The Unpublished Prologue to Hidden – The Birth of Ebrielle

The Birth of Ebrielle

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 SECRETED deep in the Lavender Forest of Avena, four angels gather together in a birthing chamber of intricate silk webbing. In the chamber’s centre, lying on a bed of soft goose feathers is Lady Elesha in her twenty-fifth hour of labour. Clutching her hand is her partner, Commander Rhamiel, concern etched in the lines furrowing the bronze skin of his forehead.

Standing beside the Commander is the young Prince Nathaneal, while Myrinda, the midwife, tends to her patient’s needs with untiring attention even though it has been a very long day.

Wanting to comfort his wife, Rhamiel releases his wings with gentle and expert precision, bringing the silken tips round to caress the sides of Elesha’s straining face. Though he acknowledges his limited experience in this field, Rhamiel’s concern continues to grow, recalling how their first child’s labour had lasted for seven hours and not a moment more.

Standing quietly watching, not once complaining of how long it is taking, the boy-prince’s yellow eyebrows furrow beneath the flop of hair that sweeps across his forehead. His arms go rigid by his sides as Lady Elesha once again stiffens and arches her back in a contraction that brings the prince’s tally to five hundred and thirty-two. And he wonders yet again how Lady Elesha can endure it.

Though unrelated by blood to the expectant parents, the prince understands the importance of his presence – a witness to the birth of a future royal bride – his bride. Since his wings have not yet emerged, and will not do so until the onset of his pubescent years, all he can do to calm his anxiety is clench and unclench his fists.

Prince Nathaneal does not doubt Lady Elesha’s strength. He has known and admired her for all of his seven years. She is his mother’s friend and equal to his father in rank. His mother often regaled him with stories of the battles they fought, facing demons and dark angels in combat for centuries before his birth.

But Lady Elesha hasn’t cried out once, as his mother warned was usual at such times, and he is not a stupid boy. His teachers’ reports overflow with praise of his high intellect. He knows that by now Lady Elesha’s suffering is more than most can bear, that she is – simply put – in agony, no matter how she chooses to mask it on his or the Commander’s behalf.

Elesha smiles at the prince, takes his hand and lays it on her swollen belly in an action that is so swift Nathaneal finds his fingers locked in the Lady’s steel grip before he has a chance to protest or withdraw.

Beneath his fingers a sudden flutter occurs, followed by a burst of powerful emotion, with a vision and a message. The prince’s bright blue eyes widen at the unexpected connection – a mind-link, forged from within the womb, with words and images shaped and uttered by the infant’s mind for him. Astonished, he glances up. ‘She spoke to me. She remembers our time together in the spirit world. And she showed me things.’ Murmurs of amazement pass between the parents and midwife as they digest what an incredible feat has just occurred. ‘She asked,’ the prince laughs, ‘if I belong to her.’

Lady Elesha gasps at her daughter’s audacity, while the Commander and midwife erupt with laughter. Oblivious to the adults’ amusement, Nathaneal understands something astounding is happening. Memories blast into existence, memories of their great love, of the life they shared whilst they were both in the spirit world for the last three thousand years, and of their promise to find each other.

On the cusp of their imminent reunion, a sense of protection has the prince looking around the chamber, checking for cracks, loose threads, any sign of unravelling. So intense is his examination that he misses the question the Commander asks.

‘I’m sorry, my lord, did you say something?’

Amused at the prince’s excitement, Commander Rhamiel repeats his question, ‘Did you answer my daughter, Nathaneal?’

‘I did, my lord. I said, “Yes, Ebrielle, I am the one who belongs to you.” It was the code we came up with, a question one of us would ask the other to be sure we’d truly found each other.’

‘Ebrielle?’ the Commander says. ‘How did you know that is the name we have chosen for our child? Who told you?’

The boy shrugs. ‘No one told me, my Lord. It’s the name I know her by, what I called her all those years we shared together in our spirit form.’

Rhamiel and Elesha exchange wondrous glances.

Hoping for another chance to communicate with his future bride; and wanting to ease Lady Elesha’s suffering, Nathaneal places his palm once more on the Lady’s belly, splays his fingers and, in the way of his training, wills calm energy to dull Lady Elesha’s sense of pain. His hand glows and Elesha sighs and closes her eyes for an indulgent moment.

She glances at the young prince. ‘You have the healer’s touch, Nathaneal.’

