BEYOND THURIA TRILOGY – BOOK 1
There has been peace between the houses for nearly one hundred seasons, but the sick and elderly Grand Matriarch of de Gonari is not at peace. Her lifelong friend, Sahnassa, has gone missing and reports even suggest she ended her own life at sea. Vanarra cannot believe it. She feels her dear presence whenever she dreams at night. Now she must decide if she should follow her friend into an amazing and uncertain future!
Overview & Preview
The end of every story begins another…
Vanarra de Gonari has lived one of the most amazing lives in Thurian history. Beginning as an outcast Anati, she survived after her mother’s murder left her an orphan at age eight, educated herself, and built a thriving business. She made her closest friend with a purebred, Sahnassa de Orturu, and together, the two changed Thurian history forever. Mixed bloods are now seen as equals to their purebred counterparts, and a shining faith of tolerance, responsibility, and love for others is shaping a new golden age.
There has been peace between the houses for nearly one hundred seasons, but the sick and elderly Grand Matriarch of de Gonari is not at peace. Her lifelong friend, the Grand Matriarch Sahnassa, has gone missing and reports even suggest she ended her own life at sea. Vanarra cannot believe it. She feels her dear presence whenever she dreams at night. Learning this, Vanarra’s senior aides grow wary of their storied matriarch and watch her closely.
In a revelation that terrifies and excites her, Vanarra learns that she would have been dead nearly two hundred seasons ago on the side of a mountain if not for an amazing rescue. The one who healed her then now offers Vanarra a new life, far away from Thuria. Faced with the decision of leaving all she knows, she must choose – abandon her house and those who remain or seek some new incarnation of her life shrouded in uncertainty, knowing…
The beginning of every story ends another…
Is there any word, Acasta?” the Grand Matriarch of house de Gonari asked one of her most senior dames. Seated in front of the fire, her aging body wrapped in a blanket and getting over a light bout of pneumonia, the mixed blood leader of the noble and honored family could almost feel the hesitation in the brown-furred Faelnar, her pelt just touched with subtle tones of gray. “You’re worrying that since the news is bad, I’ll get sick again,” the matriarch accused softly. “Please, I’m a big kit – out with it.”
“No … no word, Honored One,” Acasta offered, reluctance thick in her voice. “Her daughter is asking, rather pointedly, if we know anything, well – specifically, if you … know where she might be.”
The elder mixed blood chuckled. “Matreesia always blames me for everything to do with her mother. You may reply to her that I don’t know anything at all, let alone how her mother slipped past de Orturu’s own security details, made it onto a private charter boat, and then slipped off to sea without anyone else noticing. Sahni … didn’t tell me anything,” Vanarra breathed out, saddened. “I’ve … been sitting here thinking, for intervals even, if there was anything that would have hinted that she was going to do something like this.”
“Do you think she was abducted?” the Honored Dame asked, standing beside her matriarch.
“No, I don’t,” Van offered as she leaned up and looked at Acasta. “I really don’t. What I can recall from our conversations of late is that Sahni felt like her time as Grand Matriarch was coming to a close, much … much as I feel mine is.”
“Please, Honored One,” Acasta tried not to beg, although it still sounded much like that. “Please don’t say such things. This house needs you! We need you!”
“This house is made up of so many more members than just me, and I may be old, but I am not without eyes and ears, not just yet – not completely, that is. I know that the dames are handling some decisions on their own, ones that I should likely see, but … it is done to spare me the work.”
“Until you are recovered, Honored One,” the dame offered, unconvincingly.
“Then, kit, why was it going on for almost a season before I ever got sick? You need not cover for anything. Tana and Letta have been keeping me abreast of those decisions,” the matriarch stated evenly, and Acasta frowned, grateful that the matriarch seemed to be looking towards the fire at that moment. “Don’t look so down, Acasta. You hardly could expect anything else. They are both Honored Dames, same as you.”
“It isn’t proper for them to speak about what we, as your dames, have agreed to … not speak about, Honored One,” Acasta replied, feeling the sting in the mild rebuke.
“I’m not sure, but in some quarters, that’s called treason, especially if the subject is one the matriarch is supposed to know about through virtue of her position,” Van lectured, amiably. “Don’t worry. All of your decisions have been right on the mark – dead perfect, actually. That’s a point in my favor, regarding my time being close to an end. Sahni and I … we’re relics of an age that’s passing away – an age when houses still went to war, an age when mixed bloods were seen as so, so different from everyone else. So many friends from that time are gone, now in the paws of the Creator, living beyond the … aches and pains and sadness of this life.”
