The Divided Kingdom: Masked
Addalynne Troyer has never seen the hellions or the magic that are rumored to exist just beyond the Glass River. Her life is confined to the kingdom of Silveria, where normalcy is valued and the fear of the unknown is shadowed by warnings and restrictions. Determined to see the truth, Addalynne secretly takes watch, staring into the ever present fog that lingers along the southern bank of the river; a thin veil between Silveria and the forbidden kingdom of Incarnadine. Just as Addalynne is beginning to fear she will never learn the truth, a boy steps through the fog, his hands coated in blood. Drake brings with him a mystery enshroud in darkness, his past forgotten and seemingly lost. And though Addalynne knows he crossed the river from Incarnadine, she holds that truth inside her, afraid that if it comes out, she could lose him forever. As the years pass, Addalynne and Drake find themselves tangled in a love that is unrelenting. But they must battle against a fate that seems determined to keep them apart. With the impending war between the kingdoms brewing, Addalynne and Drake will soon discover they are much more than mere pawns in the game of power. They try to find hope, to find a way out of the chaos that is unfolding around them, but what do you do when saving the person you love means destroying them?
Sweat beads at my hairline, making me instantly regret wearing my cloak. Pushing it off my shoulders, I welcome the hesitant breeze that whispers along my skin. It’s hot today, too hot for early spring. I glance up at the sky and have to search for a cloud. When I find one, it’s peeking behind the snow-capped mountains in the west.
“Addalynne, are you listening to me?”
I turn to my brother, Gregory. He looks irritated. I wonder how long he’s been trying to get my attention.
“I didn’t hear you. You mustn’t have been talking loud enough,” I answer with a shrug.
“Yep. It was definitely that I wasn’t loud enough. It had nothing to do with you being completely oblivious to everything around you.”
“I’m not oblivious. You’re just not very interesting.”
Gregory tugs my hair. I turn and try to shove him, but he jumps to the side, out of my reach.
“You got lucky that time!” I shout at him as he runs ahead of me, laughing. I run after him, through the wild grass of the field, a fistful of dirt in my hand. He’s fast, but the tree line is approaching and so is the wall in front of it, which means he has to slow down, and within seconds I’m upon him. I reach up and rub the dirt in his hair. It falls like dust around us.
“I yield! I yield!” He laughs, and I smile with my victory. “You’re vicious today. It’s a good thing I’m not going into the woods with you.”
“Why not?” I practically whine as a scowl imprints on my face. If he doesn’t come, we can’t play King’s Schild.
“I told Walter I’d meet him at the Barren Fields,” he replies as he continues to shake dirt from his head.
“Fine,” I shrug, letting my gaze linger on the branches overhanging the uneven grey stone wall that separates the forest from the village. I wonder if that wall is as old as Sir Alsius. I imagine that the branches are wisps of his hair, the larger cracks in the stones his eyes: watching us and warning us to stay away.
“But you better not go any closer to the river than the Grey Tree,” Gregory again tugs on a strand of my black hair to get my attention.
I turn toward him. His eyebrows are drawn tightly over the concern in his brown eyes. “I won’t, but you know nothing ever happens.”
“Then why do you always insist on going there?”
“Because if anything does come close to the river, I am going to be the one to see it.”
I move through the forest breathlessly, trying to make no sound. I have to stay quiet or the enemy will hear me approaching. If they see me before I get to them, I’ll be killed.
I step around an oak tree and see them beyond the trunks of several willows. I reach behind me and grab the hilt of my sword, pulling it from its sheath. Holding it firmly in front of me, I creep toward them, marking the largest one as my target. If I can take him down, the rest will be easy.
His back is to me, and with the cover of branches and my quiet steps, he doesn’t sense me approaching. So close . . . one more step . . . I lunge forward, thrusting my sword into his back, and watch as the disturbed leaves rustle before falling to the ground.
The long branch I fashioned into a sword sticks awkwardly out of the defeated blackberry bush. Playing King’s Schild isn’t as much fun without Gregory.
I turn and head deeper into the forest, brushing my fingers along the trunks of the trees as I pass. The sound of leaves crunching under my feet fills the silence: a greeting from an old friend.
After several more minutes, the shimmering line of the Glass River emerges. My gaze settles on the Grey Tree, its dark branches reaching toward the river like long, crooked arms. Others think the Grey Tree is strange, with its tangled roots that grow above ground and its bare branches. It’s not dead, it grows this way, and that makes others superstitious of it. But not me. To me, it’s beautiful. Besides, it sits right on the edge of the Glass River, offering a great lookout point of the south.
