This is the first chapter of my debut novel – The Golden Promise. The story is a fantasy romance novel that follows two beings who have a strange connection. It’s currently being shopped to agents and publishers.
The stablehands had just finished saddling my gelding when I rounded the corner to the barn. In the early light, his coat was dark and glossy. Apollo was a thoroughbred and was by far my favorite horse in the barn. He had proven to me long ago that he was sure footed and good tempered. “Good morning sweet boy. Are you ready for a ride?” I greeted him, gently brushing down his muscled neck. I moved my hand to his forehead, gently scratching. He nodded his head up and down enjoying the attention. “Maybe I can find something for us to jump today.” I whispered to him before I climbed up into the saddle. Nothing compared to how it felt to be on a horse, especially Apollo. There was a true trust in our relationship, formed through years of riding together. He had never let me down. “Good morning Sinclaira! You are ready to go?” said a jovial voice nearby with a subtle french accent. My riding instructor, Jaques, walked toward me, already on his horse. I smiled. “Good morning! Yes, we’re ready. I think Apollo enjoys this kind of weather.” I said and patted his neck. We rode along side by side down the usual path, passing lush fields fenced in white. The morning fog was still heavy in the air making it hard to see even a few paces in front of us, unusual, it was normally lifted by now. We reached the ring on the far side of the barn and after a brief warm up, we set off into the field together. As soon as we were out of sight of the barn I urged Apollo faster. The wind whipped strands of my hair as we rode through the grassy expanse. The exhilaration warmed my cheeks, even as the heavy mist made the air damp. I scanned the path ahead for any fallen trees or fence lines we could turn into a jump. Jacques hated when I did this, but I loved the thrill and he was somewhere behind me. Apollo loved it too and he was his usual sure-footed self, as we moved with speed across the fields. We slowed as the mist became even thicker, making it hard to see even a few feet in front of me. We slowly passed through a line of trees that had been invisible until they were surrounding us. The trees bordered a small lane on either side, and we now seemed to be standing in the middle of the little path. Apollo looked down the lane and he faltered slightly, distracted by something moving farther down the path. I looked down the foggy lane, straining to see anything. Something was moving in the mist, a large shape. It was as big as Apollo, it had to be another horse, but where was the rider? As the shape stepped closer to us the fog shimmered and shifted in the light enough for me to see the animal. It was a beautiful creature with a slick coat the color of midnight. It’s mane and tail flowed in thick tendrils nearly touching the ground. But it wasn’t a horse, rising up from it’s shoulder blades was a set of huge magnificent wings, the tips dragging along the ground. This was not the winged horse of stories, this creature was something between a horse and a dragon. It was frightening and enchanting all at once. It stamped it’s hooves and then reared up pawing the air between us, the wings fanning out, spanning the entire laneway. My heart set to racing. Impossible. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and as I argued with myself about reality, the beast stared at us for a moment, and then turned and walked into the mist and disappeared from view. Not even a moment could have passed. Apollo was staring after where the creature had disappeared, but we seemed to be in agreement that we would not be following after it. Instead I turned Apollo back the way we had come, through the tree line and into the field. Once I calmed my racing heart I should have felt fear, but instead I felt a strange desire to go back, to follow it. Glancing behind I debated for half a second, and then shook it out of my head. What was I thinking? Apollo walked on and the mist was heavy again as we passed through the trees, but there was no sign of the creature. Suddenly Jacques came riding through the mist toward us, “Sinclaira, where did you go?” He appeared so suddenly it caught me off guard. “We were standing on the lane, back there,” I got out, but Jacques was giving me a strange look. “There’s no lane out here. There’s nothing but wilderness and fields.” he said, looking concerned. Before I could speak again he said, “I’ve been looking for you, I thought something happened. We should head back, this mist is too heavy to ride safely.” I nodded and decided it was best to say nothing of what had just happened. “Are you alright Sinclaira? You’re very pale.” Jaques asked me, scrutinizing my face as we walked side by side. I had hoped it wouldn’t show how shaken up I was. But even shaken up, I felt that burning curiosity to know more. “Yes, I’m fine. Just chilled from the damp air.” I lied. We got back to the barn and I was still thinking of the winged creature that had glistened in the lane. “Sinclaira, you’re still pale, you should warm up by the fire when you get inside.” Jacques said to me as I dismounted in front of the stables. I nodded and let the stablehand lead Apollo into the barn. I walked back to the manor in a daze. This was the most unbelievable thing I had ever seen.