The dark tone of the matriarch worried her dame, and Acasta felt compelled to make a suggestion. “I believe it would be prudent to tell Honored Dames Saletta and Tana about what has happened – recall them to … be by your side.”
“You will do no such thing!” Vanarra flatly asserted. “Letta is visiting the grave of her dearly departed Flint, something she’s done every season since he was buried on Ricia. Tana is visiting with all of the kids and all of our little ones on the reunion cruise. Would you send a military flyer out there to airlift her back so she, too, could sit here and be with me as I mope and worry? No, Acasta. Don’t you dare! As it is, they’ll both be angry with me that they weren’t told immediately of Sahni’s disappearance, but as I’m sure Matreesia has told you, her house would like to keep it quiet. If two of my closest dames were urgently recalled, it would be noticed, and TransNet would light up like the lights during the time of feasting. I’m an old kit, and my friend’s gone missing, and you are here for me, right? What more do I need?”
Van motioned to the chair beside her, and, reluctantly, Dame Acasta sat down. “I … don’t know, Honored One. I honestly feel like I’m the one lacking here. I’ve always … stank at this part of the job – trying to be a shoulder to cry on, an easy ear to talk to. You know that!”
The complaint made Van reply, smiling, as she reached for the Faelnar’s paw. “I know. I remember. I remember you bringing your resignation to me, having gotten too many demerits to remain a matron – forced to resign by Dame Saletta’s crew. I’ll never forget what you looked like on that sol.”
“Not … one of my prouder moments,” the brown Faelnar groaned slightly, leaning her head so far back it looked as if she was staring at the ceiling, although her eyes were closed. “I … suffered so much that sol. I wanted to go home and die.”
“I could tell that,” Van told her. “I could see – it was easy, but I saw something else. It was what I saw in Sahnassa at the Meeting Den and what I saw in Lyssia de Oterbythe and Tanatta de Oterbythe, as well. You had promise, kit. It was something that had nearly been crushed out of you, but for some strange reason, it’s being crushed that makes it come alive. Gives you the ability to put everything else aside and face your worst enemy, anyone’s worst enemy.”
“What’s that?” Acasta looked over at her, dropping the titles and her pretense of formality.
“Your own potential,” Van replied. “Somewhere between the time we are born and the time we die is a space where we can truly achieve everything we are capable of, but the clock ticks, and time goes past. Once it has passed you by, those goals are … no longer possible, and all we are left with is less than what it could have been. We have either shot under our target or too far above it, done too little or too much.”
“Well, honestly, Honored One,” Acasta replied, shaking her head. “You and Matriarch Sahnassa have done nothing but hit the target sol after sol for more seasons than I can count. As for myself, shooting under the mark seems to be what I’m capable of, especially in counseling or may the Creator forbid it, correction. I … hate that.”
“Who likes it?” Van asked, looking back at the fire. “Only someone … sadistic and evil gets a kick out of throwing someone out of the house, and I’m grateful that it hardly ever happens, now. There were a lot of disavowed when I was younger. You know that I think you’ve done an admirable job compensating for your weaknesses. Letta thinks so, too. Tana isn’t so sure, but her standards are impossibly high.”
“Her only standard is you,” Acasta accused, slightly bitter in her tone. “Anyone else could never measure up.”
“The mythical Vanarra de Gonari,” Van almost cursed after sipping her tea. “I’m fed up with her. If I had the energy and I thought I could get away with it, I’d run away and start up a catering business under a new name, mind you. The one Tresk’s grandson runs in my name is so big now. Whoever thought that the business given to me in the last dying gasp of a disavowed Faelnar would grow to a worldwide corporate pack? I had to stop going to the grand openings. It’s nearly become … a religion for some of the employees – doing things The Vanarra Way. I so wish Tresk hadn’t written that into the corporate charter. You know they train all new employees for almost a full moon? They actually study the events we used to cater! They reenact them! It’s crazy!”
“It’s good training, so I’m told. It’s more about attitude and ownership and appreciating the customer. I’ve had several of mine who were starting out tell me as much. It’s a good grounding for the kits and cubs. You … really miss that, doing the catering thing?”
Van smiled wistfully and answered, “Not so much the doing as who I was doing it with. Mauft de Dothnar was my admin – grumpy old kit, but a heart of purest light when it came to taking care of those forsaken and alone. Flint, my muscle-bound office manager – I could tell he was smart and a real treasure, even from the first sol I met him. It was wonderful working with him; he balanced me in a lot of ways. Then, Tresk was this … grumpy kind of fix-it Vulpi, disavowed and angry at the world. He could fix anything, though. He could, really. Then Saiphar de Kestrick; this … quiet and sometimes sullen artist who could just create the most amazing things – anything from paintings to carved ice to sculptures. I knew he was a find from the sol I hired him.”
