Shannon McNear lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her husband and eight children. She’s been writing one thing or another since third grade and has completed five novels. She’s currently at work on a contemporary romance, a historical set in 1780’s South Carolina, and a fantasy, the story of her heart. She has served in worship and women’s ministry, as ACFW’s Southeast Zone Director, and as president and treasurer of her local ACFW chapter. Glimpses of her life can be found at http://shenandoahdawn.blogspot.com.
Fourteen years and more.
Daymonde gulped down another swallow of wine and stared at the folded missive on the table next to him, its seal broken.
Altnik, his fellow Son of the Gift, had certainly not broken his silence of so long for naught.
“Papa, may I come in?”
At Finmarr’s repeated knocking on the door, Daymonde set his cup on the table, shoved both it and the flask aside. He was sick of wine. Even more sick of the drunken swirl of his thoughts over the past hours.
Would you truly want to see your papa if you knew the truth?
Daymonde aimed the thought at the boy, hoping against hope—but as he already knew, no response came.
No sign of an awakening Gift in his eldest. By Fiona, his traitorous mind amended.
With a sigh, he opened the door.
Long dark hair framed the tall lad’s sober face, his eyes glinting blue, a youthful reflection of Daymonde himself. Concern, affection, and apprehension pulsed from Finmarr as he stepped into the chamber. “Papa, are you well?”
I will never be well again, Daymonde wanted to say.
Finmarr sat, his gaze sweeping the chamber and snagging on the letter. “What troubles you?” he persisted, his voice barely above a whisper. “What tidings from Androvia?”
A bitter smile came to Daymonde’s mouth. Of the half dozen lads and lasses Fiona had borne him, Finmarr was most likely to brave seeking Daymonde out, to break his self-imposed solitude. Even Fiona would not dare.
Tidings from Androvia. In fourteen years, Daymonde had received only royal missives. First was Rydane’s initial letter declaring an end to the alliance between Androvia and Nyland, after his return with Sheena to his own court. News filtered into Nyland over the next months—the birth of a son to Sheena and Rydane, and the country’s joy in the new heir apparent, right about the same time Fiona bore Finmarr to Daymonde.
In the back of Daymonde’s mind, Altnik’s words echoed. What if you sired a child?
He’d buried the thought over the next years, until word came again from Androvia about Sheena’s death in childbirth—the babe survived, a daughter this time—and a formal request from Rydane for renewed peace and trade.
Nothing Daymonde could do but accept, while his heart wept over the loss of that bright Marauder jewel that was Rydane’s queen.
Weeping that had resurfaced and not eased over the past hours since Altnik’s letter arrived.
The lad swallowed and looked away. “It—has to do with me—doesn’t it?”
“Why would you think that?”
“I know that I’m a disappointment to you.”
“Oh, my son.” Daymonde sat heavily in a chair facing him. “I have always been proud of you.”
“Your pride does not change the fact that—I cannot hear your mindvoice.”
Daymonde’s chest ached. He squeezed his eyes shut, snapped closed his Gift. Over time, as the silence had stretched between him and Altnik, Daymonde’s fears faded that Sheena’s son would
be revealed as his own. He would have forgotten altogether were it not for the persistent deafness of spirit in Finmarr, past the time the lad should have been able to hear Daymonde’s mindvoice. Long past the age when Daymonde could hear his own father’s, thus signaling his readiness to receive the fullness of the Gift, and be consecrated to the Stranger’s service.
Lately Daymonde had to banish the growing conviction that Finmarr was not, for whatever reason, heir to his Gift. But why not? he’d pled with all the depth of his soul. Blessed Stranger, you know I have tried. I kept my word to Glenmarr and wed Fiona. I have been a true husband to her—since taking my vows.
But he knew the Law. Knew the warnings that surrounded children of the Gift, because of the gravity of their task—and the ultimate warning that if one of them were to turn his or her back on the Stranger and his ways, the Gift itself would be lost.
Time to tell the lad. But—how?
He straightened, opened his eyes with purposeful avoidance of Finmarr, and focused on the grain of the polished wood floor. “I—oh, my son. I’ve realized that you may never have the Gift.”
“Why?” The single soft word resonated with fear of the truth.
“I—have transgressed against the Stranger.”
“Aye.” He clenched his teeth. “I—”
How could he do this to the boy—to Fiona? To his other children?
Blessed Stranger, I promised!
He forced the words from his mouth. “I wed your mother, but I should not have allowed them to make me king. The Law clearly states—”
“—that one with the Gift should not rule.”
The lad knew the Law as well. Daymonde had made sure of that.
“And so,” Finmarr’s bitterness grew, “the Stranger has punished you by not allowing me to inherit your Gift.”
Oh—blessed Stranger—he couldn’t bear this. Couldn’t bear what the truth would do to them all. He did love Fiona, as well as he knew how—loved his children as his own life.
And Sheena’s son had Altnik there to oversee his upbringing. That one would be fine. Truly.
Daymonde’s gut burned. He needed wine—again. “At least you’re allowed to become king now.”
It was a paltry exchange, and he knew it.
Finmarr shoved to his feet. “Forgive me, Papa.” And he fled the chamber.
Daymonde stifled a sob and groped for the chalice. His eyes fell upon the letter. Hands shaking, he reached for it, then dragged the candle close and lit the corner of the parchment.
The packet crackled as the flame caught and consumed it.
In his mind’s eye, Daymonde could still see Altnik’s elegant handwriting and the three words that had leapt out at him.
Three words—concerning Sheena’s son.
Calla hears mindspeech.