Hi everyone, and welcome back to Too Many Books to Count! I'm so glad you stopped by!
As with every Thursday this month, today is excerpt day—and I've picked out a particularly good one, if I do say so myself. If you know much about the Druid Novels, then you know I'm fond of my female characters. You know I write a good heroine, a woman who doesn't take any guff. And with this excerpt, I hope to show you just how different the story can be, when you start at the very beginning.
Everyone, meet Delilah.
(yeah, yeah, I know you already met her—but you'll get a better glimpse of her, here)
Excerpt from Anialych: People of Sand
By Rani Divine
©Copyright RAD Writing, 2019
I’d dreaded it all morning, but I’d carried through with everything that was my duty. Zion’s breakfast had been made before he woke, Aran and Yosef had had theirs shortly after he’d gone for the day, the water basin was cleaned, dishes were washed, the floor was swept, the hearth was dusted and wiped, and a fresh kettle of water had been hung over the fire. Tea would be ready by the time Rhaden arrived. Fresh cakes were cooling on the dining table, their scent wafting through the house, and now I stood by the kitchen table, staring out into the beautiful world beyond, the place to where I knew the voice had called me.
I should’ve gone. That was my one chance, and I feared that I’d lost it. Once my suitor came to this house, I would have no future ability to leave Tywed. Unless by some miracle he decided that I was not worthy to become his match, things would only progress from here. The first meeting was only the beginning. Next time we would be allowed to meet in his home, in the place where he intended to take me. The time after that we could walk in the streets of Tywed, as long as I kept my arm in his. This was Aran’s choice, his way of helping me out of the shadows after the incident with Sheia. People believed I was a risk, that I had somehow allowed a spy to befriend me and had told her as much as I could about Tywed—but I’d done no such thing, at least, not with an enemy.
For my part, I understood why Aran wanted to go through with this. The longer he waited, the more tarnished my name could become. But I didn’t care about any blemish upon my name. I could’ve remained unwed for the rest of my days and I wouldn’t have minded, if only I could do the things I so wanted to do. Aran couldn’t understand that. He was a man. He already had everything that wanted. Things weren’t the same for me as they were for him.
My eyes were fixed upon the horizon and the two druids standing there. They hadn’t moved this morning, and I believed they were watching me, waiting for the time when I came to them. I wished that they’d come here last night, that they’d taken my hand and led me away from Tywed and every memory I’d ever had in this place, and the places I’d known before. Scarrah wasn’t much better than here, especially after Mother and Father’s deaths.
I couldn’t still the tremble in my hands as the minutes ticked past. Aran and Yosef were still outside in the fields tending to the freshly planted crops—Tobias helping them before he took the sheep to pasture, if I’d heard correctly—but it was only a matter of time before Rhaden arrived. There was no longer any point in wishing. Everything was set, the deal had been struck. The only thing left to do was for Aran to come back inside and prepare himself for the arrival of the chosen suitor. As soon as Rhaden arrived, what I’d known as life would cease.
By Zion’s instruction, I’d worn my finest dress and my best shoes, pulled my long hair up into a braid that wrapped into a bun at the nape of my neck, and I’d prepared the house to look as decent as possible. I’d even tried to cover up the bags under my eyes and clean up as best I could, if only to appease my brothers. Zion wanted this to work. He genuinely wanted me to be happy, I believed. I tried my best to be understanding, even if I didn’t agree.
A knock sounded upon the front door, and I nearly leapt out of my shoes. Slowly, cautiously, I turned toward it. Rhaden should not have come here without one of my brothers to chaperone the two of us on our first encounter. No one had said anything to me about this, the two of us being alone the very day we met. Before yesterday, I’d never even heard the man’s name.
Taking a deep breath, I walked to the door. My heart pounded in my chest and my face burned with fear over who might possibly be on the other side of the wooden fixture. I took hold of the metal lever and pulled it up, lifting it out of the latch in the moment before I pulled the door inside and stepped out of its way.
“Good morning,” the man there responded, bowing his head.
“Good morning,” I replied, blinking rapidly to clear my mind. “May I assist you?” I asked.
He reached out a tanned hand toward me and took hold of mine, his eyes seeming to marvel at the very color of my skin. “I believe I am to be expected,” he replied. “My name is Rhaden Dumah, I’ve spoken with your master, Aran.” I noticed he did not say my brother. I wondered if it was because if I’d been under the charge of a brother, it should’ve been my eldest brother. Aran was six years short of that.
My eyes widened as he lifted my hand to his lips, his eyes now lifting straight into mine.
