As the release of Echaria Rising moves closer and closer, I wanted to give you a bit of a sneak peek. After much consideration, I have decided to share Chapter 1 with you. I hope you enjoy!
CHAPTER 1 – GRAN
The familiar smell of dried lavender and cedar washed over Adelaide as she opened the door to the tiny cottage where she grew up. As she gazed around the sparse living space, her eyes misted. The interior of the cottage was exactly as she remembered it- simple and clean, but well-loved. A colorful, worn rug sat in front of the hand-carved rocking chair by the fireplace, and there were shelves filled with keepsakes lining the walls. Fresh herbs were hanging to dry in the kitchen, and there was a basket of clothes that still needed to be laundered waiting by the door. It was as though all was still right with the world, and the day was continuing as usual. Through the open the garden was visible, and freshly washed linens were blowing gently on the line. She inhaled deeply, brushing a stray copper curl out of her eyes, and placed her hands on her hips.
“Oh, Gran,” she sighed.
She had rushed to the cottage as soon as word reached her in town. Paul, the blacksmith, had come to the infirmary where Adelaide worked. When he first appeared, his large frame darkening the doorway, Adelaide had thought that he had injured himself at the forge and was seeking medical assistance. But when she looked into his sorrowful eyes, she knew he was there with bad news. The worst news. She would never forget the simple sentence that changed her world forever as it left his lips that day.
“Addie… your Gran is gone.”
In that moment, it was as though her entire life was crumbling around her. Paul had caught her as the world spun and she fell to her knees, and he had helped her to a chair. A thousand questions tumbled through her mind, and she struggled to breathe, let alone speak. Beatrice, the Midwife, had come out from the back room and sat next to Adelaide, trying to help calm her and encouraging her to breathe deeply, as though she was a patient in labor.
When Adelaide finally found her voice, it was for one simple word, spoken through trembling lips. “How?”
Through Paul’s simple re-telling, Adelaide learned how Charlyn, the grocer’s girl, had come to the cottage to discuss what Gran would be bringing to sell at the market that week. When no one answered her knock, she walked around the house to check the garden. It was there that she had found Gran, lying lifeless between the garden and the house, and she immediately ran down the hill for the village magistrate. From what they could tell, she had just finished hanging up the wash, and never made it back inside to fetch the next basket.
“They say it seemed quick and sudden, with no pain,” Paul had told her. That was slightly comforting, but did little to dull the deep ache that permeated every part of Adelaide’s being.
The magistrate and coroner had already taken Gran’s body to be properly prepared, but Adelaide had still wanted to be at the cottage as soon as she could, and she wanted to come alone. Matthew, the physician, was more than happy to oblige, giving Adelaide the week to settle Gran’s affairs. As soon as her legs would support her again, she had bolted from the infirmary and run all the way up the hill. Now she was here, standing breathless in the doorway, almost afraid to fully enter this place she once called home.
The cottage was still and silent now, but in her mind’s eye, the memories she had made in this humble home on the hill danced, vibrant and alive. The many days she and Gran had spent tending to the garden, and the nights laughing by the fire. Gran would tell her tales of life in Echaria before the Royal family was murdered- days of plenty for all.
“Those were the days, Addie darling. Days where the roads were safe, the King was kind, and the people were joyful,” Gran would say, her memory-filled eyes dancing in the firelight.
Gran, with her stern face, work-worn hands, and beautifully gentle heart. Even as she aged, she maintained a sense of dignity and strength about her. She had a kind word for everyone, and was always honest and fair.
Thoughts swirled in Adelaide’s head as she slowly made her way through the main room, taking in every detail of the quiet cottage. Guilt, regret, and sorrow all clamored in her mind for center stage.
“If only I hadn’t taken on the apprenticeship under Beatrice at the infirmary,” she thought. “If I had stayed here, with Gran, maybe…” A single tear broke free of her lash line and trailed slowly down her cheek. “No, there’s nothing you could have done,” she reminded herself. “She was old, older than anyone else here in Redloch. It had to happen sometime.” Another tear escaped and she wiped it away, straightening up and clearing her throat. “Even though it had to happen, I still wasn’t ready. I’m not ready. A hundred years from now, and I still wouldn’t have been ready.”
Adelaide made her way to the door of Gran’s bedroom and leaned against the frame, surveying the bed and chest of drawers. A small window let in rays from the evening sun, and the air seemed to shimmer as the dust lazily drifted by. The bed was made up, the patchwork quilt tucked neatly around the slim mattress. Everything was exactly in place, just as it always was.
Adelaide stepped up to the heavy wooden dresser and gently ran her fingertips along the ledge. A comb sat near the edge, and she could see that a few long grey hairs had been left behind, wrapped in the teeth. There was a small glass bottle of perfume, “for my extra fancy days,” as Gran used to say. As far back as Adelaide could remember, Gran only wore the perfume one day a year—on her birthday.
On the far side of the dresser sat a small figurine of a couple frozen mid-dance, one that Gran cherished. She had never let Adelaide play with it, emphasizing that it must never be broken, and so never touched. It was the one item in the cottage that was off limits. Adelaide guessed that it had been a gift from her grandfather, so many years ago. The delicate porcelain shone softly in the light, illuminating the pastel colors of the dancer’s clothes.
In the center of the dresser was an impressive jewelry box. The rich wood was intricately carved with flowers and butterflies, and Adelaide softly brushed the carvings with a wistful smile. She was familiar with this jewelry box; as a child, Gran had allowed her to play with the contents.
“It’s my bits and baubles,” Gran used to say. “Play with them carefully, they are one of a kind!”
