Copyright © 2008, Sue
Reviews For SKY CASTLES Book 2: RUSSETT & GOLD by Sue Perkins
“Russet and Gold caught my attention from the very first page. It reads much like a fairy tale, and I have always loved a good fairytale. Lise’s mother sends her away to protect her from her stepfather and brothers. Along her long journey to London, she meets Caplet who helps her find employment. Like all good fairytales, Lise finds true love.
Sue Perkins offers readers a delightful tale of romance. In this tale, there is a wicked stepfather and brothers, and instead of a princess, there is a duchess. The characters are well-developed and the story line enchanting. Perkins is a talented author, and I will be watching for more of her work.”
5 Stars! Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for ReviewYourBook.com
5 Stars! Fantasy, romance... “Russet and Gold caught my attention from the very first page. It reads much like a fairy tale, and I have always loved a good fairytale. Lise’s mother sends her away to protect her from her stepfather and brothers. Along her long journey to London, she meets Caplet who helps her find employment. Like all good fairytales, Lise finds true love. Sue Perkins offers readers a delightful tale of romance. In this tale, there is a wicked stepfather and brothers, and instead of a princess, there is a duchess. The characters are well-developed and the story line enchanting. Perkins is a talented author, and I will be watching for more of her work.” – Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for ReviewYourBook.com
“Russet and Gold is book two of the Sky Castles series. This is perhaps a tad misleading, as it's far more original than most ‘series’ type books are – with little dependence on the earlier tale (although it does revisit some characters very nicely.)Fantasy fans will enjoy Perkin’s ‘Sky Castle’ books, without doubt. 4 Books!” Long and Short Reviews
4.5 Enchantments! “For fans of
BLUE AND SILVER, the sequel, RUSSET AND GOLD does not disappoint. Not
only does it take the reader through a whirlwind of emotions, but it
begins where the first book leaves off, shining light on a particular
secondary character in the first book that the readers grew to love.
Ms. Perkins also delves more into the lives of the mysterious Eos, shedding
light on their abilities and vital connection to the planet where the
humans have made their home. Complete with a vile villain, unlikely
saviors, a secret destiny, and the thrill of young love, Russet and
Gold is an enjoyable read.” Aubrie
Sample Chapter For SKY CASTLES Book 2: RUSSETT & GOLD by Sue Perkins
Ellie ignored the cultured voice. The man couldn’t be talking to her. Everyone yelled when they spoke to her.
“Excuse me. Could you tell me how to find the road to the coast?”
Slowly Ellie stood and tilted her head to look at the stranger on the road outside the yard. The glossy golden coat of his nahhar dazzled her and she gasped in wonder at the beautiful, dark spiral horn pushing through the russet mane. The rider coughed politely as the nahhar shifted restlessly.
She glanced up. Dark brown eyes looked patiently at her from beneath an untidy mop of black hair. Hands, slightly darker than the nahhar’s coat, loosely held the reins. Her heart hammered nervously against her ribs and her cheeks flushed red as she tried to remember his query.
“The road to the coast?” he repeated, eyes twinkling with good humour. “I thought I knew the way, but I seem to be lost.”
Ellie self-consciously tucked a dark auburn curl under the green striped scarf she wore to keep her hair tidy while she worked. Rough palms rubbed up and down the sides of the work tabard protecting her dress. She licked her lips nervously and struggled to answer his question.
“This is the right road, Sire,” she managed to say. “Carry on for another two stones and the road merges with the coast road.”
“Capet,” the stranger commented. His mount moved restlessly, nodding its horned head up and down.
“Your pardon, Sire, I don’t understand.”
“I’m a Capet, not a Sire.”
“Sorry, Sire...I mean Capet.” She stumbled over the words, her blush rising again as she tried to rectify her mistake.
“Thank you for your help.” The Capet smiled. Nodding pleasantly, he set his heels to the nahhar’s side and trotted off down the road.
She watched until he disappeared round the nearby bend, then started piling firewood into her tabard. Her thoughts remained with the stranger. I wonder if all the nobles at the sky castle are as young and good looking.
“Ellie, where are you, girl?”
By the tone of her mother’s voice, she knew she’d stayed in the yard too long and looping her tabard around the wood she hurried into the house.
