This is an unedited excerpt from The Sinner’s Daughter. It will be available in the second half of the year! ENJOY!
The royal catacombs have always left me with a feeling of hollowness. Shivering in my warm cloak, I stared into the dark depths beyond the stone columns, where two red-robed priestesses, formerly ladies of the court, held open the doors as I approached the entry with my brothers. The dark catacombs possessed an air of sadness and undeniable fate. It terrified me walking into the belly of death: it made my insides knot with nerves. Part of me was caught in the trap of imagination; of ghouls and spirits and dead things waiting in the darkness. I had been told enough times that such feelings were childish, but they remained largely unchanged and unchallenged, even at the age of eighteen summers. One day I would be interred here, as too my brothers, and I hated the thought of our spirits caught in this cold, underground place.
Walking by the priestesses, I dipped my Mantled head in respect, for they were in a position far above mine in the scheme of things, or at least, in the Gods’ eyes. I made a gesture of blessing over my breast when we passed the stone figures of the three Gods, Tyrus, Lo and Era. Their animalistic faces; one feline, one wolfish and one owl-like, were lit from beneath by candles, the wax dripping over the sides and onto the stone dais they had been placed upon. The glow gave the shadows created by the statues a looming, stern presence and I shuddered as we went by.
A tunnel meandered along the curve of the cave, ribbons, dried flowers and blessings placed upon a small ledge. It ceased when we reached a carved staircase, which led deeper into the underworld. Every year I found myself feeling the same ball of anxiety swell in my breast, and it bloomed with my first step as I descended into the deepest, most sacred part of our ancestors’ resting place. It was here I followed my brothers into the darkness, our way lit dimly with oil lamps and a single lantern, which Tiernan carried.
It was a world of shrouds, statues and the sickly sweet smell of several things; flesh, incense and flowers. Nausea burned my throat as I walked by the stone sarcophaguses of our ancestors. They were placed in arched areas of crudely made alcoves. Above each archway, the symbols of the Gods were etched. Three crescents joined in a triangular shape; a circle, an eye and a swirl at the connecting points and I blessed myself again as we passed more statues.
We did not walk far to reach my mother’s stone coffin, her likeness carved upon it. Perhaps it should be known from the beginning, that my own start resulted in my mother’s end. I was born healthy and strong, but the complications had killed the beloved Eloise of Locke. It was a loss mourned deeply by all who had the fortune to know her.
I studied the smooth face of a woman who had been taken young. I was told I was the image of her, pale and tall, but I had inherited my father’s dimpled chin and green eyes. I wondered what she had truly been like – my brothers say she was the warmest, kindest mother. Others spoke of her as being a quiet, devout soul, but if I dare ask too much their reticence was more than noticeable. It left me wondering whether they feared to upset my unstable father.
The catacombs were never as I imagined them to be. Despite my unnatural fear, I was struck by the peaceful aura. Somehow, I expected a floating soul to torment me and I wondered whether my mother’s spirit dwelt in this place, but a shiver of mild horror returned me to reality. Darius, my brother, placed his arm around my shoulders, warming me.
Darius was a man in his middle twenties, tall with a dimpled chin – his blue eyes bright, but often solemn. Dark hair hung over his forehead. He looked like a younger version of our father, Lord Broderick of Locke, his features however, did not hold that hard, dark expression haunting our father’s face.
“Are you well?” he asked me, knowing my fears. I nodded and glanced at my other brother, Tiernan ahead of me.
Like Darius, he was dark and tall, but had eyes the colour of a crisp, winter sky. Despite having two different mothers, the men were of similar age and looks.
“Are you sure?” Darius asked. I answered with a nod.
In front of the exquisitely carved sarcophagus, Tiernan knelt, placing the flowers and rose water upon it. I glanced at the flowers trembling in my fingers. They seemed insignificant. I had carefully picked and arranged them to make a pretty bouquet, but by Era, it seemed so irreverent now. She was interred in stone and would never see them.
I knelt beside Darius. My brothers began reciting mother’s favourite prayer to the Gods, one of love and forgiveness and I joined in. I placed my flowers and prayed for her soul. Although I had never known her, she had died by giving me life and it was the smallest gesture of gratitude and respect I could make.
As we knelt, I found my mind drifting, but my body tensed when I heard a whisper nearby. “. . . Tamryn . . .” ¬The draught sighed sadly and I looked up quickly, afraid I might see something I wished not to. When I saw there were only other sarcophaguses, dried bouquets and the persistent feeling of cold, my body slowly eased out a breath and I scolded myself for being foolish.
We spent a long time reciting prayers and thinking of those lost to us, before deciding we must leave. Reaching the winter world once more, we found the snow was beginning to fall. I was relieved to step into the warm carriage, where my maid, Aramella waited. She often carried an expression that was sarcastic and humoured, but now her mien was sympathetic. She understood how much I disliked entering the catacombs and what I feared in it.
“How was it, my Lady?” she asked, as I removed the red square cloth of Devotion Mantle from my head. Aramella had a pretty, freckled face and her red hair was p¬ulled back into a functional braid. I smiled wanly as the carriage rolled forward. My brothers rode their steeds and for a moment I wished I had chosen to ride upon my own and feel free and at one with the proud animal.
I sighed. “Not as bad as I thought it would be. I’m always surprised by how tranquil the catacombs are.” Aye, I thought morosely, but things are often not what they seem.
Aramella did not hide her amused look, and it did not break my dour mood as it usually would have. My birthday was not a day for happiness. It seemed to me that it should be a time of reflection, but it was difficult to think of a woman I had never known. For my brothers, it was easier: they had memories. I had her legacy to carry and I would never live up to the memory of a shy and gentle woman.
“Well, I daresay you’re old enough not to worry about ghosts and ghouls anymore, my Lady. I won’t say you have an over-active imagination.”
I made no comment and let her have her folly. I deserved the ridicule. I knew it foolishness to believe in it, but seeing the things I sometimes did, it was easy enough to believe there was more to this life than meets the eye. Sighing again, I contemplated the city of the dead as the carriage crunched over the snow and ice.