I’ve officially sent Time’s Orphan off to the proofreader so it’s time for the first chapter reveal! Note: Although this is book 3 in the Odriel’s Heirs series, each book occurs after a 10+ year time gap, focuses on a different character, and the stories stand alone. If you’d like to catch up on the series, Odriel’s Heirs books 1, 1.5, 2, and 2.5 are currently 0.99 on Amazon or free on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. With that, here we go!
Speak of dragons,
And I’ll tell you of warriors
Who walked their flames.
Speak of shadows,
And I’ll tell you of heroes
Who brought the dawn.
Speak of pain,
And I’ll tell you of the Time
Who stole it away.
– The Heir’s Way, Chapter 17, Passage 9
With the bitter ash of fourteen burning towns still thick on her tongue, Emara thought she would’ve gotten used to the salty, iron tang of death. She knelt beside the whimpering soldier, gripping his rough, dirty hands in hers. As her yanaa, her Odriel-gifted energy, coursed through his body, it washed his agony away from him and into her. A fiery pain ignited in her stomach that mirrored the gaping, crimson hole through his middle. His smooth jaw could scarcely grow a beard, and yet here he lay among Faveno’s wounded defenders, breathing his last. She squeezed his hand as his eyelids fluttered one last time, the grimace of suffering at last easing to an empty stare.
As her yanaa retreated from him, the remnants of his pain faded from her own body. Drawing in a trembling breath, Emara shut his eyes with a practiced hand. “May Odriel guide you.”
“Oi! Mari!” Iree, a broad-shouldered blonde, shouted from where she helped an injured soldier into the back of the wagon. “Stop wasting time on the dead ones!”
The relentless thrum of the Rastgol’s war drums carried on the dusty air, a malignant heartbeat pounding through the frenzied city. Shrill cries of the manic residents streamed around their impromptu casualty camp in the middle of Faveno’s main square. The afternoon sun shone on the vibrant greens and blues of the stone houses ringing the plaza—the peaceful, oceanic colors standing in stark contrast to the city’s nearly palpable dread. A salty sea breeze ruffled the crude canvas canopy stretched above them, but it did nothing to relieve the nauseating stench of urine, sweat, and blood.
The reek of a losing battle.
Heavier now with another lost soul, Emara stumbled to the nearby trough and scrubbed the freshly dried blood from her brown skin until her hands stopped trembling. Straightening, she pushed her dark curls away from her face as she surveyed their makeshift camp. The other casualties lay in rows on blood-stained straw pallets—some crying out, others far too silent. Some wore the hodgepodge leather armor of Faveno’s Shields, while others bore only the simple dress of fishermen, tradesmen, and farmers.
“Odriel take me,” Iree swore, wiping the sweat from her forehead before grabbing a white-bearded soldier by his tunic and roughly hauling him up. “Where in the wretched skies are the bleeding Heirs when you need ‘em?”
“Got their hands full keeping the Dead King’s Lost army in the south, they say.” Emara darted over to help Iree lift Whitebeard into the wagon, the bandages around his leg dark with blood. She sent a ripple of yanaa along his fevered skin, just enough to urge the bleeding to stop, but hopefully little enough to escape his notice. Still, the pain of the gash made her wince.
“The girl’s right,” the man muttered as they shifted him deeper into the wagon bed. “Last I heard, the younger Dragon holds Gyatus while the elder Drake trains an army in Catalede, the old Shadow protects Aquilond, and the younger one stalks the throne in Austerden, waiting for her moment to assassinate the king.”
Iree spat onto the splotchy brown cobblestones as she pushed up her sleeves, chest heaving. “So you’re saying no one’s coming to save us.” She turned to the driver, a skinny boy of maybe a dozen years. “Cart’s full. Drop ‘em at the docks and come back for another load.”
Emara frowned as she turned to the wounded again, stooping to the unconscious woman next in line and shifting her onto a fresher bed of straw. “Hard to save us when we’ve already lost.”
Carriette, a younger girl with pigtail braids and a sharp chin, scowled from further down the line where she offered a ladle of water to a soldier with a full head of bandages. “Skies above, Emara, do you have to be so negative? It could still happen! The Heirs have beaten the cannibals back before.”
“And you only mentioned the Dragon and Shadow Heirs,” the bandaged soldier said with a weak smile. “Isn’t there supposed to be a third line? An Heir of healing or some such? I could use some of that right now.”
Emara glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, her skin prickling at the mention of healing. But his attention was squarely on the water, and her shoulders relaxed just a touch.