I didn’t know what to do, but I was certain I could speak of what I had seen to no one. The more I thought about it, the more apparent it became that anything that would make me appear or seem abnormal would be regarded as unacceptable. I knew what I was supposed to be aiming for; perfection. Talking about seeing winged creatures on my morning ride could derail everything. The rest of the day dragged on through calligraphy, history, and politics. By my afternoon lessons I had done my best to convince myself the entire experience was a hallucination from lack of sleep. As always the day was spent preparing for my future and only when the shadows grew long did I ever get a moment to myself. Finally, the clock chimed 430 and I was done, I was able to leave the library where I spent so many hours with my instructors. I practically ran for the door and I couldn’t wait to get down to the causeway. The secluded little cove that few people seemed to know about, much less visit. It was my favorite haunt. The place where I could forget the future, the pressure, the expectations, and just watch the water move in and out. Where the sounds of the waves washed away any other thought. Today, it would be my refuge for the thoughts I couldn’t shake, because no matter how hard I tried, I could not dismiss the realness of what I had seen.
The staircase down, was tucked into the steep hill and unless you knew where to look, it was hidden completely. The rocky wet steps and sharp edges, descended into a hidden entrance to the beach, wrapped into the edge of the shore. I had found this path when we first moved to this remote manor and for the past three years it has been my escape. There were many things I would miss when I left for New York, but this secret spot especially. This was a place that wasn’t formal, or practical, or educational, in fact, it was the opposite of all that, it was magical. A word and concept that was rarely mentioned or discussed in my day to day life. The best part was, I had never seen a soul here, it was my own personal sanctuary. I walked down to the shore and the sun was low in the sky. It would be too dark to walk along the water’s edge soon, but a short visit here was better than none at all. I cherished this time alone, and lately it meant more to me than ever as all of my other time was spent preparing for my soon-to-start life in New York. Today I appreciated the walk and the landscape in a new way, here I could finally let the shock of the morning wash over me. Whether I hallucinated the creature, or not, it had shaken something loose inside me. Perhaps it was nostalgia for the life I was leaving behind, but whatever this strange sensation inside me was, it was telling me the creature wasn’t a figment of my imagination. I tried to let the morning slip away as I walked, let the waves pull my mind out to sea and bring it back cleansed. The path was so familiar I didn’t have to think. I moved along the edge of the rocks down to the water. Feeling a rising tension inside, and as I began walking along the shore an uncomfortable truth rose up from the depths of my mind. I had seen something that shouldn’t have been possible, but I knew it was real. If I couldn’t tell anyone what I had seen, then I couldn’t be honest about who I was. My whole world felt like a spool of yarn unraveling. A wave crashed onto the shore with a thundering sound, bringing me back to the moment, and I realized my life wasn’t my own.
I knew it was true as soon as the thought entered my mind, but before it could sink in, before I could dwell on it, there was movement down the shore. I’d never seen another soul here, but tonight I wasn’t alone. In the distance I could see someone walking toward the far cliff where the beach ended. They were a good distance ahead of me, and must have come down here a short time before I did. There was only one path up or down. The far side was a solid rock wall that joined against the beach and the cliff dropped straight into the water, leaving only jagged edges for the water to pound against. They would have to come back this way, we would have to pass each other. I felt a thrill of exhilaration, a twin to the feeling of this morning. When I should have felt fear, I felt curiosity. The fading light made it hard to see the far edge of the beach, which, given the distance, was difficult enough to see on a clear day. Picking up my pace I tried to cover more ground before the sun set. I made it all the way to the end of the beach, right up to that tall cliff that fell straight into the water, but the stranger was gone. No sign of anyone, and any footprints had already faded into the sand. I was alone.