“I bet you never guessed his paintings would sell for six million or more, Honored One?” Acasta asked, smiling, as she was a fan. “Or that he would lead so … complex a life?”
“There were a lot of us who led complex lives, and I was certainly one of those. Truth is,” Van observed, “this, right now, is about as tame as it’s ever been for me. Sahni, too. We … were deep into one another’s souls, Acasta. Deep in a way that is somehow … eternal, forever. Sahni joined our crew later, after we’d moved to our new office, but she just became a part of the place; became a part of me. It was never the same after she left.” There was a pause as the matriarch held back a tear. Sniffling a little, she said, “Really, a lot of that was how events played out and all, but … there was just this one, wonderful period – it may have not lasted more than a few seasons. I’d give almost anything to be back there, walking into her office, asking how she was doing and talking with her, trying to understand her world.”
“Can I ask you a … private question?” Vanarra nodded. “Honored One, what one thing do you think made Sahnassa so special to you?”
Vanarra smiled. “She taught me that some purebreds could actually be completely trusted, and that she would even put our relationship above the requirements of her family. If she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have ever grown. She’s also saved my life on a number of occasions, some you don’t know about or ever will. I’m sworn to keep those secrets, even if … she’s completely lost to me.”
“That’s what her house is worried about. The way she left them – the line of succession is not in doubt. They’ve been worried about her ever since she buried Tallen three seasons ago, Honored One.”
Vanarra breathed in deep and sighed, “And I heard the same thing from my own when Buck died, just a season later. He … died happy, though. I know that. Like I said, enjoy this part of your life, Acasta. It gets … harder, after this. I remember Sahni telling me how much she regretted that the greatest things in her life seemed to be behind her, and this was when she was still a comparative youngster, just before she got promoted to dame. Now, as she and I have talked over the seasons, it’s been clear that what was her worry is now just a fact for both of us. If I stand, turn around, I see a whole … life stretched back in time. If I face forward, I see a path with no more than a few tracks left on it, and there are no wonders and joys left to see that will surprise me. It all just runs out and fades away.”
“I hope that’s not true, Honored One,” Acasta offered. “I … believe that if something came up to threaten our house that you would rise up and be glorious once again – storm out of negotiations, bring matriarchs to their knees, stand at the head of house armies, and heal the broken, just as you always have.”
The Grand Matriarch actually chuckled at that statement. “Oh and wear that awful headdress! Amyra stood behind me and put that darn thing on me when we were marching on de Oterbythe. I’d swear she cursed me right then and there to being in her paw shoes!”
“Remind me not to put that on, then, Honored One,” Acasta begged in jest, but Vanarra shook her head in disagreement. “What, Honored One?”
“Oh, it’s too late for you, dear Acasta. You just don’t realize it,” Van stated, her grin nearly feral – a look that the brown Faelnar was unfamiliar with.
“I … I don’t understand.”
“Come now, you should,” Van teased. “I have three senior dames. Letta and Tana are about the same age as I. You’re the baby kit of our number, and none of the other dames are ready, just yet. There … may be a transitional period, but undoubtedly, it will … be … yours.”
“You wouldn’t!” Acasta replied, astonished. “Saletta is so much more qualified—”
“She doesn’t have the spirit for it, and the others know that; most of all, she knows that. Tana lacks the background and her closeness to me makes it unlikely, in the extreme, that she would be selected. I’m sorry if this comes to you as a shock, but when I’m gone, you’re it,” Van told her, sitting back and smirking as she looked in the direction of the fire.
“Oh, please, no!” the Honored Dame breathed, almost panting. “I’m … the least qualified, and even some of the younger dames know that!”
“Then you will learn, as I have, to lean on your dames for wisdom and understanding. Don’t imagine that this is the first time I’ve floated the idea, either. I know who the power-brokers are; they are already in on it. It’s done. So, like I said, when I keel over dead, you’re the next matriarch.”
For a while, Acasta just stared into the fire, shaking her head. Finally, she looked at her matriarch and said, “Well, in that case, Honored One, may … may you live forever.”
Despite herself, all Van could do was laugh.
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This book about Vanarra was a wonderful story. Which I hope is continued in the next book.
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THE RESCUE: THE FIRST VISITATION OF THURIA captivated me, drew me in so deep that I didn't want to stop listening, even during work or at home.
This story nails it, in so many unexpected ways, and it does so delightfully.
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