Gathering Darkness

The Ethra Born series starts with Gathering Darkness.

Available now from Amazon. The first chapter is below.

Strengthening Spirit: Ethra Born 2, is now also available.

Gathering Darkness front cover

There was a knocking on the door. Shang-Lae dropped the kettle into the sink and let go of the pump handle, water splashing. Another knock broke the midnight quiet as she rushed out of the kitchen and along the hallway to open the door before everyone in the temple was awoken.

Outside on the doorstep, she found two young men standing in the flickering light of the lamp that was attached to the wall.

“My friend has injured his leg,” said one of the men urgently. He had his arm wrapped around the other man’s waist and was supporting his weight. “Please, can you help him?”

“Yes, of course. Come in,” replied Shang-Lae, as she ushered them inside. She closed the front door on the soft sounds of the blustery coastal town and opened a door to her right. She picked up a lamp from the hallway table and used it to light three squat green candles. A calming, cleansing scent of pine and sage filled the neat square room. Golden light revealed shelves, cabinets and a table along one wall and four beds opposite.

“Come and sit down here,” said Shang-Lae kindly, indicating the nearest bed. Leaning heavily on his friend, the injured man staggered over and sat down with a groan.

“This is Theo and I’m Kael. Theo has a deep cut to his left leg,” explained the tall uninjured man succinctly. Theo’s trouser leg and a makeshift bandage were stained with blood. He was pale and his lips were pressed into a thin line of pain.

“I am Shang-Lae, the High Priestess here at the Temple of the Goddess. I’m going to have a look at your leg, Theo,” she said gently.

Shang-Lae untied the cloth wrapped around Theo’s leg and inspected the cut that ran from just above his knee to half way up his thigh. It was a neat slice, as deep as the width of her forefinger, into the muscle but not exposing bone. Blood was running freely and she could see no debris contaminating the wound. She surmised that someone wielding a sharp knife had caused the injury, Theo’s thin woollen trousers offering no protection.  She checked his pulse and felt his forehead, noting abrasions on his knuckles and a tear in the shoulder of his shirt.

“I will bring you something for the pain and then I’ll stitch that cut,” she said soothingly, retying the bandage firmly enough to stem the blood flow.

“Thank you, High Priestess,” grunted Theo.

“Do either of you have other injuries that need my attention?”

She ran her healer’s gaze over both young men. Kael’s clenched fists were scuffed and split. Mud was splattered up one trouser leg and his homespun shirt was stained. On his belt was an empty knife sheath and next to it dangled the ends of a leather thong, the sort that were often drawstrings for money pouches. The men shook their heads. Shang-Lae would not ask what had happened. The priestesses offered healing to all without asking difficult questions.

She walked over to the cabinets to gather the items she required. The young men spoke quietly.

“I am going to be fine, Kael.”

“I’m sorry for suggesting we go to that tavern by the docks. It was clearly a rough area.”

“I’m sorry that it always seems to be me that gets hurt.”

Shang-Lae returned to the patient with a cup containing a clear syrup. “Drink this,” she instructed Theo. “It will ease your pain though it may make you feel a little drowsy and nauseous.”

Theo took the drink in a single swallow and pulled a face. Shang-Lae knew that the sticky sweetness did not quite conceal a sharp bitterness. He leant back on the bed, his shoulders propped against the wall and Kael helped lift his legs on to the bed. As the lines of pain on Theo’s face started to ease, Kael perched on the edge of the empty bed next to Theo’s, watching the priestess work.

Shang-Lae wiped numbweed around the cut and although she was gentle, Theo flinched, his green eyes flaring open. Kael lurched to his feet and reached out to grip Theo’s shoulder. Theo’s unfocussed gaze bounced around his frowning friend’s face before latching on to his steady blue eyes. When he let out a long breath and resettled against the wall, Kael nodded at the priestess for her to continue.

Shang-Lae carefully but thoroughly cleaned Theo’s injury. Kael stayed close to Theo, his gaze flicking between the healer’s calm, competent, blood-covered hands and his friend’s pale face, jaw clenched, brows down. Shang-Lae closed the cut with a row of neat stitches and wrapped a strip of cotton bandage around the young man’s thigh. Only when Kael’s hand started to ache, did he realise that Theo had taken hold of it, his calloused palm gripped tight against his own.

After cleaning and putting away her healer’s tools, Shang-Lae returned to the patient’s bedside. He was lying on his back, his eyes closed, his breathing even. The other man was leaning wearily against the wall.

“You can stay here as long as you abide by our tenets of care, compassion and contemplation. You’ll be asked to leave if you cause any trouble.”

“Thank you, High Priestess,” he replied humbly. “We just need somewhere to rest awhile.”

“Very well. I’m on duty for the remainder of the night so let me know if you need anything. Goddess bless.”

Shang-Lae left the men in the emergency room and checked the other patients who were in rooms at the rear of the temple. Following years of habit, she also went upstairs to check on her adopted daughter. Although Lowenna was now a woman grown, she had suffered from nightmares since a young age and Shang-Lae’s caring nature compelled her to check that her daughter was sleeping peacefully.

In the darkness of the room, Shang-Lae could just make out Lowenna’s form under the blanket, her back to the door, her breathing calm and even. Reassured, Shang-Lae closed the door and returned to the kitchen to finish filling the kettle for a cup of tea.

There was a soft clunk as her bedroom door closed. Asleep, Lowenna rolled over and her eyelids started to flicker as images gathered in her mind. She began to dream.