Zelia the first novel by Zora Marie is out now.
“You know, this is the first time I’ve ever gotten you into an actual dress.”
“They’re not good for climbing,” Zelia said, turning to give Eleanor one of her mischievous grins. “So what did you want to show me?”
“Something special that you need to see.”
Eleanor took her hand and lead her through a maze of corridors, leading deeper into the stone castle. When they came to a large set of doors a guard nodded and pushed the door open for them. Orania stood at the edge of a platform staring down at the water falling beneath it. A statue of a man stood staring at the open sky above them, his hand on the hilt of his sword, and the brim of his helmet shading his eyes from the setting sun.
“Do you know what this is Zelia?” Orania asked.
Zelia shook her head, but Orania didn’t need to see to know.
“It’s a reminder of where the O’Fell family came from. Do you know the story?”
“They are descendants of Yargo, God of the Fallen Warriors. He hoped to unite the people by giving them someone they could follow. And this must be Lumid, guard of the bridge and keeper of the stars.”
Orania turned from the edge.
“That is right and you are going to release their souls to live with their ancestor, Yargo, among the stars. It is a tradition for a daughter of a fallen King to lay them to rest and since he has no daughter we have asked that you do it.”
Zelia nodded, but she still didn’t quite understand why they would ask her.
“Now, it’ll be getting dark soon. We should start gathering people outside.”
Men, women, and children had gathered on the walls and the field all around the long rows of pyres. Kion stood by her side with Orania, whatever Eleanor had done seemed to have eased Kion’s pain. Orania had just finished her long speech and excused Elizabeth for not being there, saying the grief was too much for her to bear.
Orania gave Kion a nod and he handed Zelia a torch. As soon as she took it the flame grew brighter and an updraft pulled it higher into the sky.
“I’ll be right beside you the entire time,” Kion whispered.
She started with Skalary and Skyral’s pyres, but froze as she went to light Leena’s. Kion squeezed her shoulder as if to say it’s alright and she stuck the torch into the kindling. When the fire took off she stepped back and looked up at Kion, there were tears in his eyes as the soft light of the flames lit Leena’s face.
“You can stay here Kion. I’ll finish.”
She gave a light squeeze of his hand continued down the row. With each one she lit, she glanced back at Kion; the flames had grown, but he hadn’t stepped away. With everyone entranced by the flames, she moved from pyre to pyre a little faster and circled around from one end to the other.
When she lit the last one, she threw the torch at the feet of the King as the flames of pyre already burned high in the sky. When she did, something happened that made all the crowd gasp. The flames turned blue and little orbs of light rose from the bodies of those fallen. As each one rose, the flames calmed back to their orange glow.
“Kion!” Zelia pulled him back from Leena’s pyre as a wave a heat rolled out and Leena’s soul rose from the flames.
One by one the blue orbs lifted into the stars, twinkling until they faded from view. Zelia glanced around at the mourners, what was left of families were crowded together, and those that stood alone held clasped hands over their hearts as they stared up at the stars. The crowd stood staring at the stars long after the souls had gone, but one by one people trickled away and the somber silence moved with them.
Zelia is also available from Barns & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play.