“What have you been doing girl?” her mother asked crossly as Ellie placed the wood at the side of the hearth, but the woman didn’t wait for an answer before she continued. “Here. Take this lunch out to your father and brothers.”
Reluctantly, Ellie picked up the basket and left the kitchen to make her way to the distant field where the men were planting cardo bushes. Usually, she objected to any suggestion these oafs were her blood relations. When Ellie was five years old, her real father died leaving her mother Mehrnaz penniless. She’d married Horgarth, a widowed northside farmer, believing it to be the best solution to her situation. Mehrnaz soon found she’d become drudge and bedmate to Horgarth, and skivvy to his half grown sons. In time, she produced another two boys, tying herself irrevocably to the farm. The three older males treated Ellie and Mehrnaz as slaves at their beck and call, but ignored them completely at other times.
Ellie sighed and shifted the heavy basket to the other arm. If only they had carried on ignoring her. In hindsight, she realised she’d been lucky to be a late developer, but now her breasts strained against the material of her clothes and she’d seen both stepbrothers sneaking looks at her when they thought no one was looking.
The men stopped work when Ellie entered the field and stood wiping the sweat from their brows as they waited for her to reach them. Her stepfather snatched the basket from her arm and walked towards the tall, leafy tree where he and his sons always settled to eat their lunch. Ellie turned to go, but found her way blocked by Bor, the elder of her stepbrothers.
“Not going are you, Ellie?” he asked. “Stay for a bit and keep us company.”
“I’ve got work to do back at the house, Bor,” she protested, and tried to step round him.
“Come on, Ellie.” The younger brother came up behind her and put his hand on her arm. “We only want to have a bit of fun. We could all enjoy ourselves if you’d stop being so unfriendly.”
Bor crowded in closer. Ellie could see her escape route rapidly disappearing and she tried to slip through before it closed completely.
“Stop being so daft, Ellie.” Bor’s attitude changed and he glowered at her threateningly. “You’d better start treating us nice or it’ll be the worse for you.”
His hands reached out and grabbed her upper arms. Ellie struggled, but her efforts were useless. He was far too strong for her.
“Leave her be, Bor,” Horgarth ordered, but Bor held on while he argued with his father.
“She don’t mind, Da. Ellie knows we’re only teasing her.”
“I said leave her be, boy. She’s got chores to do, now let her go.” Horgarth turned away, not bothering to see if Bor obeyed his order. Ellie knew her stepbrothers wouldn’t dare disobey their father.
Wriggling out of Bor’s grasp she hurried away, pulling her clothing straight as she headed for the house. She didn’t mention the incident to her mother. There was no point. Her complaints were always met with sighs and a reminder to stay away from her stepbrothers. Mehrnaz was afraid of Horgarth, and didn’t dare do anything to annoy him. Criticising his boys definitely annoyed him.
“Go feed the moonargs, Ellie,” the weary woman told her as soon as she returned to the house.
The warm interior of the barn embraced Ellie as she closed the double doors behind her. She loved looking after the moonargs. The simple animals asked nothing more than to be fed and milked at the appropriate times. Their antlered heads turned to her as she moved closer to their stalls and she remembered the stories her father had told her when she was tiny. Her favourite one had been about the arrival of the moonargs on Hejmen and she could hear his voice whispering softly through the cocoon of the barn.
“Our ancestors brought the moonargs with them from their home planet.” His tale began.
“The place where the sky castles came from?” the four year old asked.
“Yes, my little Lise.” Her father always used his pet name for her. “The place where we all came from. Moonargs were bred for meat and milk, but when they arrived on Hejmen, the local animals kept attacking them. Over the years, they grew antlers to protect themselves and even though the threat no longer exists, the moonargs keep their antlers, just in case.”
Ellie smiled at the memory, but her dreams were ripped apart by the harsh voice of her stepfather.
“What are you doing, girl?” Horgarth shut the barn door behind him and moved towards her. “You should be feeding the animals instead of standing there daydreaming.”
Head down, she hurriedly filled the feed bucket with grain, but when she turned round she found Horgarth standing directly behind her.
“Maybe it’s time I taught you your place, girl.” His foetid breath made her stomach churn and she wondered how her mother could endure this man’s touch.
