Updated: Jun 23
Thank you so much for tuning in for this special sneak-peek of Heir of Two Kingdoms (my second book which is in the editing process). I chose to use my own grief experience as much as I could in this second book, especially in the death of a certain beloved character.
Don't worry! There aren't any spoilers!
This sneak-peek takes place just after that character's death. Stephania feels the weight of her loss start to press in on her, and Aeron (her adopted Centaur father) does his best to impart knowledge that he hopes will help her. His words are words I wish someone had told me when I was grieving—words, I think, are the beginning of healing, if only one is strong enough to truly listen and understand …
It isn’t good enough for them. The significance of the burial in such a revered place was lost on her. They deserve so much more. A lump rose in her throat, an anger burned in her chest. They deserve … Her heart lurched inside of her. They deserve to live.
She buried her head in her knees, drawing her legs closer to her. She sobbed on air, no more tears falling from her face, but she was glad she could no longer cry. Her eyes felt heavy and burned, her nose was raw and stuffy, her lips were swollen, her lungs ached for breath. But now it all stayed inside of her, rotting, festering, growing.
The cabin door opened behind her. She didn’t look up.
“Stephania?” Frawnden’s voice, raw from her own tears, floated gently towards her daughter. The mother’s voice, which usually was so comforting and safe to Stephania, now felt and sounded like screeching metal.
Stephania didn’t answer.
“Stephania—” Frawnden’s voice caught as she struggled past her own tears. “You need to sleep. It’s too late to stay out here.”
I don’t care. Stephania’s second answer of silence hung uncomfortably in the air.
Torn, unsure if Stephania needed space, or to talk, Frawnden, remembering Stephania’s stony response to her at the funeral, bit back her consolation and turned back inside, shutting the door gently behind herself.
A new wave of loneliness washed over Stephania. Why won’t they come sit with me? Where is everyone? Why won’t anyone just give me a hug?
Sleep, sleep, sleep. Her body and mind told her. All I want to do is sleep. At least in the darkness I cannot know pain. And yet sleep brings tomorrow. A tomorrow without the one whom she had lost—a tomorrow that didn’t seem worth living. Oh gods, I dread it. I don’t want tomorrow to come. I don’t think I can do it.
A cry welled up inside her. She wanted to scream, or tear something apart, but, instead, the sound stopped in her throat, choking her. Her body sunk deeper under an unexplained weight. Every moment she sat on the steps made it harder to find anything in her that wanted to continue on.
A deer slowly walked out of the trees, its head raised, ears perked, wondering if Stephania was a threat.
The girl didn’t look up. She barely even moved with breath. She felt the presence of the deer with her mind, but ignored it, wishing it would go away. Even the gentle company of the wild animal felt like a violation.
The deer snorted before turning back into the woods.
The air blew cold. She shivered, wondering if her heart had stop beating and would become cold like the earth at night, and wondering if it would ever wake back up and want to love again.
The door behind her opened again.
It was Aeron. His quiet, low voice was steady, unmoving, unchanged by emotion.
She felt herself wanting to turn to him, to rush into his warm, loving embrace, but everything in her refused. She continued in stony silence.
Everything felt wrong, breathing, talking, crying, eating, sleeping, loving, caring. Anything but sitting and doing nothing, not even thinking, felt so wrong now.
“Stephania, come inside. It is too late for you to sit out here. Come in with me.”
She gave him the same answer as she did Frawnden—silence.
Why don’t you just come sit with me? she thought bitterly. Why must I move from this horror I’m in?
The wind blew gently. A cricket chirped but then was quite.
His hoofs clopped softly on the deck, pausing at the top of the large stairs before slowly coming down them.
She ignored him until he was standing beside her.
She looked up into his face.
His eyes were red, swollen, dark circles colored his lower lids. A dark hollow silence hung in his eyes.
“Oh, Stephania.” He held his hand out to her.
She sniffed, feeling as if her heart was breaking all over again. “Father.” She clung to his legs, burying her face into the soft fur of his horse chest, feeling his long mane falling onto her face.
His hand gently stroked her head, traced the curve of her ear, held her close to him.
She listened to his strong heartbeat. For a moment, just a moment, she could almost imagine everything was the way it had been, but never again. Never again would it be the same.
Stinging tears welled up in her eyes. Her nose was clogged; she sucked a breath in through her mouth and bit her lip. A strangled croak left her lips as she wrestled past her emotions, struggling to suppress them and the ugliness of her grief.
“Stephania, my daughter, my sweet daughter. Fate has been so unkind to you, my dear.” His voice was so quiet, she wondered if it would be taken away on the night breeze. “Do not stop your tears, do not lessen the pain, do not let it be buried inside of you. If the night must last for a hundred years, then let it. Better to sleep in the night than to burn in the day.”
She frowned, confused. She didn’t respond. What do I say to that? Do I even understand it? She sniffed again, wiping her nose on her wrist, pulling away one of his long hairs which had gotten caught between her lips. Nothing. Just say nothing. Nothing matters anyway. Is time even moving?
Their silence together carried into the night. Seconds moved on past them, waiting on none. One tear ran down her cheek; the rest had abandoned her, leaving her feeling crushed under the weight of her turmoil.
His fingers stroked around her pointed ear, gently massaging her stiff neck, stroking through her curly, tangled hair.
“Come with me, Stephania.”
She shook her head.
“It’s time to go to bed.”
“No.” She barely heard her own voice, muffled it was by her stuffy nose and watery mouth. She hardly cared enough to swallow.
“Yes. Please come, Stephania.”
“No.” She looked up at him, pleading with him to let her stay out. She tightened her hold around his strong legs. “I don’t want tomorrow to come.”
He shook his head, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, smoothing her hair behind her ear.
“Neither do I.” He bit his lip, but never broke their locked gaze. “But it will come, whether you or I want it to. It will shine its face again upon us, again and again. Your grief is not big enough to stop the world, Stephania, just as your love was not big enough to stop death. That is the cruelness of life, my dear. It neither waits on, nor answers to, anyone.”
Her chest ached. Nausea rose in her throat.
“And yet,” He shook his head, chuckling in melancholy. “how beautiful too, to not have to hold such a weight on your shoulders as making the suns rise again. What a relief, to know that no matter how low you sink or how dark it gets, their light will shine on you again.”
She sniffed again, wiping her nose against the back of her hands. “I don’t, I don’t understand.”
He smiled sadly down at her. “I know. But one day, you will wake up from this nightmare, and you will understand.” He held his hand out to her. “Come. Let’s go to bed. You need to sleep.”
Yes, sleep. I want to embrace the darkness. Let it come. She took his hand and pulled herself to her feet …
I hope you enjoyed this sneak-peek of Heir of Two Kingdoms, the second book of The Shadows of Light. I also hope it inspires you in your own writing and even gets you a little excited about my books.
It will still be awhile before Heir of Two Kingdoms is ready to publish but the first book of the series, Child of the Dragon Prophecy, is getting really close. To stay up to date with my publishing progress and so you don't miss the release of either books, make sure you subscribe to my mailing list or follow me on Instagram @effie.j.stock.books .
Thank you for reading and may the suns smile upon your presence.