Copyright 2010 by C.A. Dawson, all rights reserved. Cover illustration by Duncan Long
Chapter 1 - Flight of the Lemming
“I’m going to kill her!” Kagoule roared, his black mane glistening in the overhead light. “I’ve had enough, Gradspin! Enough! She can’t do this to me.”
He paced the length of the council hall, slamming a fist repeatedly into the palm of his other hand. Gradspin jumped with every smack of flesh on flesh.
Outside the huge windows – beyond the door that led to the garden – a day as dark and grey as Kagoule’s mood was evolving. A storm gathered outside ‑ and in, Gradspin thought. Could he keep her alive? It didn’t look good.
“Wasn’t she your best choice?” Gradspin asked calmly.
“She challenges me at every turn,” Kagoule shrieked. “She refuses to answer my questions. Refuses!” He hammered his fist on the cold stone table top. Then, turning back to his pacing, he shoved a chair out of his way so forcefully it upended and skittered across the tiled floor, slamming into the wall and splintering.
“She persists in believing I will go away if she ignores me. So she does. Me!” he screamed, pounding his massive chest, and disregarding the shattered chair almost as well as Hill’carn spurned him. “She ignores ME! The King of the Gron’dalin Empire. She thinks I’m a figment of her imagination! How dare she!”
Light from the ceiling lamps danced off the complex shell-like pattern on his face. Sweat beaded there and ran through the design like a small river meandering through a field. His flat nose flared, his black eyes flashed menacingly. “I will kill her and choose another,” he said resolutely, brushing aside any potential dissent with the flick of a wrist.
“She is the best of the breed,” Gradspin insisted. A breeze played at the hem of the old gron’s floor-length cape, moving it slightly, just a whisper. “You must be patient with her, Lord. It must be hard for her, hearing but not seeing you.”
Kagoule looked to Cacin for sympathy. His young cousin stood silently at the head of the table, one hand firmly planted on a hip, his silver cape thrown carelessly back over one shoulder to accommodate his stance. Instead of sympathy, the young gron lifted his shoulders signing indifference.
“Why are you shrugging?” Kagoule demanded, turning his fury on the teenager. “Do you wish to anger me further?”
“Gods no,” Cacin replied boldly. “No one dare do that.”
Gradspin stiffened and held his breath, fear coursing over his weathered features along well worn paths carved by time.
“Only YOU can speak to me thus,” Kagoule replied after a brief pause, his annoyance subsiding a little.
Gradspin breathed again.
Cacin sighed audibly, not trying to disguise his displeasure with the King. He forged on. “Don’t they always think ill of us at first?”
“She thinks of me as a THING,” Kagoule complained, vexation riding his voice. But the crisis passed quickly. “When she thinks of me at all.”
The King moaned loudly. “When she’s not thinking she’s lost her mind, that is,” he added contemptuously. “She doubts her own sanity from time to time.”
“That is a normal reaction,” Gradspin declared.
The long stone table where the Elders gathered daily to hear the King’s Assessment of his future bride lay between Kagoule and Gradspin.
“Think of it from her perspective,” Gradspin ventured, seeing that Kagoule would now listen. “She doesn’t use her mind. None of them do. None of them ever have.”
“Which is just as well for us,” Cacin interjected. “We would have a terrible battle if they did.”
“Suddenly, you’re in her mind.” Gradspin pressed on. “Telling her what to do, demanding answers from her, assessing her. She knows nothing of Assessment!”
Kagoule grunted and continued pacing the length of the room, working off his fit of temper. His back to the old gron, he snorted.
“You must be patient with her,” Gradspin reiterated. “If you are patient, I believe you can win this female. She is very intelligent. More so than any we have encountered before. Just the fact that she speaks so many of her people’s languages attests to that.”
Kagoule turned and paced back toward the Lord Elder, then turned abruptly and strode away towards the wall again.
“Think of it,” Gradspin continued. “Think what it would be like to actually win them, instead of just dominating them. Give her a few more hours. Give yourself a rest first. Put a mind grid around her. Ensure she goes nowhere, speaks to no one. Then go back into her mind when both you and she have had a break from the Assessment.”
“Another waste of time,” Kagoule complained drawing a hand through his curly mane. He hooked his hand in the thick hair and kicked at the bits of broken chair. “I should go there physically,” he blurted suddenly, rounding on them.
“Patience,” Gradspin admonished.
Kagoule released the breath he had just captured and nodded at the Elder. “Alright,” he said slowly. He closed his eyes and rolled his broad shoulders. On opening his eyes he added, “I can use some sleep. And you can be sure I’ll build a mind block for her or the little fool will flee while I’m indisposed.” He snorted with disgust at the thought of the female attempting an escape. “If she resists me when I go back into her mind, I’ll kill her.”