Ellie tried edging past him, but Horgarth placed his hands on her shoulders, pressing her back against the feed bin. His lips cracked in a horrible grin and drool seeped from the corner of his mouth. Fear welled up in Ellie. As a last resort with her stepbrothers she could threaten them with their father’s wrath, but she had no such backup with Horgarth. He was master on the farm, and everyone obeyed him.
Slowly his tongue licked his lips uncovering his broken teeth. His hands dropped to her breasts and he squeezed cruelly, smiling as she winced with pain.
Oh mother, she thought. How could you have thought this man would look after you?
“Ellie.” Relief flooded through her as Mehrnaz called from the yard, and when the voice came again, she could tell her mother was heading for the barn.
Horgarth’s hands dropped to his sides and he turned away.
“You keep this between us, girl, if you know what’s good for you,” he snarled as he moved towards the barn door.
“Ellie.” Mehrnaz opened the door and almost bumped into Horgarth.
“Just been telling your girl there she’ll have to work harder if she wants me to feed and clothe her,” he said gruffly as he pushed past his wife. “Caught her daydreaming instead of doing her chores. You make sure she knows she’ll get the strap if she doesn’t pull her weight.”
He disappeared out the door and Ellie turned away from her mother to feed the moonargs. Risking a glance over her shoulder she saw Mehrnaz wasn’t looking in her direction. The older woman stood in the doorway with a strange expression on her face as she watched her husband walk away. When she turned to her daughter, her features firmed and Ellie knew her mother had made a decision about something, but she didn’t dare ask if it had anything to do with her.
* * * *
Every morning, Ellie fed the poultry and milked the moonargs, but the next day Mehrnaz kept her working in the kitchen until the men left for the fields. Once they were alone in the house, Mehrnaz pulled her daughter to the sleeping alcove and dragged the covers from Ellie’s bed.
“Pack your things.” Ellie stood staring at her mother, making no move to do as she was told. “Get on with it, girl, we haven’t got long before the boys wake up. Take only the things you really can’t do without.”
“Where are we going?”
“Not we, Ellie. You. I can’t leave my little boys, but you have to go.”
Ellie watched in confusion as Mehrnaz stripped the blanket from the bed and laid it on the floor. Quickly her mother filled it with clothes and tied the full blanket across Ellie’s shoulders before leading her back into the kitchen.
“What’s happening?” Ellie asked. “Mother, why are you sending me away?”
“Ellie, I have to.” Tears shone from Mehrnaz’s eyes. “You’re too pretty my love. The men are starting to take notice of you. You have to leave before you end up tied to this farm like I am.”
“But where will I go?” Tears pricked Ellie’s eyes, and she scrubbed her hand across them, determined not to give in to her emotions.
“Landon holds a hiring fair today. If you hurry, you should get there before it’s over. Try to get a job as a maid in one of the merchants’ houses. Even if you end up working in the kitchens, at least you’ll be better off than if you stayed here.”
If she remained on the farm, her stepbrothers would not be the only ones trying to take advantage of her.
“Here, take this.”
Mehrnaz held out a book, well worn with use.
“You keep this safe, Ellie. It belonged to your father. It’s the only thing I have left of his to give you. Keep it with you always. Remember all the things I’ve told you about behaving yourself. Talk properly and use the book to keep up with your reading; it makes you stand out from everyone else. Now get you gone. You should have a good few hours before they realise you’re not here.”
Ellie tucked the book into her pack and gave her mother a fierce hug. Mehrnaz pushed her out the door, but when Ellie turned to wave goodbye from the lane outside the farmyard, her mother had gone back inside.
Ellie’s steps were brisk, each one taking her further from the life of drudgery she had known on the farm. Life in the town would be no easier, but at least she’d get paid for working, and she’d have a chance to meet girls her own age.
She left the farm an hour after sunrise when the day moon Daith was a pink shadow in the sky. Two hours later, she passed the mileage stone and turned onto the main road to Landon. The town gradually rose in the distance and her eyes widened as she caught sight of the sky castle floating high above the ground. Ellie remembered their journey to the farm when her mother married Horgarth. The castle had looked unkempt, with a tilt slightly off its true level. Now the sunlight glinted off the surface making it look like a sparkling jewel in the bright blue sky.
