Golden Eyes

by Nikki McCormack

Golden Eyes Cover_Front.jpg

Gargoyles don’t interact with people. So, when one visits Mira on the manor tower, she isn’t sure how to respond. There’s something comforting about its presence though, especially when it follows her on her way to meet her future husband.

At seventeen, she doesn’t feel ready to marry. A political marriage tearing her away from Captain Marikashi, whom she secretly loves, was once her greatest fear. Now the captain has been called to war, leaving her with the gargoyle and her husband-to-be.

Fearing for the captain and dreading her future, Mira turns to her unusual companion for support. As her bond with the gargoyle grows she begins discovering strange new powers granted to her by her beastly companion. But those powers come with a price that will make her marital woes look trivial. A price that she and the gargoyle will soon have to pay.


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Information:

Title: Golden Eyes
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Elysium Books
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Length: 260
Release Date: November 2017
ISBN: 978-0998376547

Excerpt from Golden Eyes

by Nikki McCormack

Copyright © 2017 by Nikki McCormack. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

CHAPTER ONE

Gargoyles soared over the manor courtyard and around the towers, banking and spiraling, gliding effortless on the air currents. They had no obvious purpose beyond perhaps enjoying their ability to fly on a beautiful, breezy day. They were crude-looking creatures, with lumpy, hairless, gray-brown skin but their bearing in flight transformed them. Absolute contentment radiated from them. A serenity that made them beautiful.

The breeze blew a lock of hair across Mira’s nose and she grabbed it, pinning it down with one hand hard enough to cause some minor pain. An air of tension stole away the calm this place usually brought her. It felt like change was on the way. Maybe, if she watched the gargoyles long enough, she could rediscover that well of serenity within herself.

“I would love it if you listened to me occasionally.”

“Oh.” She started and spun around to face Kashi, her cheeks flaring up hot. Bowing her head, she executed a small curtsy, more to hide the burn in her cheeks than out of any true commitment to propriety. “I didn’t realize someone had joined me up here.”

“Obviously.”

Her heart was still racing as he strode past her to look out over the edge of the tower, as much from the thought of being up here alone with him as from the surprise of his arrival. His straight black hair was bound up in a warrior’s knot, though the breeze had pulled loose a few shorter strands around his face, taking some of the severity away from the style. Those stormy grey eyes watched the gargoyles with the same indifference she saw in them when he looked at her. That indifference cut her to the core.

“All these years and my brother says you still come out every day to watch them.” He shook his head. “At least I always know where to find you.”

She could think of nothing to say in response to the edge of bitterness in his voice.

They first met eleven years ago when she and her older brother, Dannesk, arrived at the Arkesh manor as wards. The main portion of their family’s manor had burned in a devastating fire that took their parents from them. Their family’s remaining holdings were strong enough that an arranged marriage between Dannesk and Ina Arkesh earned them a place as wards while their grandmother oversaw the selling of some properties and the rebuilding of the manor.

Mira believed she had found in Kashi a kindred soul. For almost seven years it had seemed so. Then Kashi went away for four years to complete an intensive training program at the military academy in Beikang. He returned a few months ago a different man, now distant and abrupt with her, impatient with her flights of fancy. Their easy childhood friendship dissolved under the weight of responsibility and an inexplicable tension that she ached to understand. Perhaps if she had gone to Beikang as he had and taken to studying politics their friendship could have endured. But her job was to remain here and learn the details of running a manor so she could help rebuild their family by marry well. A prospect she dreaded. One that loomed ever closer on the horizon.

She sighed and turned her attention back to the gargoyles. No point wasting energy on things she couldn’t change. Age and the demands of society weren’t content to steal only childhood friendships from her. They would take her dreams away as well.

One of the great beasts banked close to the tower and met her eyes. For a few seconds, everything around her vanished and her breath caught in her throat. The gargoyle had the most brilliant gold eyes. Their gold shone brighter and richer than any treasure forged by men. For the briefest of moments, when it looked into her eyes, the expression on its horned countenance changed from ecstasy to sorrow. As if, in that instant, it shared her sadness for the freedom and friendship of childhood that she had lost. For dreams she set aside to strengthen the future of her family. Then the beast was gone again, diving down out of sight.