The Heirs’ legendary abilities passed down to their firstborns, but others, like Emara, could be born with random gifts like her minor healing touch. She’d heard of those with the power to make seeds sprout, change the wind’s direction, or share a thought without speaking.
Such smaller gifts of yanaa were also said to be bestowed by Odriel, the legendary spirit-guide. However, while the Time Heir of legend could heal armies, as one of Odriel’s Blessed, Emara could scarcely heal an ugly gash without getting out of breath. But with the Rastgol and the Dead King hunting down anyone with a scrap of yanaa tingling in their fingers—Heirs and Odriel’s Blessed alike—she tried to keep her abilities hidden.
But when everyone was dying around her, that was easier said than done.
“They haven’t been seen in a decade. Definitely dead.” Iree stooped and put a hand to the chest of a pale soldier lying all too still. With a tsk, she tugged his blanket up to cover his face. “And if they aren’t, I would whip their legendary hide for holing up while we’re busting our arses trying to save this place.”
Carriette slumped. At fifteen, she was only two years younger than Emara, but this was her first battle, and she hadn’t quite let go of her childish fantasies. Her eyes still glinted with the hope of Odriel’s chosen protectors endowed with godlike powers of fire, invisibility, and healing. It wouldn’t be long before she understood though—here, there were no heroes coming to their rescue, no happy endings, and no real winners. Both sides always lost in war; one just lost more than the other.
They’d been at war almost as long as she could remember. The Rastgol armies encroached further north and east into Okarrian lands every year. The necromancing Dead King’s army of undead—the Lost—crawled over the south, and the ancient, bloodthirsty man-killers his two commanders had unleashed from their Carceroc prison hunted everywhere else.
She’d lost her mother to the undead early, then from there had followed her grandmother’s merchant tribe as they scurried from town to town, searching for pockets of safety. But there were none to be had.
Still, it did no good to dwell on it.
“But who needs the Heirs when we have the mighty Iree?” Emara called to Carriette, getting a begrudging smirk out of her.
“Oh, you hush.” Iree waved her off as she rifled through a crate of bandages and filled waterskins.
Emara smiled at the image of the burly Iree taking on one of the legendary defenders of Okarria. She didn’t envy anyone who had to face her fury, yanaa or no. “I would bet on you over an Heir any day, Iree. In fact, I—”
Emara flinched as a horn blasted from one of the spires, signaling another Rastgol attack.
The three of them exchanged a tense glance before Emara lurched into action, lifting the crate of supplies. “I’ll take these to the east spire. They’ll be needing it.”
“No, let me.” Carriette’s face hardened with determination as she grabbed it from Emara.
“Wait, I—” Emara started, but Carriette was already striding away.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get it there.” With that, she took off across the square against the flow of the crowd fleeing for the docks. Emara couldn’t help but smile. Though naïve, the girl was brave; she had to give her that.
Even from their relative safety inside the inner wall, the roar and clang of battle drifted to them on the dusty air. Although the maimed sun, ever chipped by the Dead King’s power, drew high on the fourth day of the siege, the blood-worshiping barbarians only seemed to grow stronger. They battered Faveno’s stone walls in unending waves of horror and violence. Each day, as Faveno’s defenders fell, the Rastgol’s bellowing drums grew louder, grew closer. Too close.
A pair of bony mules pulled the creaking wagon up to their camp in the middle of the square, and the skinny boy waved frantically from the driver’s bench. “This is the last trip! Load ‘em as quick as you can. The last ships are readying to sail north, and word is we’ll lose the outer wall within the hour.”
Already? Emara’s gaze flicked to the smoke curling behind the thick stone walls looming over the rooftops. “How many can you take?” She dried her hands on a stained rag, trying to measure the wagon against the rows of bodies. They’d already sent the walking wounded down to the wharf, but there were still dozens left.
Iree bent over the first in the row, a young man with his left leg missing from the knee down. Grabbing his proffered hand, she hoisted him up and helped him in. “I don’t care if we have to stack ‘em. If they fit, they’re going.”
Emara hurried over, lifting the little girl that had come in earlier with the arrow in her gut. “Hey love.” The girl’s blue eyes flicked open. “It’s okay, we’re getting you out of here.”
“Not that one, Mari,” Iree said, helping another soldier into the wagon. “I saw her this morning. We can’t waste space on lost causes.”