I returned home just after darkness fell and the house was quiet. Although my body went through the motions of opening the door and removing my coat, my mind was far away. The idea of explaining both the creature and the stranger confirmed the truth that crashed upon me at the cove. Everything felt unfamiliar as I stepped out of the foyer into the hall. I felt like a stranger in my world. I knew my parents loved me, but I also knew what they expected and what I had seen this morning would not be accepted. I vaguely heard a fire crackling down the hall, the sound registering even with all the thoughts tumbling through my head. It was coming from the formal living room. I collected myself as I walked toward the sound. We usually gathered here in the evenings, it was my father’s way of having family time, even though he read the evening standard or caught up on work the entire time. His lack of engagement had never bothered me, it made things easy, but now I saw it in a new light. I walked into the room and took a seat on the sofa opposite my mother who was in her reading chair. Lily, my younger sister, was sitting by the fire sketching flowers from the garden. “Did you have a good day Sinclaira?” my mother asked me looking up from her book. Not a real question, another polite formality. “Yes, it went by quickly.” I didn’t have to lie, I did have a good day. It was the most exhilarating day I had ever had, but I kept that part to myself. My mother nodded. She was too focused on her book to notice my answer was generic. I sat surrounded by silence thinking about how much had changed in one day, in the last hour even, and yet, to look at me, no one would know. Before today I never gave a thought to being outside the realm of what was acceptable, and now I was looking in from the outside. I was sitting in my seat, in my world, and yet, I was a stranger here. The black grate of the fire screen reminded me of the black glistening coat of the creature. I would never forget how the light seemed to sparkle, as though the creature’s coat and hide were woven from colors I had never seen before. It had just faded into the mist. Like the stranger at the causeway. There was no explanation for either, they defied logic and reason. I stared at the flames within the ornate fireplace feeling that strange piece of me that surfaced. A small piece of my personality, a place that had been dormant, forgotten. I felt the edges, savoring it’s newness and yet, it was the rediscovery of something. Familiar and yet foreign to me, as if the strange occurrences had woken it up. This new place inside myself felt ancient and crafted from some substance beyond my human body, a piece made of stardust. “Sinclaira, darling, are you going to stay up a while longer?” The words broke my focus and I found my mother standing in the doorway, looking at me. The room was empty, everyone else had gone to bed. I hadn’t even noticed them leave. She was still waiting for a response, “No, I’m going to bed. I didn’t realize how tired I was.” and the words were more true than ever.
The smell of gardenias caught my attention, as I looked around the beautiful garden. Large trees lined the edges of the property. The sun was shining through a blue sky, warming my skin, and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. Slowly, I turned around and was looking at a pristine pool. Beyond the pool, a home stretched out, the color of burnt caramel. Curved terracotta tiles covered the roof giving the impression this home had been picked up from the Italian countryside and set down in this spot. As I stood in the garden I could see a man through the windows of the house. Even from this distance I could see he was standing at a counter, cooking. Peace and kindness spread through me and my heart warmed; the feeling of love. A love so pure and deep, it ran through my blood, through my bones. I knew him. His name was just out of reach, but I knew him. I tried to grasp it, but it floated maddeningly out of my head as I attempted to recall it. Drawn to him, I walked toward the house. I moved around the edge of the pool and through a set of french doors into a living room. A living room that I had decorated, I realized, which distracted me from the pull that had brought me into the house. It was dotted with little trinkets I remembered finding in hidden antique shops. The pieces of my memories began fitting together in my mind, tumbling into place all at once. This was my home, our home. The man was my husband, we were newly married. I then remembered what had brought me into the house and moved on instinct toward where I knew the kitchen was. I walked into the room, the memories of our life tucking themselves into place in my mind. His eyes lit up as soon as he saw me and a joyful smile spread across his face, as the final piece in the puzzle of my mind clicked into place. My heart fluttered. I smiled back at him and heard myself saying, “Are you making my favorite again?” He winked at me. “I wanted to surprise you.” he responded, and the warmth in my chest accelerated into a fire. Could I ever feel anything more wonderful than the way I felt about this person in front of me? I threw my head back and laughed, closing my eyes and smiling at the feeling of pure love within me.
