CLAIMED BY THE KING
by Lorelei Moone
Shifters of Black Isle, #1
Publication Date: July 20, 2018
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Shifters, Novella, Standalone
Abandoned by her people, a young woman was being sent to her doom.
Kelly was going to be a prisoner; a slave. At least that’s what she thought as she waited for the mysterious giants that lived on the Black Isles to claim her. A human sacrifice, once every eight years. That’s what it took to keep mankind safe from these savages.
The human would ensure the survival of his bloodline. Whether he liked it or not.
Broc’s reign as King of the Black Isles had lasted seven years already. That was a long time to go without a queen and therefore, an heir. He knew what he had to do; to claim the human offering and make her his own.
When they met, it changed everything. A glimmer of hope, even of love, in unexpected places. But life on the Black Isles was far from simple. And there were powerful secrets, yet to be uncovered, that could change everything yet again.
Claimed by the King is the first in Lorelei Moone’s brand new fantasy romance series, Shifters of Black Isle. Shifters, magic and relatable characters; set in a mysterious, distant land, where anything seems possible, and yet all its inhabitants hold dear could be destroyed in an instant.
EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT- CLAIMED BY THE KING
Once in every eight springs, a girl will be put forth by one of the coastal regions. A peace offering, a condition of the truce between the Giant Warriors of Black Isle and the men of the mainland.
- No one shall remain with the offering when the time comes.
- None shall attempt to lay eyes on or follow the giants.
- No girl shall ever come home, or her village shall feel the giants’ wrath.
By this ritual we are bound, so long as our truce may last.
My life is over.
Kelly sat down with her head in hear hands, making sure she could no longer see the eerily dancing shadows created by the candle on the kitchen table.
They never did waste much time between the lottery and the banishing.
Perhaps that’s for the best, Kelly thought. If I had a lot of time to think about this, perhaps I’d be less likely to cooperate.
Of course, she still wasn’t willing to accept her fate, no, she had other plans.
After dusk, she would be left on the shores of the Northern Sea, tied up to the strong wooden post erected solely for this purpose, until the giants claimed her.
Perhaps they wouldn’t like her. Perhaps they’d leave her behind, demanding a prettier, daintier candidate? Kelly could only hope as much. Or perhaps her ties would be loose enough to wriggle free, allowing her to run before the giants even arrived.
Ever since her mother passed when she was only eight years old, she hadn’t felt this alone in the world. Her father had betrayed her. He was meant to keep her safe, those were her mother’s last words. Keep Kelly and Ferris from harm, swear it to me.
Instead, what has happened under the watchful eye of their father? She’d been chosen in the lottery.
It’s an honor, he had said. Your sacrifice ensures the safety of our people for the next eight summers.
Kelly was to be made into a prisoner and slave, never to be seen again by her people, all of whom were just pleased none of their own daughters were chosen. She’d never got along with most of the villagers, most of whom took great pleasure in pointing out that her mother’s death was God’s punishment or other such nonsense. Kelly wasn’t lady-like enough apparently. As a child she’d played with the boys out in the field rather than stayed at home and helped with the housework. If that was sinful enough to warrant her own mother’s death, then she wanted nothing to do with such a God, or the feeble-minded people who believed in him. Of course she could have never said that aloud or they would have branded her a witch and punished her. So she had kept these thoughts to herself all these years.
And yet, she was chosen to protect those same people. Oh, the irony. She would love to see their faces when they realized that there’d be hell to pay for her upcoming escape. All those years playing with the boys would pay off. Now that she had reached a full eighteen years of age, Kelly wasn’t half as weak as most girls she’d grown up with.
A horn blew in the distance, signaling that her wait was over.
It was time.
Her father opened the kitchen door, his weather beaten face tense – the only indication so far that he even cared what happened to her. An honor. What a joke.
He’d get over the loss of his first born daughter soon enough, at least he still had a son to focus on.
Ferris would miss her the most. Three years younger than she was, he’d always looked up to his big sister with admiration rather than the disdain others had shown her. She had been there for him more like a mother than a sibling, making sure there was food to eat, clothes to wear, even toys to play with.
Their father had never realized that he had been suffering the most after their mother had passed. While father had stuck to his same old routine; heading off to the tavern after nightfall, as though nothing had ever changed, she had been there for Ferris.
Yes, Ferris would come looking for her as soon as he realized what had happened.
Father had conveniently sent him off on some merchant ship as a deckhand only weeks before the lottery. As if he’d known what would happen…
“Kelly. Our fate lies in your hands.” Her father waved her forward with an outstretched arm.
She hesitated for a moment, but took a deep breath and finally got up.
Mother, I wish you were here. Kelly swallowed hard.
“Come in,” Father called out.
A group of villagers made their way inside the cramped little kitchen. They surrounded Kelly, who had already assumed the position expected of her: her arms were crossed behind her back, ready to be tied. They wouldn’t take any chances, because in the heat of panic, many an offering had attempted to flee in the past.