Emara ignored her, sending a pulse of her yanaa into the girl’s wound. The pain of it flooded back to her, and she grit her teeth, careful not to drop the girl. “It didn’t go deep. Take another look, Iree. She’ll be fine.”
Iree turned from the wagon, her gaze sliding from the girl’s face to the bandages around her middle. She lifted the bandage to peek under, and then raised a brow at Emara. “I must have misjudged. Put her in.”
Sweat gathering at her temples, Emara settled the girl in the corner of the wagon before turning to get the next. Iree bent down beside her, each grabbing an arm of a burly man. He groaned as they boosted him into the wagon bed, and Emara let her fingers linger on his wrist. She sent another pulse of yanaa into him, the rot of the infection in his leg knocking the breath from her lungs. She pushed harder, pulling it from him like a parasite. Sweat beaded on her forehead with his fever and nausea turned her stomach, but the furrows in his brow eased. Though the yanaa leached her energy, it was just as quick to return after she pulled away—all she had to do was endure.
“You need to be more careful, Mari,” Iree whispered, her gaze fierce. “There are people here that will give you to the Rastgol in a second if it means sparing their own hides.”
Iree’s counsel needled Emara’s guilty conscience, an echo of her mother’s warnings scorching through her. Though Emara tried her best to hide her gift, the sharp-eyed elder medics nearly always saw through her, but she had neither the time nor the patience to worry about it now. “We should all be careful,” she said, moving to the next patient.
They worked in silence, Emara’s hands lingering on the worst of them, until finally the cart could hold no more. Iree hopped into the front and took the reins from the boy. “Coming, Mari?”
Emara glanced at the spires again, another horn blast splitting the air. “I’ll wait for Carriette.”
A frown dug into the well-worn lines around Iree’s mouth. “It’s your choice, but if we lose the wall…” Her gaze met Emara’s, concern softening her expression. “Don’t linger.”
“Be safe, Iree,” Emara said, her hand to her chest. “And I’ll see you on a sunnier day.”
With a grim nod, Iree clicked her tongue, and the wagon rolled away, its charges dull-eyed and moaning. They were nearly packed on top of each other, but they’d almost managed to get all of their wounded aboard. The ones left here probably wouldn’t see the sunset, Rastgol or no. But perhaps she could still ease their passing.
Emara whirled at the elder medic’s familiar voice. Her gaze narrowed on his thin string of a body and receding gray curls as he limped toward her on his clubbed foot, pulling a younger man with fluttering eyelids.
“Gunther, are you okay?”
A horn bellowed from beyond the wall, followed by two more short blasts, and a bonfire crackled to life on the western spire. A chorus of wails erupted from the square as the crowds of evacuees surged toward the docks, and Emara’s heart sank. “The outer wall… It’s fallen.”
“Yes. Faveno is completely surrounded.” Sweat streaked down the wrinkles in Gunther’s swarthy countenance. “You must go now if you want to get out. The wharf is the only way.”
Emara looked over her shoulder, scanning the knots of soldiers fleeing the walls. “Did you see Carriette on the way here? She was headed for the outer wall.” Her hands immediately moved to grip the wrist of both Gunther and the man at his side. Gunther bore no wounds, but the gash above the man’s waist would need assistance. She squeezed his hand as she urged the blood to stop flowing and the skin to knit. With a gasp, she grabbed her own side, his pain becoming hers.
“Stop that, Emara. Think of yourself now,” Gunther said, grabbing her shoulder. Beside him, the man straightened, blinking with confusion. Gunther gave her a small push toward the wharf. “You must go.”
“What about Carriette? We sent her to the east spire with supplies.”
“On the outer wall?” Gunther winced. “I’m sorry, my girl. It’s too late for her now.”
Emara looked eastward to the spindly stone tower, and then to the fire that burned from the west—where the Rastgol had breached the city. “They’re not there yet. I can make it.” She snatched up her bow and quiver.
“No! There’s no time! You’ll get stuck out there.”
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak of Time’s Orphan. Advanced Review e-Copies should be ready when I get it back from the proofreader (hopefully by the end of November)! If you’re interested in one, just drop me a line here or on Twitter/Insta/Tiktok @hayleyreesechow. Time’s Orphan launches on 8 February 2023 and is available for preorder here.
Also keep an eye out for the title and blurb reveal for my YA Sci-fi TOMORROW! 😱 If you’re interested in being part of my street team to help post the reveals and spread the word, please let me know. I could definitely use all the help I can get! 😊 And of course, happy Halloween everyone!