Sneak Peek: Chapter 5

Just three days until release day!

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Queen of the Wild Range, Chapter 5

Lyra bumped and crashed around the kitchen of the Hidden Heart’s headquarters, flustered and excited over Silas’ return. She grabbed a fluffy loaf of bread and added it to the collection of treats balanced precariously in her arms. As she reached for a jar of jam, several apples toppled from her pile and rolled across the floor. “For goodness’ sake,” she muttered, leaving the apples. Retrieving them would risk the rest of her stash. 

The Hidden Heart, known among its members as the HH, was a safe haven for the kingdom’s underground resistance. Most members were poor, living in the lowest rungs of the city; but there were a few, like Thad Pyralis, who came from the most powerful families on the mountain. 

They shared a central belief: the great Adwin remained the true king, and their sole life purpose was to fight against Damien’s evil regime. 

Using her foot to open the kitchen door, Lyra climbed several flights of stairs and entered the candle-lit gathering, dumping the food in the middle of the crowd. Everyone was speaking all at once, telling Silas the news of the mountain.

Lyra whistled loudly. When all eyes were on her and mouths were closed (most of them chewing the food they had grabbed from the pile), she said, “Give the poor man some space and peace. He came here for a reason. Let’s hear it.”

Just then, her husband, Hesper, came down from an upper floor with Thad Pyralis right behind him. They had been watching the streets from a balcony near the roof. “Yes, let’s hear it,” Hesper said, embracing Silas in a bear hug and thumping him several times on the back. 

When Silas turned to the gathering, his face was both warm and grave. “I’m afraid I have come to ask all of you to be very brave. I knew this day would eventually come, and it is here. Very soon, it will seem like everything good is gone, replaced with danger and heartache. I need you to hold on through all of it because I’m taking you somewhere so much better.” 

The silence in the room was strained.

Silas continued, “A few of you will take the children and the elders north to the desert. You’ve been preparing those tunnels for years, and it’s time to use them. It’s not safe here for anyone the king deems ‘unuseful,’ and everyone knows how much he underestimates the wisdom of the old and young.”

“We’ll be separated? From our children?” one man asked. 

“Can’t we go with them?” a woman cried. 

 Silas put his hand on the woman’s shoulder. “I need the rest of you to be found.”

A cold chill ran through Lyra. “Found?”

He nodded somberly. “Yes. Found. The masters will come and take a census. They will register every heart, looking for those who can pass through the curtain. They will send some to do labor below the clouds and force others into military service. Don’t resist them when they come to register and recruit. Don’t hide. I need you within the ranks.”

Lyra looked to Hesper. He looked back with a reassuring smile. “You can count on us, Silas,” he said.

Others stomped their feet and added, “Here, here!” to the growing sounds of courage. Even the man who had questioned the separation from his children had a new determination in the set of his jaw. 

This is what they were made for, what they had prepared for. They could be brave even when they were scared.

“Yes, I am absolutely sure I can count on you,” Silas said. “And there’s something else, and it isn’t small.” The crowd hushed. “You’ve done a wonderful job getting hearts off the mountain. It’s driving Damien mad. But our strategy must change. Damien is sending an army to defend the curtain, and you mustn’t be discovered leading people to escape. I need you too badly for you to end up in the dungeons. I still want you to look for them, to give them hope and encouragement. Bring them here to headquarters every new moon, and I will send an old friend to usher them through the tunnels and into the desert. Do you understand?”

“An old friend? Who?” Lyra asked.

Silas smiled. “You’ll see. Do you understand the task? Bring hearts to headquarters only on the nights when the moon is completely dark. Understood?”

They nodded.

“The city in the desert will grow quickly. There is already a large camp of refugees. Voskos, you will lead a council of the elders, keeping order. I’m depending on you.”

The old barkeep nodded, holding his head regally high. “It will be my honor.”

“Take everything you can through the tunnels,” Silas said. “Take multiple trips if you need to. There will be carts waiting at the end with creatures to pull you and your supplies to the oasis in the desert. You’ll find anything else you could need once you are there.”

“Be found. Join Damien’s ranks. Look for hearts and bring them here on the nights of the new moon,” Thad said. “I think we can do that.”

“That’s the simplified version, yes.” Silas laughed. “But I have something else for you. I must speak to you privately. Magan and Rhea, you come, too.”

Lyra wondered what it could mean. She watched Thad and Silas climb up the stairs, and the two girls who worked in the palace laundry followed eagerly behind them. 

Lyra took a deep breath and looked around the room. “All right, you heard the man. Let’s get a move on. Pack what your children may need and get it to the tunnels. It’s going to be a busy night.”

Her own children were already asleep in their beds as she scurried around tossing clothes, blankets, and a few odds and ends in the one trunk they owned. Hesper sat at his desk scribbling furiously with a quill and waving the papers to help them dry. When Lyra started to close the lid of the trunk, he stopped her. 

He folded the letter and wrote the names of their three children on the outside, placing it in the trunk. “Just in case,” he said quietly. 

Lyra wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her head on his chest. “We can’t think like that, sweetheart. All will be well.” The tremor in her voice betrayed her.

Hesper rubbed her back and rested his chin on the top of her head. “We have to be prepared for anything. But you’re right. No matter what, all will be well.”

“Do you think it’s the end?”

“Of what, dear?”

“Of Damien. Of the kingdom. Is Silas finally coming to defeat him?”

“It certainly sounds that way.”