Oath Of The Brotherhood
Book 1 in The Song Of Seare Trilogy
By C. E. Laureano
Young Adult fantasy published in 2014 by TH1NK, an imprint of NavPress.
In a kingdom where the Old Ways hold fast and a man’s worth lies entirely in his skill with the sword, Conor Mac Nir is a scholar, a musician, and a follower of the forbidden Balian faith: problematic for any man, but disastrous for the son of the king.
When Conor is sent as a hostage to a neighboring kingdom, he never expects to fall in love with the rival king’s sister, Aine. Nor does he suspect his gift with the harp (and Aine’s ability to heal) touches on the realm of magic. Then his clan begins a campaign to eliminate all Balians from the isle of Seare, putting his newfound home in peril and entangling him in a plot for control of the island that has been unfolding since long before his birth.
Only by committing himself to an ancient warrior brotherhood can Conor discover the part he’s meant to play in Seare’s future. But is he willing to sacrifice everything―even the woman he loves―to follow the path his God has laid before him?
The mist hung from the branches of the ancient trees like threads from a tattered banner, though the last vestiges of sunlight still glimmered on the horizon. Conor Mac Nir shivered atop his horse and tugged his cloak securely around him, then regretted the show of nerves. He had already seen the disdain in the eyes of the king’s men sent to escort him. There was no need to give them reason to doubt his courage as well.
A weathered, scarred man on a dun stallion made his way from the back of the column and fell in beside him: Labhrás Ó Maonagh, Conor’s foster father.
“It’s too quiet,” Labhrá said, his gaze flicking to the dark recesses of the forest. “The animals have gone to ground—they sense the unnatural. Keep your eyes open.”
The twenty warriors quickened their pace, battle-hardened hands straying to their weapons for reassurance. Conor gripped his reins tighter. Now he understood the comfort a sword brought. Not that it would be of any use to him. He would be no help against dangers of the human kind, let alone whatever lurked in the mist.
He felt no relief when the road broke away from the trees, revealing the first glimpse of Glenmallaig’s earthen ramparts and the stone dome of the keep within. The mist had already found a foothold, wreathing the top of the walls and giving the impression they stretched unendingly skyward. The moat’s stale waters lapped at the base of the walls. Glenmallaig made no pretensions about being anything but a fortress, solid and impregnable.
“Steady now,” Labhrá murmured.
Connor drew a deep breath. Few knew how much he dreaded this homecoming, but Labhrá was one. Other men might have taken the honor and considerable financial rewards of fostering King Galbraith’s son without a thought to the responsibility it entailed, but Lord Labhrá had raised him as he would have brought up his own child. By contrast, the king had not shown a shred of interest in Conor for his entire seventeen years.
He swallowed hard and tried to disappear into the folds of his cloak as the drawbridge descended toward the bank. The leader of their escort gave a terse signal, and the procession lurched forward amidst a thunder of hooves on timber. Conor shuddered as he passed into Glenmallaig’s courtyard, a wash of cold blanketing his skin—too cold, considering the fast-approaching spring. The carts carrying Labhrá’s tribute to the king clattered across behind them, and the bridge once again crept upward.
Inside the courtyard, wood smoke and burning pitch drifted on the air, stinging his nose. It should have been a welcome vignette, but the orange firelight only cast the mist-filled courtyard in a sickly yellow glow. Conor cast a glance over his shoulder just as the drawbridge thudded shut, sealing off the life he’d left behind him.
Foolish thoughts. Conor shook them off as he dismounted and winced at the twinge in his muscles as they adjusted to solid ground. A hand on his elbow steadied him, the iron grip incongruous with its owner’s graying hair and finely lined face.
“Home at last,” Dolan said under his breath, a tinge of irony in his voice. More than merely a devoted retainer, the manservant had become a friend and confidant over the nine years of Conor’s fosterage at Balurnan. Dolan knew better than anyone the fears Conor’s return stirred within him.
A pale, skeletal man descended the steps of the double-door entry, headed for the captain. After a moment of quiet conversation, he strode in their direction with a cautious smile. Conor squinted, then drew a sharp breath. The last time he had seen Marcan, the steward of Glenmallaig had been in the bloom of good health, commanding the household with a mere word. Now his clothing hung from a gaunt frame, and shadows marked the pale skin beneath his eyes. Surely the mere passage of time couldn’t have effected such a transformation.
“Welcome, my lord Conor,” Marcan said with a bow, his voice as calm and capable as ever. “Your old chamber has been prepared for you. Come.”
Dolan gave him a nudge, and, reluctantly, Conor followed Marcan up the front steps into the great hall. Torches threw flickering light on the cavernous room, from its rush0covered floor to the curve of the ceiling, though they could not quite dispel the shadow at its apex. Conor’s gaze settled on four unfamiliar men standing before the dais that held the king’s throne. From their elaborately embroidered clothing, he guessed three of them to be lords of the realm. The fourth’s clean-shaven head and plain robes marked him as a cleric.
The priest turned, revealing the black tattoos that etched his neck and curled up behind his ear. Conor halted as he met the piercing blue gaze, unable to summon the will to move. The sensation of a thousand insects scrambled over his skin.
Lord Labhrá’s solid form cut off his view, breaking his trance. “Take Conor to his chamber,” Labhrá told Dolan. “I’ll be up directly.” Only when the servant took Conor by the shoulders and turned him down the adjacent corridor did he realize he was trembling.
Who was the man? And what had just happened? Conor struggled for breath as they ascended a long flight of stairs, a pang of foreboding striking deep in his gut. He gave his head a sharp shake to clear away the sluggishness. Only once he was halfway up the stairs did he regain enough clarity to survey his surroundings.
They looked completely unfamiliar.
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Oath Of The Brotherhood is available in paperback or as an ebook.