I froze in place, completely unsure how I should proceed. This was highly unusual. If it was intended that he should come here alone, one of my brothers should have at least warned me. It wasn’t right that it should be sprung on me like this, that I should be left to fend for myself when I knew next to nothing beyond the name of the man who now stood before me. I hardly even knew what I was meant to do when a match came to the house. My mother should’ve been beside me, coaching me through the process—and my brothers couldn’t have known how to take her place.
Rhaden released my hand and stood there silently, apparently unbothered by the fact that I said nothing in response. I took the moment to look at him, my hands still trembling. He had short brown hair, not nearly as dark as my own. His eyes were the brightest green I’d ever seen in my life, and seemed to stare into the depths of my very soul. He wore the same militia uniform as Zion had when he’d gone this morning, his sword and knives still sheathed at his sides. Sweat had soaked through the chest of his shirt in a neat little line down the center, as though he’d dampened it that way on purpose. His lips curled up in the neatest of smiles even through the unkemptness of his stubbly beard, and his eyes glanced into the house behind me.
“My apologies,” I said then, stepping out of the way. “I’ve forgotten my manners,” I added, gesturing to the dining table beside the hearth, where the cakes sat waiting. “Please, come inside.” My voice was shaking, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. None of this should’ve been happening.
My suitor smiled and laughed to himself as he stepped into my home, and I glanced behind him out the door, hoping to see Zion coming up the street a short distance behind.
“I was under the impression that Aran or Zion would—”
“I requested that I speak to you alone,” Rhaden said, cutting me off. “I believe it best for a man and woman to speak alone to know whether or not they might be suitable for each other.”
I nodded slowly and closed the door behind us, leaving it unlatched in the hopes that Zion might come strolling in at any moment. I may not have known much about matching, but I knew this wasn’t proper in the slightest. If Aran was trying to keep my name from tarnishing further, I doubted this was the way to go about it.
When I finally convinced myself to turn round, I found Rhaden standing in the kitchen looking out the window at the fields beyond. He’d removed the belt that held his weapons and left it on our dining table—something Zion would never have done in all his life—and his hands were now clasped behind his back.
By my guess, he was perhaps a decade older than me, but that wasn’t so uncommon for matches. There were light little wrinkles around his eyes and forming even upon his hands, but not so much that it seemed I would wed an old man. There was still youth in him, the same as there was in Zion. More than age, I saw wisdom behind his eyes. When he’d looked at me earlier, when he’d looked into my soul, I’d practically felt the knowledge there.
Now, he turned and looked me in the eye. “It is an honor to meet you, Delilah,” he said.
“And you,” I replied, out of politeness more than anything else.
“Come to me.” He held out his hand in front of him, and I was obliged to go to his side and take it. My nerves were getting the better of me. I didn’t know if I should offer tea or cake, if I should show him the house, or if I should point out the two Anialych standing on the horizon. My eyes were wide, uncertain, but I stood beside him all the same, trying to convince myself that there was nothing to fear. I saw no fury in his eyes, nothing that would hint at his being a cruel sort of man. There was nothing of my father in his eyes.
Rhaden smiled to me, in a gentle sort of way, and the corners of my mouth lifted of their own accord. I hardly realized I was even smiling until he reached out and took my other hand, his fingers playfully teasing mine.
“Why did you want us to be alone?” I asked before I even knew I was speaking.
He inhaled slowly, those green gems still piercing into me with a power unlike any I’d ever witnessed before, and his smile brightened. “I would like to get to know you,” he said. “While your brothers are here you’ll be obliged to speak as they want you to.” He squeezed my hands. “I want you to speak to me as a friend, in confidence, if that is what it takes.”
My eyes narrowed. No man ever wanted to get to know a woman before they matched. I’d never heard of that happening—not from Mother, from anyone in any of the families back in the plains, nor from anyone here. Though I did not know many people, I knew what was considered usual, and this was not it. When a man met the woman he was to be matched with, his goal was always to tell her what was to be expected, when she moved into his home. They were to find if they were compatible, if the man found the woman suitable enough to wed. Nothing akin to this.
“Why?” I whispered.
“Because beauty is one thing, and brains are another.” He winked. “I don’t want to spend my life with a woman who hates all that I am.”
I nodded, my heart still pounding and my hands still trembling though they were still held within his.
“I’ve made you afraid,” he mused then, looking down at my hands. “It was not my intent, lovely one.” He lifted both my hands to his lips, his eyes again hollowing out my soul. “I want you to be comfortable with me, in every way.”