All right, here is the new beginning. When I read the part about the beheading, the first thing that comes to mind is the Highlander movies. Maybe this will be true for others also, but this is actually based on Celtic mythology. Paladin draws deeply on Celtic mythology and the Sarmatian culture.
As most of you faithful know, I had invitations to submit to Janet Reid, Rachel Vater and Paul Stevens. I won’t submit to Paul as I think my agent should do that, but it’s another arrow in the quiver. However, both Janet and Rachel stopped the old beginning very quickly in the Idol workshop so I had to rework it.
I hope this is a more appealing opening, but I would like your opinions if you have any. Still fiddling, thanks to some excellent advice.
Bad news always rides a fast horse. The horse coming down the hill was both fast and exhausted.
Gaeryn Diarmand dropped the harness he was repairing when he noticed someone approaching. A far rider. He recognized the cloak because there was one exactly like it folded up in the cedar chest at the foot of his bed.
The horse appeared to be a roan or gray, but they rode only dark horses. He wanted to relax when the rider got closer and he realized the horse was a dark bay encrusted with dried sweat that made him look lighter, but pushing a horse that hard meant trouble.
The woman reined her horse to a stop in front of him and reached down to pat the animal on the neck. She glanced at Gaeryn’s wife and daughter who had appeared when they heard the rider. The bay shook his head and heaved a deep whoof through flared nostrils.
She raised her hand as if to adjust her cloak, then ran her fingers across the bottom of the silver clasp at her throat.
The sign. She was one of his sister’s couriers.
“My name is Shona Finn.” She cleared her throat and flicked an almost imperceptible glance at Gentyl before stepping down.
Gaeryn turned to his daughter. “Gen, go take care of the horse.”
His daughter’s look of curiosity about the courier was immediately replaced with an excited smile. She loved the far rider horses and any excuse to handle one was a treat. Amanda reached out to take his hand. His wife wasn’t as easily distracted.
“Captain Diarmand sends her affections and greetings,” Finn began. “She also sends word Aegis was murdered.”
Amanda sagged into his side and tightened her grip on his hand. “Aegis is dead?” she whispered.
The woman nodded. “I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I know no way to make the news kinder. Captain Diarmand only asked me to deliver the message away from your daughter.”
Gaeryn swallowed the lump in his throat. The M’eiryn–his people– were warriors familiar with dying violently, unlike his wife’s city builders and peaceful farmers. Even so, the news devastated him.
“What happened?” he said at last.
“He was found at the Varena ruins. He was attacked, but defended himself. The killer cut his throat at the end.”
Gaeryn flinched. “Cut his throat?”
Finn met his gaze, passing an unspoken message. “Yes, just his throat.”
“Just his throat!” Amanda’s voice verged on hysteria. “You sound as if that is a mere splinter. What difference does it make? Dead is dead.”
Gaeryn pulled his wife close to him to comfort her. It made a world of difference though he couldn’t explain that to her. Aegis hadn’t been beheaded so it was possible his spirit might be restored. He would be a spirit walker, but he would live again. Perhaps.
The rider bowed to Amanda. “I’m sorry. You’re right, of course.”
His wife turned to him. “If the king’s personal guard isn’t even safe, how will we keep Gentyl safe in the military? The M’eiryn enemies will recognize her. We have to put her in the healing academy now. It‘s her only chance for safety.”
“She’s always dreamed of being a Horse Guard. I can’t take that away from her.”
“Your sister’s the leader of the Horse Guards. Do you think Gen won’t be a target if someone wants to get to Khali?”
Gaeryn looked at the rider who was as tired as her horse. “Shona, thank you for rushing this news to us. Come inside and we’ll get you something to eat.”
Amanda started to say something, but stopped when he shook his head.