He smiles. ‘So I am told, my lady.’

‘Thank you, Nathaneal, but I think…’ Replacing his hand with her own, Elesha circles her swollen abdomen, uttering softly, ‘it appears, now that our little angel knows you are here, she is in a hurry to make her appearance.’

As the Commander ruffles the prince’s yellow hair, the midwife announces, ‘Time you were gone from here, my young prince. Your betrothed is about to join us and I’m sure she would not be pleased to know you were the first to see her naked!’

The Commander roars with laughter. So amused by Myrinda’s declaration he forges a mind-link to Prince Jaquel, Nathaneal’s father, in charge of the protective guard that presently surrounds them.

In the dark forest outside the chamber, with no lights to give away their secret location, Prince Jaquel laughs, and thinking to relieve his soldier’s tension, forges the amusing anecdote to the guards nearest him, who in turn mind-link the tale to the soldiers in the trees.

Hearing subdued laughter seeping through the chamber walls, Nathaneal identifies his father’s as the loudest and cringes. Though he is aware that he must leave quickly he must also be careful not to break the chamber’s protective seal. But his belt buckle catches on a sticky silken thread, pulling several more from the tight weave with each movement. His father notices and moves quickly to assist him. With his adept and experienced fingers, untangling his son’s buckle should only take a mere second, but Jaquel’s torso is still jumping with mirth and his fingers move more like thumbs.

Nathaneal shoves his father’s hands away. ‘Leave me be, father, you are making it worse. I will do it on my own.’

Overhearing the exchange, soldiers pass looks to one another with eyebrows raised.

Prince Jaquel steps back, hands in the air, mouth drawn straight and tight. His soldiers talk to him with more respect than his own son. With humiliation burning inside, he grits his teeth and hisses, ‘Do it quickly, Nathaneal, or you risk breaking the seal, allowing light to beam into the heavens for our enemies to see.’

It takes only a few moments to free himself, but the prince fears his efforts have taken too long. Finally he steps aside, and looking through the dark shadows he notices a wave of grey mist rolling through the trees towards them. He glances to the sky and observes the grey mist obliterating the stars with unnatural speed. ‘Father!’

Commander Jaquel rushes over, observes the mist and frowns. ‘I don’t like this.’ With his senses on high alert, his head slightly tilted, eyes darting in all directions into a darkness that continues to darken further, he listens. With eyes wide with dread, he withdraws his sword and commands his troops, ‘To arms!’ Throwing his son a quick glance, he hisses, ‘Now we shall see the damage you have done.’

The next thing Nathaneal hears is the precise swishing of steel as five hundred swords unsheathe in the darkness, followed by his father’s command against his ear, ‘Return to base as fast as you can.’

Though young and inexperienced in battle, it is not Nathaneal’s nature to run. ‘Father, don’t send me away, I can help.’

Flying demons swoop down from the skies, screeching in a guttural language the soldiers cannot understand. With bared, razor-sharp teeth the demons bring down the soldiers, gnawing at their limbs, igniting everything they touch into flames.

‘Go, Nathaneal, now!’ Knowing the boy’s courage could one day be his undoing, but that it should not be today, Commander Jaquel grabs his son by the shoulders and turns him to face direct south. ‘Run and keep running until you find Prince Michael. Inform him of what has happened. Hurry!’

Nathaneal runs fast, scattering the creatures of the forest. He puts distance behind him so rapidly their temporary camp lights soon come into focus.

But a sudden bright flash ignites the sky overhead. He stops and turns. The air shudders before him, trees shredding their leaves as a great wave of pulsing energy lifts him off his feet and hurls him backwards into trees bent over to half their size. He staggers up, aghast at the destruction, the forest laid bare, thick smoke rising in the shape of a mushroom cloud, pushing up into the night sky above the area of the birthing chamber.

Ebrielle? 

Father?
  
Did I do this? He questions himself.

If only I hadn’t been in such a hurry to get out! 

A flock of black-winged demons, with a dark angel at their centre, fly fast towards him, and as they pass high overhead he hears a wailing cry. The sound is foreign to the young prince’s ears, but only for an instant before he recognises her voice. ‘Ebrielle,’ he gasps with a shadow of a small smile, ‘you’re alive. Take heart, for I will come. I will find you.’

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The Avena Series – Hidden, Broken & Fearless