The Bear of Rosethorn Ring: The First Chapter

How is it Thursday already? This week has flown by! I can’t believe this blog tour and party is just about over. The Bear of Rosethorn Ring has already been out for two days.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still today AND tomorrow to celebrate, and there’s still time to enter my GIVEAWAY for a chance to win one of my books. Additionally, The Rose and the Balloon will be FREE through tomorrow, so if you’ve not yet snagged your ebook yet you have until midnight tomorrow!

After two packed games (the SWRR Fairytale Tag and the SWRR Mad Libs — which I hope you played!), I think it’s time to slow things down a bit and do a little reading. After all, this is a book party, and where would we be if we didn’t have a bit of book to read? Therefore, I’m sharing the first chapter of The Bear of Rosethorn Ring here. If you’ve not read it yet, I do hope this will pique your interest.

Enjoy!

~*~

Chapter One

“Did you hear that?”

Marita tugged her horse to a stop. Nutbrown, as boring and complacent as her name, obeyed.

“Hear what?”

Diamond shifted behind her. “I thought I heard someone yelling.”

Marita pushed up on her heels to get a better view over the horse’s head. Beautiful, green forest stretched out before them, with nothing out of the ordinary that she could see. “I think we’re the only ones out here.”

Diamond sighed. “I’m blind, not deaf, but I think my ears are playing tricks on me.”

Marita reached back to squeeze her sister’s hand and found it up by her face. She must be adjusting the bandage again. Marita was still getting used to the thick, white bandage wrapped around Diamond’s eyes. Not that she’d ever actually seen Diamond before the accident, but she should know what her face looked like since the two girls were identical twins.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Your eyesight will be back soon. Seth said it just may take a while.” 

“He still can’t forgive himself that it was his chemical that burned my eyes.” 

Marita huffed. “It wasn’t his fault our aunt was a witch. She’s the one to blame.”

Diamond’s voice softened. “She wasn’t a witch.” 

“Well, she tried to kill me and lied to you your whole life. What else defines a witch?” 

“Marita, please. I don’t want to talk about it.” 

Marita couldn’t agree more. It still boiled her blood to think of all the hurt Nellea Kwan had caused their family. Of course, our father is as much to blame. If he hadn’t gambled Diamond away, if he hadn’t lied, if he hadn’t gone behind my back… There were too many ifs to think about. “Well, we should…” She stopped. “That was definitely a cry for help.”

“Yes.” Diamond’s fingers fearfully tightened around Marita’s waist. “A man?” 

Marita grinned. “Don’t worry. He might be another traveler like Seth in need of your care.” 

She kicked her heels into Nutbrown’s flanks and urged the placid horse forward. It wasn’t fair to keep teasing Diamond about Seth Stendahl, but her twin definitely had feelings for the Trothen alchemist, and it was too much fun to remind her of them. Marita knew how to read love on a person ever since she’d found it with Felix Barath, who was – in her mind – the perfect nobleman.

The call became clearer the further they traveled. We’re going in the right direction. 

Diamond pressed herself closer to Marita. “Can you see anyone?”

“Not yet. It sounds like the call’s coming from the stream.” 

All too soon, they were coming out of the thick forest, and any concern Marita may have initially felt dissolved into giggles when she saw who’d been crying for help.

A lone gentleman, obviously wealthy by the state of his clothing, was leaning over into the berry bushes by the stream. His thick, white beard was very fine and would have hung to his knees except that it was hopelessly tangled in the thorny bushes. The man was tugging and pulling at the beard, wrenching it this way and that. To Marita’s eye, however, his vehement efforts only made the tangled mess worse. 

“Help me!” he shrieked when he saw the sisters. “Don’t just sit there gawking! I’m stuck!” 

Diamond’s hold on Marita tightened. “What’s wrong?”

“Stay with Nutbrown,” Marita told Diamond. “He’s just an old man who got his beard tangled in the thorns.” She swung herself off the horse’s back and approached the yelling stranger. “How did you get stuck in the first place?”

The man stopped tugging at his beard long enough to glare at her. “Odious girl! What does it matter, except that you must get me free?” He emphasized his words with a few more hard yanks. 

Marita raised an eyebrow at him. Clearly, this gentleman doesn’t have the same noble manners that Felix has. “I must?” 

“Well, you’re here, aren’t you?” the man returned hotly. “You have the gall to laugh at my misery. Your parents should have raised you to respect members of nobility. Especially when they’re older than you and clearly in need of desperate assistance.” 