I carefully walk across the roots, get a good grip, and make my way up the tree, settling onto a branch that provides the perfect spot for me to sit and watch. I set my gaze on the Faenomen Forest, fixating on the budding green leaves of the trees that line its entrance, blurred, but dancing in the breeze behind the fog. The fog is always there, pressed up against the southern bank—a thin veil between our kingdom of Silveria and the forbidden kingdom of Incarnadine.
The hellions are supposed to live in the Faenomen Forest of Incarnadine, but I’ve never seen a sign of one. Regardless, it’s the warnings that make Incarnadine forbidden. And the fact that it’s forbidden makes me curious.
Just like every other day, I wait in the tree, but nothing happens. After the sun is far in the west, I begin to make my way down. That’s when I see it—a shadow in the fog. I stop moving, my breath stuck in my throat as I stare out over the river at the dark silhouette that’s beginning to take shape. My pulse races while I watch it stagger forward. A hellion. I’m going to see a hellion.
But an ordinary boy emerges from the mist.
He stumbles to the river and falls to his knees, his trembling arms extending toward the water. That’s when I notice something thick and red covering his hands and sleeves. Blood. I press the back of my hand against my mouth, cutting off the scream that’s trying to escape.
His reflection in the water is as clear as if he were in front of a mirror. Through it I can see the wrinkles in his ivory tunic, which is stained with dirt, grass and more blood. His wavy, dark brown hair is falling around the pale skin of his face.
As his hands touch the water, his reflection shatters into thousands of red-streaked shards. Suddenly, the boy goes oddly still, his gaze fixing on the water. Does he see me? My heart thrashes with panic. But just as I realize I’m too far away to be visible, the boy falls forward, headfirst into the river.
Within seconds I’m out of the tree and running toward the water. Before I give myself too much time to think about what I’m about to do, I jump into the river.
A million needles pierce my skin as my body meets the icy water. My feet hit the bottom and slip on the mud causing me to sink down further. For a moment, all I can think about is the cold, dark water that’s burying me in its frozen embrace, but as the shock wears off, I’m able to plant my feet on the bottom and stand, breaking the surface.
Blinking against the drops of water that are holding onto my lashes, I look around and see the boy several feet away, floating with his face down in the river. Thankfully, the water isn’t too deep and I’m able to walk toward him by grasping the scattered rocks which keep me from slipping. When I reach him, I grab his arm and drape it over my shoulder.
It’s difficult and takes all my strength, but I manage to walk us to the northern shore and pull him up on the bank. I look down at the boy, my chest heaving. He’s lying on his stomach, unconscious, but the slight rise and fall of his back tells me that he’s at least breathing. I have no idea how to help him. But I know my mother can.
I bend down and again drape his arm over my shoulder. He’s bigger than me, probably around my brothers age, making it difficult to stand. Somehow, I manage to make it to my feet and drag the boy, as fast as I can, back to the village.
The clearing peaks through the trees, and the long grass beckons like a warm bed. My body is past exhaustion and, as I cross the line of the woods and step into the grass field, my knees buckle and I collapse. Lying on my stomach, I gasp for air. The boy is partially on top of me and, using my last bit of strength, I roll out from under him.
This is impossible! I wrap my fingers around several strands of grass and try to rip them from the ground in frustration, but my fingers slip right off. I’m too weak to even throw a proper fit.
Get up, Addalynne! If you don’t, he’s going to die. I push myself up and stagger to my feet. My arms are shaking, but I grab his wrists and try to pull him. He doesn’t budge, and again I fall to the ground.
“Gregory!” I shout and again push myself to my feet. Hopefully, he’ll be on his way home and he’ll hear me. “Gregory!”
The sound of rustling grass pulls my attention to the east and I see the familiar light brown hair and scattered freckles of Gregory’s friend, Walter, running toward me.
“Addalynne?” His widespread eyes are filled with bewilderment as he approaches. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” His hand instinctively goes to the dagger at his hip, his eyes scanning the area around me.
“No. I’m fine.” I speak through sharp breaths, my lungs burning with each word. “But I need Gregory.” I really don’t want to explain this to Walter.
“Gregory’s in the market. I can go get . . .” His words trail off, his attention falling to the body beside my feet. “What’s that?”
“I . . . I know it’s a boy,” he stammers, pink blossoms growing on his cheeks. “Who is he?”
“I don’t know.”
He raises an eyebrow as he takes in the water dripping from my sleeves and pooling around the skirt of my dress and the boy. “Did you drown him?”
“No! I found him floating in the river.” I’m definitely not going to tell Walter that he came from Incarnadine. At this point, I don’t think I’m going to tell anyone that he came from the forbidden kingdom.
“Why is he covered in blood?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is he dead?
“No!” But he’s going to be if I don’t get him home. I let out an exasperated breath. “Walter, I need your help.”
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