Stepping closer to the edge, she peered after it, but the gargoyle had already become lost among its flock. She hadn’t ever seen one of the creatures interact with someone, not even with such a brief glance. Normally, they barely expressed any awareness of the humanity around them, almost as if they existed in a separate realm. That disinterest, along with their tendency to drive off unwanted pests, made them tolerated residents on the rooftops of large manors and castles. Many of which even designed perches for the beasts into the architecture.

Kashi cleared his throat, drawing her back to their awkward encounter.

“I apologize, Kashi.” She slipped unthinkingly into the familiarity of their youth. “Was there something you needed?”

“Why else would I ever come up here?”

She winced at the lash in his tone. Why indeed? Not to hide from tutors or make up stories about the strange beasts flying nearby. Certainly not for the simple enjoyment of her company, not anymore. Did the military academy train them to such callousness?

She sighed again and his face darkened.

“You spend a lot of time sighing and daydreaming, my lady. All the while, life goes on without you. Maybe you should start paying attention before it has passed you by completely.” He emphasized the last word with a swipe of his hand, cutting through the air between them like a blade.

She drew back, startled by the fervor in his voice and more than a little alarmed by the intensity of his gaze. Something had his ire up more than usual. “What do you mean?”

“Your brother is here. It seems he may have found you a suitable husband.”

Ice spread through the pit of her stomach. “I… But he…” She stopped and placed a steadying hand on the stone parapet.

“What? Did you think you could stay here forever? Languish in the generosity of Lord and Lady Arkesh until you died an old maid?”

His words stung. Daydreaming indeed. If she could not have his love, she fancied the idea of going to city and entering into politics. Perhaps die an old maid having made a name for herself in government. It was an impossible fantasy, but that didn’t make it any less attractive. Her agreement with her brother was for a different future.

She felt tears coming to her eyes and swallowed hard, determined to keep them at bay. “Why are you so upset with me? I didn’t realize you wanted me gone so badly.”

He looked away quickly, almost as if she had embarrassed him somehow.

Good. He deserves it.

He didn’t though. She could remember sitting in the corner of this very tower, their heads close together, making up stories of how they would run away to the city to avoid this fate. He always despised the idea of her having no say in who she would marry. This news was likely a blow to him as well as a friend who wanted the best for her, if he still was such.

His storm-filled eyes swept out over the courtyard. “I don’t want you gone. What I want…”

He stopped. After a long moment of silence, he gave a sharp exhale and shook his head.

“They are waiting for you in the front sitting room, my lady.”

“Thank you, Captain Marikashi,” she replied, hiding disappointment behind stiff formality.

She forced herself to walk away from him with her head high. The effort made her feel even more like crying. She put one foot down onto the top rung of the ladder and hesitated. Perhaps she could send him down in her stead to tell her brother she was unwell. It might delay things for a little while, if only an hour or two. Or it might not. Dannesk was a sweet, but stubborn man. Tucking her skirts around her ankles and down into the trapdoor, she climbed down the ladder.

Kashi gripped the edge of the parapet and his gaze drifted out over the gargoyles again. He knew she spent long hours watching them. More so now then she had as a child. They were magnificent in flight, able to maneuver with an almost bat-like agility, but he could never understand why she watched them as often as she did, climbing up to the towers almost every morning since the day she arrived. He sometimes wondered if it were some manifestation of an inner longing to leave Arkesh. She had been a ward in the manor for a long time. It wouldn’t surprise him if she wished to spread her wings and move on.

It appeared that her brother, now Lord of Yukori, came to give her that chance. Her reaction to the news, however, told him this still wasn’t the future she dreamed of. It wasn’t the future he wanted for her either. He hadn’t been foolish enough as a child to pretend that they would end up together. Even then he knew he would never be a suitable match. Why did it upset him so much now that what he had always expected was coming to pass?

He should have been more kind, but his helplessness in this situation left him floundering and angry. Neither of them was happy with this end, but they had both known it was coming. It was why he never told her how much he cared. It would only make this harder.

Kashi received regular letters from Dannesk during his training. He had known for some time that her brother was garnering interest in her from a few favored suitors. The process had taken Dannesk longer than he expected. He had intended to marry her off at fifteen to begin forging a stronger bond with one of the more respected houses, but his own marriage and other obligations delayed his search for two years.