The dream was still on my mind hours later. It had been too real. Instead of fading the moments of the dream felt like memories from another time and place. They fit into my mind so seamlessly. Even now, walking the narrow path down to the water, the dream was still vivid. The day had been a blur but the memories were crystalline. One minute I was standing in the kitchen of a house I that was mine and the next I was waking up in my bed in Ireland. By far, this dream was the most unnerving to date. The details swirled in my head, the living room, the sunlight, and the love I had felt. A love that had felt strong enough to move mountains. I was only half aware of my surroundings and I didn’t see him until I almost ran into him.
I came around the corner at the bottom of the path and he was standing right there. He heard me at the same moment I saw him and as he turned at the sound, our eyes met. Vibrant green stared back at me. He looked as shocked as I felt, maybe more so. His eyes locked onto mine and I registered the vibrant green. Neither of us looked away. It didn’t feel possible. There was a ringing in my ears, like a warning bell, but still my eyes held his. I was sure I had never seen him before, but the new place within me that had awoken, made me pause, as though I did know him. Neither of us said a word. I had spent years honing my ability to be articulate and yet this stranger had rendered me silent. Say something, the small part of me, the place of stardust, said. I don’t know if it was shock from this new part of me speaking up, or from this stranger in my cove, but I found my voice. I said exactly what was on my mind, “Were you here yesterday?” Definitely not the most polite thing to start with, my etiquette was clearly not as drilled into me as I thought. The wind gently played through his dark hair and he smiled at me. He looked at me for a moment, that smile playing on his lips, as though debating whether or not to answer. Finally he said, “Yes, I live nearby.” in a sure, even voice. The quiet confidence radiating out from him. His voice was rich and steady, like a river that knows it’s course. The words left his lips, and in that moment the air became charged as if a storm was coming. He noticed it too; there was a slight change in his eyes. My curiosity was clearly going to overrule my manners as I found myself speaking again. “Who are you?” I asked him. All my patience had been wasted on keeping my mind away from the dreams and the creature. Now I just wanted to know who this stranger was coming to my cove. “My name is James Evers” he said with the same clear voice but now there was a strong look of curiosity fixed in his eyes. If I didn’t know better, he looked just as curious about me as I felt about him. I had never been so wildly transfixed by another person in my life, I wanted to know more about him. I spent so little time doing anything but studying, preparing for my life across the ocean, that I hardly knew anyone outside the manor staff and my own family. I was sure that if I had seen him before I would remember it, nothing about James said “forgettable”. Not even a moment had passed. He was looking at me with an amused expression. Focus, focus I kept telling myself, his eyes were beyond distracting. It occured to me that when he didn’t have the familiar lilt to his voice; he wasn’t Irish. “Are you new here? Your accent doesn’t sound local.” He kept the smirk on his face as he spoke, “Relatively new, we’ve been here about 3 years. I didn’t realize coming here would involve an interrogation.” I felt a slight heat in my cheeks as I realized I had been questioning him, and it wasn’t actually my private beach. On the verge of saying something I would likely regret, he saved me the trouble by speaking first, “It seems I’m blocking your path, would you like to walk together?” He was staring at me with an open expression. I knew better than to accept invitations from strangers, but James didn’t feel like a stranger. I should have been more aware, I should have walked away as soon as I saw him, but that piece of stardust inside was becoming an instinct, a guiding light. It gave me the sensation in my stomach that I’d never been safer. It felt strangely natural to be standing here with him. The trust I felt towards him unnerved me more than meeting a stranger here. We had just met yet I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had seen him somewhere before. He was waiting for an answer. “That would be fine.” was the genius response I gave him and he gestured for me to lead the way. He fell in step beside me and asked, “Have you been coming here for a while?” The part of my mind that had been educated for years on etiquette and formalities clicked into gear. I turned to answer his question but I was caught off guard by his eyes. They had been a vibrant green, but now they seemed to be shimmering, like the color of them was moving liquid. As I stared into his eyes I could see them shifting and blending, moving from a vibrant green to a subdued mossy shade. Completely transfixed on his eyes I answered him, “Yes, but I’ve rarely seen anyone else here before.” I wanted to ask him why I had never seen him here before, but he sensed my question without me having to ask it outright. “I usually walk the beach on the other side of those cliffs.” he