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Name: Leo Valiquette
Title: The Sword and the Skull
Genre: Adult epic fantasy
The iron bells of the Holy Clerisy summoned the faithful of Vysus to morning prayers.
It had been eight years since Sabelwood, and Ryn still couldn’t bear the sound of it. Bells had tolled that night, too. They had been different bells, in a far distant place, but the Clerisy’s cry was the same, wherever it ruled, always shouting the crimes he had committed in its name. A tide of anxious fear, thick and dark, threatened to smother him, driven closer with each strike of the bells’ clappers. Some mornings were worse than others. Today, it was coming on like a raging bear defending her cubs.
He took slow, measured breaths and focused on the singsong chants of the shamanists, rising from a thousand rooftops in praise of the new sun. The rhythms of the two religions drifted through the bedroom’s narrow window with the teasing aromas of outdoor cooking hearths and bread ovens. He could sense the arid heat of the isthmus, rising to chase away the night’s cool respite, through the thick walls of mud brick and stucco.
By the time the bells had gone silent, the worst of his terrors had passed—his penance done for another day.
Josalind’s face was still buried in her pillow, arms cradled over her head. He attempted to slip from beneath the linen sheets without rousing her, but his foot had barely passed the edge of the mattress before her slender frame was astride his waist and coppery red curls tickled his cheeks.
“And where do you think you’re off to?” she asked.
Ryn looked deep into the milky cataracts that blinded her, but, as always, saw only the sea-green lost beneath. “I’ve got to get something.”
“Do you, now?” She brushed her lips across his chin. “You dreams were dark again last night.”
Did her Sight give her only a sense of their nature, or did she know more? She had never said, and he had never mustered the courage to ask. He seldom remembered his dreams, but if they were dark, there was little doubt about what they concerned. For so long he had wanted to tell her about Sabelwood, of how his cowardice on that evil night was the true beginning of the road that had brought them together and led to Vysus. But as the years had passed, it had become that much more difficult to speak of it. It was his secret, his shame, his burden to bear.
He savored a slow kiss before wiggling out from under her. “Wait here.”
He visited the water closet, pulled on a loose cotton shirt and short pants, and made for his desk in the common room of their apartment. A palatar’s sword rested in its scabbard against the desk–a bitter reminder of faith forsaken and oaths broken that he couldn’t bear to cast away. Facets of stained glass were mounted in the squarish pommel, gleaming with the colors of the Clerisy as if the sword hungered to answer the bells’ call to duty.
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