Adelaide used to wear the jewelry as she twirled through the tiny cottage, giggling, “Look Gran! I’m a princess!”
She smiled, remembering Gran laughing and twirling with her, and proclaiming “My darling Addie is the most beautiful princess in all of the known lands! My beautiful sunshine girl!”
Adelaide picked up the jewelry box, gently shifting its weight into her lap as she sat on the bed. She carefully lifted the lid back, revealing the jewelry within. A simple gold pendant on a thin chain lay in the center, with an assortment of plain rings and earrings around it. Nothing was overly ornate, but the pieces sparkled in the warm rays of the sun as though they were a pirate’s treasure. She gazed wistfully at the jewelry before softly closing the lid, placing the box on the bed beside her.
There was a small drawer in the box, one that locked. Adelaide had never opened it, but she knew there was something inside. Gran had hinted that there was great treasure hidden away in that tiny drawer, and that keeping it secret was a priority.
She could hear Gran’s voice in her head now, as though she was on the bed beside her. “The contents of this drawer are more than enough to set Echaria back on track. It must never fall into the wrong hands. It will become your burden to bear, Adelaide, once I’m gone from this earth. You’ll know what to do.”
But Adelaide was mystified. “How would Gran just know that I know what to do? I don’t even know how to find the key, if there even is one…”
Suddenly, a thought struck her as old memories flickered across her mind’s eye. “What was that poem she used to tell me about a secret key,” Adelaide muttered, her voice bouncing off the walls of the tiny room. “The little rhyme she made sure to tell me every night as she tucked me in…”
She furrowed her brow, clenching her teeth in the effort to recall the memory to the surface. She had never taken the rhyme seriously- it seemed like such a normal bedtime routine for a child. There was never any reason for her to believe there really was a hidden key or any valuable treasure, especially hidden here on the property. But now that Gran was gone, a small voice tickled the back of her mind. Perhaps it was real. She at least owed it to Gran’s memory to do a little investigating, and find out the truth.
She frowned and tried to remember the last time Gran had tucked her into bed. After several minutes, the memory flashed across her sage green eyes, and she leapt up from the bed, her ears practically ringing with the little tune.
“As dawning sun shines warm as gold,
The raven points to treasures old,
Hidden in a swirling rainbow sea.
All is revealed when you find the key.”
She ran to the doorway of the cottage, facing down the hill toward the little town of Redloch, nestled snugly in the foothills of the Evermore Mountains. “This way is East, so the dawning sun would come up and touch the whole front of the cottage,” she mused. She stepped out onto the worn dirt path and spun to face the cottage, now backlit by the evening sun.
Dusk was upon her, so she knew that she needed to solve this riddle quickly, or else she would be forced to wait for morning. There were too many threats that lurked at night to be out and about, even in the yard of the cottage. The woods were a mere stone’s throw from the pond at the edge of the garden, and the wolves had gotten bold as of late. A gentle breeze tossed her long red curls as she scrutinized the front wall. The wall looked the same way it always did, and Adelaide let out a frustrated sigh.
“I grew up in this cottage, surely I would have noticed any clues or strange markings to denote a buried treasure.” She took several more steps backward, hoping a wider view of the cottage and surrounding grounds could give her a clearer picture.
The sun continued to sink below the tree line, casting deep shadows across the garden and cottage. Adelaide knew she was almost out of time for the night. She felt her eyes stinging as the tears began to well up again, and she clenched her fists, hissing with frustration.
“I have to find this key, it’s what Gran would want. But how am I supposed to find it? I lived here my whole life, and I never came across it,” she thought. “I know every nook, cranny, and crack in this cottage and in the surrounding land. If there was some secret hiding place, there’s no way I wouldn’t have found it.” She steadied her breathing and turned back to face the town, trying to clear her mind. She slowly recited the words out loud again, with intention, absentmindedly twirling her fiery locks around her fingers as she spoke.
“As dawning sun shines warm as gold… ok, that’s obviously sunrise. There’s no other time the sun can be described as ‘dawning’. Next, the raven points to treasures old.” Adelaide looked around at the front yard, musing. “The raven points… Raven…”
She scanned the skies, her eyes squinting against the glare of the sunset. Ravens weren’t common in this area, if there were birds about it was normally crows, larks, and other small woodland species. A realization dawned on her, and she ran to the side of the cottage, looking towards the garden, and the now-dry sheets flapping in the dusky breeze. There, at the edge of the garden, was the scarecrow she and Gran had made when she was a toddler. She had named the scarecrow “Raven”, after her favorite heroine from the old stories, and the name had stuck.
Raven the Scarecrow was posed facing the garden, with one arm outstretched towards the pond and the woods beyond, other arm jauntily cocked at her side. Adelaide’s breath caught in her throat as she started to move towards the scarecrow. As she stepped forward, the sun finally disappeared below the tree line, taking with it the last of the golden rays of day. Almost simultaneously, a mournful howl pierced the air, freezing her in her tracks. She eyed the distance from the cottage to Raven, then evaluated the distance between the scarecrow and the edge of the woods. Too close. Adelaide let out a frustrated grunt and kicked the dirt path, then turned on her heel and headed back to the door of the cottage.
When she reached the doorway, she took one last look down the hill towards the town, the lighted windows twinkling softly in the darkened valley below. Thankfully, she wouldn’t have to rush straight back to work the next day due to Matthew’s generosity. From here on the hillside, Redloch seemed almost like a painting- beautiful, but unreal. She swung the door closed, bolting it shut. Everything could wait, for now. The morning sun would bring a new day, and hopefully, the answers she sought.