told me with a casual shrug as though that explained everything. As far as I knew, there was nothing on the other side of those cliffs, except another stretch of beach that ended at the ruined remains of an old castle. The closest town was near those ruins. Maintaining eye contact I asked him, “You live in the town then?” and he nodded, but then added, “Near there.” The feeling that had been hanging in the air intensified, as though an electric current was moving through it. It slid along the skin of my arms, and made me shiver. The intensity drew my attention and we were silent for a moment, as though we were both feeling the strange current in the atmosphere between us. I had never heard of, or felt, anything like it before. The sun was lower in the sky than I realized, where had the time gone? Dusk would be falling soon. “I should turn back, it’s easier to make it up the path before dark.” I told him. He smiled, “I don’t mind heading back now.” he said, turning as I did and we retraced our steps. “Do you have a long walk home?” I asked him as we neared the steep path up the cliff again. “It’s not too bad, it’s faster than you would think,” his words were casual, but his tone made it sound like he found it amusing. Before I realized it we were at the top of the path, and the beach was far below us. Now the air was practically humming around me, ratcheting up in intensity again. A storm had to be coming. The space around me felt so charged that I wondered if I could cause a spark just by touching something. The feeling made me lightheaded, as I met his eyes again. “Will you tell me your name?” He looked at me with intent, and I was sure the air between us could have ignited. I debated not telling him my name, but I wanted to tell him. I wanted him to know who I was. “Sinclaira” I said, holding his gaze. “Sinclaira,” he repeated back to me, and as my name left his mouth lightning carved down the sky and struck somewhere out at sea. I jumped at the sound, and instantly my gaze was pulled out to the dark waters below. The lightning had lit up the sky and the water, it was so vibrant and full of motion, but as fast as it appeared it faded. When I looked back toward him, he was gone, as though he vanished with the lightning. There was nowhere for him to have gone, but I was standing alone on the top of the cliff. The electricity was a pulse in the air around me and my skin felt charged. Whether it was from the weather or our interaction, I didn’t know. A thrill coursed through me, moving along my bones. I looked around for him again, but nothing. He had disappeared last night, just as the creature had disappeared back into the mist. Slowly, I began walking back to the manor. I knew I should have been feeling shock or fear, but instead I felt alive.
I stood at the bank of a winding river surrounded by mountains on either side. The angular mountains were green and thick with foliage. The sun was beginning to rise over a particularly large mountain in the distance. The mist of the morning was casting shadows all around us. This place was overgrown and untouched. A place that time had forgotten, or perhaps overlooked. I felt the warmth of two arms wrapped around my waist. I looked down at the arms, they were strong and powerful. I felt comfortable and at ease; I felt happy. I felt the vibration coming from his chest as he was speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear the words he was saying. His lips were right by my ear, and I could tell they were meaningful from the tone. Though my ears couldn’t hear his words, somehow my heart could. While my pulse increased, I felt the deep steady rhythm of his heartbeat and the evenness of his breathing. The smell in the air was familiar to me, something I knew well, it was all familiar to me. As the moments stretched out I had glimpses of this life I was living; the memories of it. I turned to see his face; the smooth planes and angular eyes looking back at me with tenderness, I could see my own sleek black hair and full lips reflected there. His hands released my waist and moved to the space between us, but before he could say anything the world began to quiver. The ground, the river, the mountains, all began shaking. An earthquake. The earth shifted underneath us and we fell to our knees. He looked back toward a small village behind him. It was our village. There was real fear in his expression, the same fear I felt, as we watched people running and screaming, and the shaking started building again. We both realized at the same time, the buildings were going to collapse. He got to his feet and pulled me up in one motion. We were running, toward the building, but he got there first, just as the next tremor hit. I saw him go in as the tremor rocked the ground under my feet and again I fell, this time I didn’t have a chance to brace myself and I felt my head slam against something hard. I looked up through hazy vision to see the building he had gone into now shaking on its foundation, threatening to collapse. He was in there, I had to get to him. I tried to stand but the pain was excruciating. I felt a warm sticky sensation sliding down my forehead onto my cheek. The building blurred as the haze in my vision obscured it and the shaking around me intensified. My eyes slid closed and the darkness swallowed me.