Marita’s jaw firmed at his attitude, and she deliberately drove her teeth into her tongue to keep from saying anything. She prided herself on not having a quick temper, but she’d never met anyone like this bearded annoyance. 

“Do you need help?” Diamond called behind her. 

“No,” Marita said quickly. “I can do it.” She reached for the beard. How can I get this all off?

“Hurry up, you goose!” the man shrieked. “With all the time you’ve already wasted, I could have had someone else rescue me.” 

She couldn’t hold the retort back. “Would you prefer someone else?” 

“Just get me free! Whatever you have to do, do it now!” 

So, Marita did it now. She snatched off the knife she kept belted to her waist and, grabbing the entangled beard, cut it from the offending bushes. 

The man fell back with the loudest screech yet. “No! No, no, no!” 

Marita thrust her knife back into her belt. “What’s wrong?” 

“You cut my beard, you vile thing! How dare you?” 

“Sir, your beard was not going to be untangled quickly. The only way to free you was to cut it!”

“Do you know how long it took me to grow my beard to this glorious length?” he fumed, his face reddening beneath the white hairs of his beard. “Years! How can I return to my people without everyone laughing at me? Bad luck to you, wretched female! Bad luck to you both!” And with one last fiery glare, he turned and stomped away. 

Marita didn’t notice her mouth was hanging open until he was out of sight. “Well!” The word came out in a gust of unbelief. “Have you ever met someone so miserable in all your life? He didn’t even say thank you.” 

“Was it a bad cut?” Diamond asked, cocking her head. 

Marita tried not to look at the ragged edge of her sister’s hair. Diamond would know about haircuts, considering until just recently she’d had beautiful hair that hung down to her ankles.

“I barely cut anything off,” she grumbled, stomping back to Nutbrown’s side. “The old oaf was just over-reacting. No one will ever notice that he’s missing a few inches off the end.” She mounted the horse with a huff, trying to put the old man out of her head. “Let’s go home.”

The journey out of the forest seemed longer than the journey into it. When they’d ridden under the trees that morning en route to fetch Diamond’s medical books from her former cavern home, the day had been bright and fresh. Now, Marita just wanted to get back and forget whoever that man was.

Diamond was quiet, as usual, and Marita knew without looking that she was deep in thought. What her twin was thinking, she didn’t know, as she’d yet to learn to fully read Diamond. Plus, we’ve only known each other for less than a week, and it wasn’t her fault we were separated at birth. Maybe one day she’ll open up and talk to me more.

A rather handsome nobleman was waiting for them at the palace gates. Even if Marita hadn’t recognized his face, the lack of shoes gracing his stockinged feet was enough to identify him. A frisky, white stallion stood at his side, eyeing the riding cap on his master’s head mischievously.

Marita leaped off Nutbrown’s back with a grin. “Felix! You’re here!”

Felix returned her hug warmly. “Marita, darling, I missed you so much.”

The white stallion nuzzled her cheek, as if to admonish her for not acknowledging him.

“Yes, yes, Samson. I missed you, too.”

Marita stepped back and saw the grim look on her fiancé’s face. “What’s wrong? We weren’t expecting you back for another few weeks. You know you forgot your shoes again, right?”

Felix avoided a friendly headbutt from Samson. “I came early. And no, I didn’t forget my shoes. The new riding boots Father ordered for me were too tight so I ditched them. Much better this way. But we’ve got a problem.”

Marita frowned. “What problem? Is your mother calling off the wedding?”

“What? No.” Felix shook his head. “Here, Diamond, allow me.” He reached up and carefully helped the girl out of the saddle.

Once her feet were on solid ground, Diamond gave him a small smile. “Thank you.”

Felix turned back to Marita. “Mother’s going crazy with all the planning. She can’t wait to have you join the family. You know how much she’s always wanted a daughter.”

“Then what is it?” Marita folded her arms over her chest.

He looked reluctant to tell her the news. “Your father flew off in one of my aunt’s balloons. He’s been gone for nearly two hours.”

~*~

“We’re wasting time,” Felix argued. “Every minute he gets further away, and it’ll be only harder to find him.”

“Let him go,” Marita said. “I don’t see any point in going after him.”

“But he’s your father!” Felix protested. “If we don’t go after him, who will?”

Even though she couldn’t see her twin, Diamond could hear the huff of exasperation Marita released.

She didn’t understand it. How can she not want to go after him? Why does she have to be so stubborn? The discussion had only lasted a few minutes thus far, but already she felt it was pointless. Her sister’s mind was made up.

