In this installment of my new fantasy romance, Ash Fall, by K. Lynn Bay, Asha discovers exactly what she’s in for with her in-laws-to-be. Click here to read the book’s description and the Prologue.
“Princess Asha,” Paen said. “Your new home.” He swept a gesture across the valley to the enormous manor house standing on a slight rise beyond the river.
“Ooh!” Miranna breathed and gripped her arm. “How beautiful!”
Asha’s stomach felt like someone had made her drink mud. Shouldn’t it feel the opposite? As Ama had said, the mansion was beautiful, a high front of golden stone, graceful wings spreading on either side embracing a pond with a fountain and a park of small trees. Red and gold pennants twisted lazily in the breeze. A barge, its sail furled to its mast, glided along water glinting in the afternoon sun.
“It is lovely,” Elan said and laid her hand on Asha’s shoulder. “An auspicious beginning.”
Asha didn’t believe in omens. Her gut had always been far more accurate. This time, she had to ignore it.
She would rather have ridden in with dignity. She had to content herself with the view between the parted green and yellow draperies. Mira and Kiriei and Larenn exclaimed and chattered, owning all the excitement that ought to have been Asha’s. Elan, watching Asha, had the sense to be calmer, only pointing out a curious donkey with its head over a fence, a rambling rose in full bloom, a picturesquely twisted oak. These observations had the desired effect of taking Asha’s mind off their destination.
At last they clattered into the court. The high front of the house blotted out most of the sky, the wings enclosed them, the towers speared the clouds.
Oh, Mother, Asha thought, give me strength.
A great number of people filled the courtyard—grooms and footmen and guards, drivers and drovers and carters. There was the flurry of getting down from the carriage, gloved hands holding her bare ones. She passed between servants bowing and murmuring like reeds before a storm, then up granite steps to great carved doors that gaped open to swallow them all.
“Their Highnesses, the Conns, await you, Princess,” Paen said beside her.
His voice echoed away through a great entry hall, the painted dragons and Valkyries on its ceiling high enough overhead to be in the clouds in truth.
Elan frowned. “My lady is weary and travel-worn after so many days on the road. Mightn’t she rest and wash?”
“Oh, yes, indeed,” Miranna piped up. “We’re hardly fit to be seen.”
For her own part, Asha wanted the meeting over and done with. If the Conns wanted their first glimpse of her to be rumpled and begrimed, still dressed in her boots and divided riding skirt, that was their choice.
“Their Highnesses’ eagerness is not to be denied,” Paen said in a tone somewhere between apologetic and reproachful.
“Then surely,” Asha said, “we mustn’t disappoint them.”
Paen bowed and smiled.
If the abrupt summons was meant to put her in her place, it had exactly the opposite effect. By presenting herself so promptly, tired and uncomfortable, the situation allowed Asha to be gracious and generous.
She raised her head and swept ahead of the rest. Tall double doors, gilded and silvered and painted with lilies, swung open before her.