The shaking continued and I opened my eyes. I was looking at Lily. My hands shot to my head where the blood had been sliding down my face. There was nothing there, just smooth skin. Her hands were on my shoulders and she was shaking me awake, “Sinclaira, you’ve got 20 minutes to get ready!” She let go and I looked at the clock on my nightstand. She was right, if I didn’t get up I was going to be late, again.
I was shell shocked. My sister was staring down at me. Even as I tried to focus my thoughts on what was happening now, they were still on the river, the collapsing building, the hands around my waist. She didn’t register my confusion as anything but that of someone who had just woken up. She moved away from the bed and toward the door, saying over her shoulder, “Sinclaira, do you want to be late?” as she walked out of my room. I shook my head, as if that could clear the confusion. Another dream that felt as real as this moment. Where were they coming from, and how were they so real? When I was in these dreams I was somehow part of the reality, I knew what was happening in those moments. I was seeing from someone else’s perspective, I was sharing their emotions, their physical body, their senses, but I was along for the ride. I knew the choices they would make, but I wasn’t making the choices. Even though I was in their body, I always felt like I was a witness, until today. This dream had been different, I was no longer simply witnessing from their perspective, I was living it. The clock on my nightstand chimed again and I was about to be late. I didn’t have time for this right now, I had to get ready. Pulling a brush through my hair I grabbed whatever clothes appeared to coordinate from the drawers of my dresser. I rushed down to the garden room for my elocution lesson. I couldn’t focus, my mind was spinning out in different directions pulling away from where it was supposed to be.
I was barely present for my lessons again and it didn’t go completely unnoticed. Madame Demare, my elocution instructor, said to me at the end of the lesson, “Sinclaira, I would think you would be taking more care, with how quickly your departure is approaching. Next lesson I expect your undivided attention.” I hadn’t realized how obvious it was. “Yes, of course.” I said back to her and she seemed satisfied. She hadn’t been wrong, and I tried to do better, but the entire day my thoughts were consumed with everything that had happened, that was continuing to happen, that I couldn’t mention. When I had given up on trying to understand the dream, my thoughts went back to James. Why was he so familiar? What was the electricity in the air? Thinking back on how the air had felt last night, a storm had been coming. The air had been charged with energy, but nothing ever materialized. Even in my sleep, a storm that strong should have woken me, but I slept through the night. The dreams, the horse, the stranger, the feeling in the air. I was tumbling through a maze of new thoughts. I couldn’t speak of any of it, I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on, and definitely not until I knew myself. The day dragged on as though it would never end. When I was finally freed from my lessons, there was just enough light left to make it to the causeway. I needed the escape, the freedom that came with being by the sea. Forgetting everything that weighed on me, and when I couldn’t forget, at least being free to think about it without consequences. I rushed to the edge of the cliff where the path began and stood at the overlook. I looked out to the water, and down the length of the beach. I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, that I was hoping to see him, but no one was there. I felt the flicker of disappointment, but as the scent of brine and earth filled my nose, the disappointment was soon overpowered. Here was my only chance to be truly alone with my thoughts instead of having to pretend to be focused. Which was becoming an increasingly regular problem. My focus had drifted so far in the past few days, to the moments that had thrilled me and the dreams that chased me. The days paled in comparison to the vivid and vibrant moments of the night before, and from the intensity of the dreams. What was happening to me. A wave crashed along the shore and pulled me out of my mental spiral. The sound had been loud enough that it caught me off guard and made my heart beat increase. I looked out to the water as I reached up to my chest, steadying my heart from the outside. As I caught my breath, I glanced down the beach and I saw him walking toward me. Where had he come from? I would have seen him from the overlook had he been anywhere around here, and there was no way he could have gotten down here without me noticing, there was only one path and I was standing right on it. It’s possible I missed him when I was at the top…possible, but unlikely. He smiled at me, and I could feel the air shimmering again. Tonight I thought I could see the change in the space between us. “Good evening Sinclaira” he said and his voice was like a velvet touch. He was so familiar. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn I had known him for years, even longer if that were possible. Again, I was reaching for something just out of my mind’s grasp. His presence set my senses in search of something I felt but couldn’t recall. How could I feel this way about someone I had only just met?