair. Silky strands of crimped silver fell over his broad shoulders. “Who were the riders the man spoke of? The ones on black horses.”
“My guess would be the royal guards of Felindil.”
“Felindil? Why, that is so very far away, across the Sea of Brindle. Why would Felindilians care about what happens in Hirth or in Fallhollow for that matter?”
“Because the Chronicles are important writings, Gertie, equal to, if not more so, than the Book of Telling.”
“Why?” She sat on her knees in front of him.
“They document the entire Great War through the eyes of one who lived through it. The unknown author divulged many secrets of Fallhollow and the lands beyond — secrets that would be detrimental to our world and others if made public — in order to document the events with accuracy. History tells us the second and third books were gifted to the mage, Jared, by an anonymous source, but there was no mention of what became of the first. We do know many years later, Jared relinquished the two books to the scholars in Avaleen. For more than forty years they have remained in a guarded vault deep beneath the main library, accessible only to historians and scholars with the highest credentials and royal clearance.”
“Then how were they stolen? Shea asked, “And who would want them?”
“Many desire the books, Shea. Only someone who was well-trusted with access to the vault could have removed them. It is this fact that disturbs me the most.”
“Why?” Shea asked.
“Because if what you have told me is true, it means shadows are moving unseen among us as they once did, and they now possess two of our most valuable artifacts. I fear this for the truth of our past and the foretelling of our future now lies in the hand of an unknown enemy.”
“Enemy?” Gertie said. “I don’t understand. Will there be another war?”
“But, Grandfather?” Shea said, “you have the first book. How did you get it? Where did you find it?”
“Never mind. How I came into possession of it is of no concern to either of you so do not ask.”
Shea sat back on his bottom. “Did you steal it? Are you going to give it to the library?”
Grandfather leaned forward, one elbow on his knee. “Tell me, Shea. Would you dare ask a pirate how he came upon his treasure and then ask what he planned to do with it?”
“No, but you aren’t a pirate, are you?”
Grandfather sat back in his chair, strings of pipe smoke unraveled in the air.
Gertie pulled up an ottoman and knelt beside it. “Don’t be silly, Shea. Grandfather, may we look at the book?”
“Of course, Princess.” He placed it on the cushion.
Twenty fingers caressed the ebony cover and insignia – an eagle with its wings spread, steadied atop a raised bull.
“I recognize this,” Gertie said, tracing her fingers over the raised lapis. “It is Hirth’s coat of arms, but I have never seen this binding before. What is it? It is very soft.”
“Truly?” Shea repeated with a sense of wonder. “I have often wondered what dragon hide felt like. I always imagined it to be scaly and rough, but this is as smooth as a worn river rock.” His fingers wandered over the thick spine. “It’s a shame there are no more dragons, don’t you think, Grandfather?”
“Who told you there were no more dragons?”
Shea laughed. “Everyone knows dragons no longer exist. Even you must know that.”
“Oh, who cares?” Gertie climbed onto Grandfather’s lap, her head nuzzled against the hollow of his neck. “Are you going to read us the story?”
“Would you like me to read it to you?” He kissed the top of her head.
“Yes, please, Grandfather,” she replied, “if we are allowed to hear the secrets of Fallhollow.”
“Aye you are, but it’s not a tale for the faint of heart.”
“We can handle it,” said Shea matter-of-factly. “We have grown up since you left. We are not little children anymore.”
Gertie slid off Grandfather’s lap and joined her brother, her arms folded to her chest. She gave a discernable nod in agreement.
A smile creased Grandfather’s lips. “What indomitable little creatures you have become since I’ve been away. Very well. I shall read the story to you but you must promise to not interrupt. Whatever questions you might have, I will answer at the end. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” they sang in unison.
“Good. Collect your blankets from the sofa and curl up on the rug. You will need the fire to keep you warm and the covers to hide beneath when you become frightened.”
“We won’t get scared,” Shea said, wriggling into his cushions.
“We shall see how brave you are, young Shea.” Grandfather gathered the book and winked at the boy. “Now, where should I begin?”
“At the beginning, silly,” Gertie giggled.
“Ah. And so I shall.”
Large, sun-bronzed hands cracked open the book. Magic escaped into the air.
And the unveiling of secrets began.