Oh, Mother. Why did you have to leave me to this fate?
Kelly’s eyes stung uncomfortably, though she tried not to let it show. A cold gust of wind from outside dried her tears.
As soon as the rough ropes were tightened painfully around her wrists, it was time to head towards the shore. A long procession had already formed outside Kelly’s modest family home, which in this dimmed light looked like nothing more but a dilapidated shack.
Of the sun, already vanished behind the mountain ranges towards the west, remained nothing but a reddish glow.
Fittingly gloomy, Kelly thought.
A few wisps of clouds did nothing to conceal the full moon shining down on Kelly’s march towards her doom.
Towards the front of the procession two drummers would set the pace for everyone. Some of the villagers carried torches, deep shadows cast over their solemn faces, making it seem like they were wearing masks. These were not the features of the ordinary folk of West Hythe. Tonight, everything had changed. More change was yet to come.
Kelly lowered her head as she stepped forward, positioning herself between the butcher and the tanner, two of the strongest, most impressive men of her village. Their function was ceremonial as well as practical during this ritual: supposedly they’d ensure she was delivered to the right people, and not snatched by anyone on the way to the beach. Actually, it was more likely they were there to prevent her from bolting out of fear.
The drums started to roll, before settling into a comfortable marching pace and the procession started to move. Kelly resisted for a split second, before being hauled forward by the butcher on her right.
Fine. I’m going.
The march was short, Kelly’s house was one of the few outside the village limits nearer the shoreline, and yet in her perception it seemed to last forever. With each step, her legs felt heavier.
But soon enough, the outlines of the misty Black Isles came into view in the distance, illuminated only by moonlight. The crisp cold sea shimmered in the light, like diamonds. Not that Kelly had ever seen a real diamond before, but she’d heard it said they were even shinier than fresh ice.
A glimmer of curiosity overcame her. That’s where she was headed; if she was to believe the stories. What secrets did those dark rocks out in the Northern Sea hide? Nothing good, for sure.
The villagers surrounding her had initially seemed calm and reserved, but now on the rocky beach, their faces had become tenser, more nervous. Typical, Kelly thought, I’m the one being served up to the barbaric giants, and they’re the ones who are scared.
The butcher’s large, calloused hands seemed to be trembling slightly as he attached the rope from Kelly’s wrist to the huge iron ring on the half-eroded sacrificial post. He didn’t even meet Kelly’s gaze, which despite the incoming darkness were burning with anger and betrayal. Her earlier tears had long faded in the harsh wind. All that remained was a growing urge to fight.
She’d find a way to escape. She had to.
“Sorry, lass. May God be with ya,” he whispered, before joining the procession again, ready to retreat back to the village.
Kelly pressed her lips together. God had nothing to do with what was happening here. She watched scornfully as everyone backed away.
It was one of the rules of the ritual. No one shall remain with the offering. None shall lay eyes on the giants when they collect their prize.
Those rules were now etched into Kelly’s mind, so often had she heard the stories. Every eight years, one of the coastal villages will put forth an offering. As prescribed, none of the girls had been seen since they were left at this exact spot.
This had been going on for as long as anyone in the village – even the elders- could remember.
All those lives ruined by such an archaic and stupid ritual!
There hadn’t even been any sighting, any evidence that giants still roamed the Black Isles. None, except that the sacrificial post was always found empty the morning after an offering. Anyone could have taken those girls. Who knew what had become of them.
Kelly glared at the retreating villagers, last of whom her father, who looked back once, but then hurried on home, or more likely, towards the tavern.
Bloody cowards, the lot of them.
How convenient to have a rule that nobody was allowed to stay and watch. Who knew who these giants actually were? Whether they even existed.
The last torch flickered away over the dune surrounding the beach, and the sound of the drum faded into the distance. The ritual was over, life could go on as normal until eight years from now when another girl was to be chosen from a neighboring village.
But for Kelly, the night was far from over.
A dense fog had rolled in from the Northern Sea, covering the beach like a damp blanket. Kelly blinked a few times, but was unable to see a thing. How long had she been here for? Minutes, hours? It was impossible to tell, although dawn still seemed impossibly far away.
Mother, don’t leave me here.
Kelly’s eyelids grew too heavy to remain open.
My darling, rest. You’ll need it, a familiar voice seemed to say.
Mother! Was she dreaming already?
The regular crashing of waves had already hypnotized her. One could only be upset for so long, until it took a toll. Kelly tried her best to lift the heavy blanket of exhaustion; to stay alert. But it was hopeless. It would take a lot more than some fog to scare her awake.
ABOUT LORELEI MOONE
Lorelei Moone is an author of paranormal / fantasy romance based in London. A lover of all things sweet, and caffeinated, when she’s not writing about sexy bear shifters and their strong-willed curvaceous love interests, Lorelei can be found baking cookies or cakes for her family.