A flash of lightning brightened the sleeping chamber. Ash woke with a start and burrowed into the pillows. The scent of trouble rode the air currents that threaded through the open window slats. Her heart thudded in her chest. Like the beating of a giant’s club against a massive drum, thunder sounded. Again, lightning flashed and cast green, red, white and blue slashes across the sky.
The air held no threat of rain. ‘Twas like the heat storms of summer, unnatural at this time of year, for the waning days of autumn marked the season.
Ash calmed her racing thoughts and tasted the air, for that was her element. A frown formed within and without. From the land beyond the four walls of the henge, she caught the odors of fires, animals and men. From inside the keep, there was little except the aromas of her parents and siblings. Something was wrong. Where were those who served the Dom and Doma of Wesren? Ash propped herself against the pillows. If she had her younger brother’s affinity for things of earth, she could read the stones of the ancient tower and know what had passed while she slept. Where were the men servants and maids? ‘Twas as though the henge had been abandoned by those who lived within the four walls.
The chamber door creaked. Ash froze until a familiar scent reached her. “Mama, what’s wrong?”
The Doma Calanda slipped across the room and sat on the bed. “Ashlea, still your thoughts.”
Ash struggled to obey the sharp command. Her mother seldom spoke this way. “Why?”
“Thoughts travel on the wind and may be read by those who wish us ill.” She grasped Ash’s hand. “Dress in your warmest clothes. As soon as you’ve finished, go to the inner room.”
The urgency in her mother’s voice raised fear. “What’s happening?”
“We’ve been betrayed. An army surrounds the henge. Your father and I believe the secret of the openings in the walls is known to force us to use our powers for their ends.”
“Who has done this? Do I know the enemy’s smell? Have I seen his face?”
“Several years ago, your father’s step-brother came to the henge. He’s one of those who stand against us.”
Ash thought about her step-uncle. His face slipped into her thoughts. Prince Zedron had brought gifts for her and her siblings. He’d seemed nice, but she had a vague memory of hearing voices—his and her parents’—raised in argument.
Why would he want to destroy the henge? When Papa had shown affinities for the elements, he’d given up his claim to Wesren. Zedron of the House Wesren had been named prince. As well as being papa’s step-brother, they were distant cousins.
Ash grasped her mother’s hand. “Why did he send the army here? Doesn’t he know what you and Papa do?”
“He doesn’t believe or care. Greed, envy and a lust to rule where once four henges held the land in balance drive him. He doesn’t act alone. Your father and I fear he’s aided by one of the Doms.”
“The one I suspect has no ties of kinship to us.”
“Why not someone from the low lands?”
Her mother sighed. “Though at times, those with affinities like your father are born in the low lands, I believe someone from the high lands has allied with darkness.”
Ash swallowed. “Why would anyone who could do good want to do evil? Where are the people of the henge? Their scents are gone.”
“Away to safety.”
“Mama, what will we do?” Ash caught the edge of a thought and feared the Doma’s answer. She held back tears and hoped she’d misheard. After all, her talents was just emerging, as were those of her siblings.
Ash and her twin would celebrate their fourteenth name day on Winter Day. Her younger siblings had seen their twelfth on Summer Day. How could they stand against one whose talents were fully developed?
“You and your siblings will leave the henge.”