The news that Dannesk was close to selecting a suitor had prompted Kashi to come home when he did. He wanted to watch her, to memorize her smile and the sound of her voice before she left Arkesh. Then he would return to the capital and see if he could make a life of military service. Many men in the Arkesh family line made their names that way. Having excelled in his training, he saw no reason not to do the same. A bastard only had so many options.

He shook his head. Perhaps time in the practice ring would ease his foolish melancholy.

Turning his back on the sky dancers, he headed down from the tower and began to make his way through the manor.

The best he could hope for was that Dannesk had found a good match for Mira. She deserved someone who would treat her well. Perhaps that was what had taken him so long. There was no doubt Dannesk loved his little sister dearly. He would go miles out of his way to get Mira the slightest thing she passingly mentioned needing. Even as children, Dannesk protected her if he thought others got too rough. More than once, he and Kashi had gotten into fights with other boys in her defense. She railed against it, insisting that she didn’t need to be coddled. But what decent man wouldn’t want to protect her? She was a dreamer and so delicately built, like one of the fragile glass dolls his half-sister Ina collected.

“Captain.”

He turned to see Sunai, his half-brother Shakari’s wife, as she hurried down the hall after him, her skirts lifted off the floor so as not to trip upon them. He found an easy smile for her. Since she had come to Arkesh, she had been as much a sister to him as Ina had ever been, more in some ways. He stood politely to wait for her.

“Captain Marikashi.” She greeted him with a quick curtsy for formalities sake, then followed it with a fond smile and a light kiss on one cheek. “Have you spoken with Lord Yukori?”

He nodded, doing his best to brush aside the part of him that wanted to reject the use of such titles. In their childhood, the man known now as Lord Dannesk of Yukori or Lord Yukori had merely been Danni. So much changed in the last several years. Childhood friendships faltering before the demands of adult life.

She nodded in turn and swallowed once. “It will be sad to see her go.”

A small shimmer of moisture sparkled in her blue eyes. A luxury he could not afford. Perhaps she would shed a few tears on his behalf when Mira left.

A smile threatened at the corners of his mouth as an idea occurred to him. “Perhaps we could give her something to remember us by.”

“Oh?” The shimmer of moisture dissipated before a teasing smirk. She winked at him. “And what token of your affections would you suggest we give her?”

He gave her a chastising look, though her knowing smile broke down the attempted severity behind the expression. “Behave, Lady. You know that mare she’s so fond of, the one she calls Aiko?” He didn’t have to say any more. Her eyes came alight and she clasped her hands before her excited smile.

“That’s a fantastic idea. I’ll suggest it to Shakari immediately.” Her tone promised that the suggestion would be more along the lines of an order. That meant it would happen. Shakari cared for Mira too and he preferred to avoid arguing with his wife whenever possible.

Kashi couldn’t hold back a satisfied smile.

She placed a hand on his arm then, her expression turning to the gentle pleading look that meant she intended to ask him for a favor he might not enjoy. “Kashi, would you please invite Lord and Lady Yukori to stay for supper with us this evening?”

He hesitated, dread forming a knot in his stomach. As much as he wanted to know that Mira would go to a good man, he didn’t want to listen and pretend enthusiasm while they went on about her husband-to-be. Still, he could refuse Sunai nothing when she looked at him that way. Resigning himself, he inclined his head. “I will do this for you alone, my lady.”

“Thank you, little brother.” She patted his cheek playfully before turning to walk away.

A flame of panic lit in his chest. “Sunai?”

She turned and smiled, her eyes soft with understanding. “Don’t fret. I will not tell Shakari the horse was your idea,” she assured him, reading his thoughts with uncanny accuracy. A big smile dimpled her round cheeks before she continued down the hallway, not waiting for his nod of gratitude.

She knew how he felt about Mira, or at least that he cared for her, if not the extent of those feelings. The woman proved too observant sometimes, but he appreciated having someone to confide in. Neither of them spoke of it to Shakari. His older half-brother was much too devoted to propriety to take such a thing lightly. He had always been that way, but he took a firmer stand than ever on issues of social standing since taking over management of the manor.

Kashi touched the hilt of his sword once, yearning for the simple demands of the practice ring. Resigned, he altered his route to go and speak with Lord and Lady Yukori for Sunai.