Merryweather, Marita’s dog, whimpered, his nails clicking against the stone floor as he approached. He hated whenever things got tense. Diamond had the sudden urge to call him over, as the dog had adopted her almost as quickly as she’d fallen in love with him. Burying her face into his soft fur sounded like a wonderful idea, but she didn’t want him to pull away from Marita. If that’s actually where he is right now. She was still adjusting to placing things in her mind by the sound of them alone.

Silence fell over the room. Diamond shifted in her chair, and her fingers tightened on the wooden arms. She forced herself not to adjust the bandage over her eyes for the fiftieth time that day. I wish I could see. Maybe having her eyesight back would grant her a portion of understanding her sister.  

Felix finally broke the quiet. “I love you, dear, but I believe you’re not thinking clearly.”

“Why?” Marita almost yelped. “You and I both know he’s not worth going after. He left on his own, and, if he wants to come back, let him come back on his own.”

“He’s had a rough past, yes, but I don’t think this is the time to give up on him.” 

“I’m through watching over him,” she replied. “I won’t do it anymore, Felix.”

He sighed. “I didn’t bail him out of trouble that one time just so you could give up on him now, Marita. I thought you forgave him?”

“That was before I knew what he’d done to Diamond.”

“Why now?” Diamond ventured aloud. She couldn’t bear to let the room fall silent once again. “Why would he leave us?” She swallowed a flash of fear. “Is it because of me?”

“Yes,” her sister responded, a touch of anger in her voice, “but not in the way that you think.”

“Marita? Did you speak with him?”

Diamond could hear the agitation in Felix’s voice. Did my sister speak to Father? It was still odd to call Lucas Kadlec that. After all, she’d only heard him called that blasted man for so many years by their aunt; she’d gone all those years thinking she’d never had a father that really loved her. Now, here was the chance to have that father, and he was gone. And in the few days I knew him, I couldn’t even see him. That hurt almost more than anything else.

“Marita?” Felix’s tone was accusatory.

“Yes, I spoke to him,” she finally said. “Does that make you happy?”

“What did you say?”

“He was babbling on about how he ruined our lives, how he didn’t deserve to have daughters like us, how his gambling made him an outcast. How Diamond and I would be happier if we’d never known him.”

Felix prompted her on. “And?”

“I just agreed with him.” Marita sounded guilty. There was a long stretch of uncomfortable silence, and then she hiccupped.

Is she crying? Diamond wanted to hug her sister, but she didn’t dare move from her chair when no one could help her maneuver around the furniture in the room.

Felix didn’t say anything, and Diamond tensed in the silence once again. Should I say something? She wished the two of them would come to a decision. For the last nineteen years of her life, she’d gotten used to Mother – no, Aunt Nellea – making the decisions for her and then telling her what to do. Taking care of Seth was perhaps the first independent decision Diamond had ever made. I just feel stuck waiting for someone to tell me what to do next.

Realization sunk in. I don’t need to have someone else make the decision for me, anymore. After all, she’d killed a bear, hadn’t she? I know what I want to do. What I need to do.

She pushed herself to her feet, keeping a hand on her chair. “I’m going after him.”

“Diamond?” Marita hiccupped again.

“I’m going after him,” she repeated. “Even though he may love his dice and coin more than his flesh and blood, he still deserves another chance.”

“I’ve given him several chances,” her sister muttered.

Diamond shook her head. “But this time it’s me giving him that chance. I’ve never been able to do that before, and I want to at least try.” She took a deep breath. “Family is important. I’m not ready to give up on him.”

Marita hiccupped several more times before she spoke again. “I still don’t think he’s worth going after.”

“But you’ll go with me?” Diamond persisted.

There was another long and agonizing silence. “For you, Diamond, I’ll go. But only for you.”

“And a fat chance of a golden rose if I’ll let you two go without me,” Felix broke in. “I’m sure my mother can survive wedding planning by herself for a bit. Besides, if Diamond kills another bear, I want to be there to see that. Or maybe this time I’ll kill the bear.”

Diamond shivered. “You can do it this time.”

Once had been quite enough.

~*~

What did you think of the first chapter? Intrigued to read more? Well, The Bear of Rosethorn Ring is available as both Kindle ebook AND paperback! YES, the paperback is now here — so don’t waste any more time ordering your copy!

Other fun links to note today:

April 8th Blog Tour Stops

(I will update with direct links once the posts go live.)

God bless!

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