Curse Bearer (The Risen Age Archive Book 1)
by Rebecca P. Minor
An epic tale of curses and miracles, where headstrong ignorance creates bondage, and the desire to serve offers freedom.
An oppressor’s assault, a father’s terminal illness, an elder knight’s enigmatic challenge…could a single thread interweave them all? When Danae Baledric leaves home in search of a cure for a degenerative malady that’s killing her father, she never expects her journey to teach her the price of her own ignorance. In Curse Bearer, Danae learns the eternal war between The Creator and the Impenetrable Darkness is waged one soul at a time. Danae’s investigation reveals not only the spiritual nature of her father’s danger, but that the forces of Darkness are hunting her as well. For power, even employed in ignorance, has its cost. A commitment to a life of service to the Creator extends Danae both deliverance from her debt and the ability to intervene on her father’s behalf. But something bars Danae from claiming redemption—her insistence she must achieve her goals in her own strength.
Something unsavory was brewing outside the front window of Baledric’s Apothecary and Alchemy shop.
Danae stared beyond the final customer of the day as he passed through the shop’s front door. The bronze bell over the exit jingled the farewell she was too preoccupied to utter. Just visible through the rippled panes of the shop window, Danae’s father huddled in hushed discourse with a handful of men. Their murmured conversation pulled at her. Papa’s repeated glances up the street bespoke more than idle chatter with the neighbors. Danae focused her tension into persistent picking at already-short fingernails, until what was left of the white rim on her ring finger broke and peeled. A red streak seeped along the exposed quick, and she shook her hand against the sting.
She forced her attention away from the discussion between Papa and the other merchants and onto the vellum-paged ledger before her. A quick dip into the inkwell filled her quill with iron gall ink. Danae swept the instrument across the page’s surface, penning the day’s last sale into the book in flowing script.
A few packets of Aconite Root and Henbane for pain, a flask of ginger and pippali, a bundle of matches. Sure, they added a few more gold to the till, but did they make a difference?
Danae sighed and scattered a pinch of fine-ground pounce across the lettering, shook the excess back into the pounce pot, and closed the cracked cover of the book. The crumbling binding heralded the ledger’s many years of service, but despite its dilapidation, it would continue to serve. After all, replacements for such luxuries came at a stiff price.
The beams of afternoon sun slanted through the front windows and kindled ever-present dust motes to an amber glow, a hint of the magical amidst the mundane. Danae sought her father beyond dancing specks of light. His jaw was tight and eyes narrow, but the men in his company had grown pale and careworn.
She hesitated. Behind her, the cauldron burbled its demands for the next batch of ingredients. The dust in the air insisted the grime left about by customers and craft be swept. As much as she burned to lean out the front door and nose into her father’s discussion, her day’s end work would encroach upon supper if she dallied. Danae turned for the laboratory at the rear of the shop.
Just as she reached the laboratory doorway, to her left, the iron-bound door that set the boundary between the Baledric home and business burst open with a crash. She dodged the charge of a dark-haired brother, whose exact likeness barreled in after him.
“Would you two watch where you’re going?” Danae said. “Honestly! Can’t you take your sparring somewhere, anywhere, else?”
The coltish boys, too young to be reckoned men, but tall and lanky enough to encroach upon an adult’s height, aimed slaps at one another’s heads. A blocked punch, a kick to the shins. More of the usual, with the day’s schoolwork likely done and idle time goading the boys into another of their intermittent scuffles.
Danae shook her head. Brothers.
Her glance flicked to the delicate composition that bubbled in the iron cauldron over the fire. How was she supposed to help their father with his work if her seven younger siblings kept popping in and out of the laboratory and shop like ground squirrels in a burrow? Tristan and Connall proved the worst of them, continually.
The boys’ skirmish raged past the laboratory, banging against the long counter and rattling the bottles, boxes, and tools that sat upon it. Danae dove to catch a tipping flask of lavender. Their small-scale war risked upsetting every stack or shelf of goods in range.
“You watch yourselves.” Danae set the flask gently back in place. Papa will have you apprenticed now instead of holding off until next summer.”
Tristan ducked his brother’s swinging fist and dared a scoff in Danae’s direction. “Wishful thinking. You know he can’t—oof!”
Connall’s knee connected with Tristan’s side.
“Overconfidence strikes again,” Connall laughed.
The brawl rumbled toward the center of the room, and Danae breathed a sigh. The breakables on the counter had survived. For now.
Was Papa coming in any time soon? He would put an end to the tussle. Danae craned her neck to peer over her brothers who obstructed her view of the window. Where had her father and the other merchants gone?
The twins’ wrestling match ground to the floor, where Connall pinned Tristan’s chest and shoulders to the floorboards.
“Mercy?” Connall leaned all his weight forward.
Judging by past bouts, Tristan’s groan closely preceded surrender, so Danae turned her back on the conflict.
She pulled a stoneware mixing bowl from a laboratory shelf. Her workspace brimmed over with supplies and raw materials: chemicals and shavings, ores and herbs that she surveyed with an adept eye. Danae’s smooth script graced every front-facing label, each one an obedient soldier awaiting command. A pinch of powdered iron, a tiny scoop of sulfur, the bark of the mournbriar. . . these and many more exotic ingredients made the journey from shelf to bowl. Danae blended them into a blue-gray slurry with even strokes.
As she stirred, Danae could just make out her brothers’ shuffling feet and then their voices.
“You really shouldn’t let me get you on the floor like that,” Connall said.
“Let you?” Tristan snorted. A few more padding footfalls, and then a pause. “Do you think this one could explode?” He whispered with a hint of awe in his voice.
“How should I know?” Connall hissed back. “Anyway, we shouldn’t be messing with Papa’s work.”
Good. At least Connall had an iota of sense. Left to Tristan’s sagacity, the twins might have long ago meed a foolish end.
She wafted the scent of her concoction toward her nose. It needed more sulfur.
“What if we sloshed a little, just a tiny bit, into the fire?”
Danae dropped the mixing bowl and bolted for the shop. As she reached the doorway, rebuke poised on her lips, the front door swung open with a tinkle of its bronze bell. Danae’s lean father stepped through. His gaze descended upon the twins by the cauldron, and he folded his arms across his soiled oilskin apron. The tightness in his face deepened the usually-faint wrinkles around his eyes and across his forehead. His frown struck Danae as more than his typical consternation at her brothers’ meddling. Perhaps a warning.
“Tristan, Connall!” His tone was businesslike and unamused. “Out of the shop. Join your mother in the house, please.”
One less hassle I have to handle. Danae turned her back on the scene to finesse her batch of ingredients.
“Aw, Papa . . . Mama’ll just give us more chores,” Tristan’s voice sagged.
“Boys! I expect you to—”
The bell jangled, knocked about by a forceful swing of the entry door. Whoever entered stumped across the floorboards, and their heavy footfalls drew groans from the wood. The smells of horses and sweaty leather preceded the newcomers. Danae wrinkled her nose.
“Afternoon, Baledric!” a thickly accented voice called.