Hearing the sound of hoofbeats behind her, she moved to one side of the road to allow the rider to pass. To her surprise, he stopped and she looked up at the same young man who had asked directions the day before.
“Are you heading for Landon?” he asked with a smile.
“Yes, Sire—I mean Capet.” Ellie ducked her head to hide her confusion.
“So am I. Can I offer you a ride on Vassar?”
She glanced up, looking for Vassar, before realizing he was talking about the golden nahhar.
“Thank you, but no,” she replied. “I haven’t far to go now.”
“Then I’ll walk with you.” He dismounted and, taking the reins in his hand, stepped out beside her.
Ellie had thought his offer a mere courtesy and she’d expected the noble to ride on. She was acutely aware of him as he walked beside her. He smelt clean and fresh, not like her stepbrothers who always had a stale odour of sweat hanging off their bodies. She wasn’t sure whether to speak or remain silent but he solved the problem for her by chatting casually about all manner of things.
“I’m really grateful for your directions yesterday. I was completely lost by the time I got to your farm. Are you going to the market today?”
“I’m going to the hiring fair, sir,” she replied respectfully.
“Did you lose your job at the farm? I hope it wasn’t because you stopped working to help me.” The young man’s brows puckered with concern.
“The farm belongs to my stepfather and mother felt it was time I set out on my own.”
He made no comment and Ellie sneaked a look at him. His lips had thinned and the expression in his eyes was thoughtful. She glanced down at his amber coloured tunic and with the Horak bird emblem embroidered on the breast. She couldn’t resist another look at his face and saw a soft expression had replaced the previous hard look.
“So what type of work can you do? Apart from farm work that is.”
“I can do housework and cooking. My mother is a good cook and she taught me to be one too.”
“Nothing really, except looking after the little ones. My two little half brothers,” she hurriedly explained when he frowned at her words. “Mother is always busy so I usually take care of them.”
“Then you could hire out as a nurserymaid.” He looked at her intently and Ellie felt frightened, but he put his hand on her arm and smiled. “Don’t worry, I know someone who’s looking for a reliable nurserymaid to help with new-born twins. She’d probably consider you if I recommended you.”
“Excuse me, sir, if I’m being rude, but why would you help me? You don’t even know my name, so why would you recommend me to your friend?”
“Good point. Perhaps we should introduce ourselves. My name is Sard, Capet Sard of Rak. I’m attached to the court of Duke Ailan of Lan. And you are?”
Ellie felt so flustered she didn’t know how to reply. When she eventually formed the words they came out in a stammer.
“Ell-Ellie. My name is Ellie, short for Elisette.”
Now why did I give him my real name? I don’t know why, but I trust this man enough to tell him things I wouldn’t normally share with a stranger.
“Ellie. That’s not the right name for you. It’s far too harsh.” Sard frowned slightly then his face cleared. “Elisette is too long, I’ll call you Lise.”
She gasped! He’d picked her father’s pet name for her.
Conversation lagged when they reached the outer limits of Landon and the Capet led her towards the marketplace. Ellie—no, she must remember she was Lise now—stared around with interest as they walked through the busy streets. The marketplace spread out over the centre of town, but in the distance she could see the twinkling blue of the sea.
“There’s the hiring platform.” Lise glanced in the direction Sard was pointing.
The people on the nearby raised wooden dais looked resigned to the fact of selling themselves. Some had obviously tried to bring some semblance of order to their ragged clothes. Lise stood tall. Her clothes might be well worn, but they were clean and tidy.
She looked again and shivered. Would she really have to stand up there offering herself for sale? The people looking for servants did not look kind and she realised she could be going from the possibility of her stepfather’s abuse to danger of a different kind. At least on the farm her mother tried to protect her, but once employed by any of these people she would be at their mercy.
“Come with me.” The Capet took her hand and dragged her through the crowd, forcing people to move out of his way.
“Sard, over here.”
He changed course and headed towards a well dressed lady with a servant standing behind her.
“Milady.” Capet Sard bowed deeply in front of the woman, then grinned at her. “I didn’t realise you were coming downside today. If I’d known I would have been here to escort you.”
“I’m not helpless you know.” The woman smiled to take the sting out of her words. “I came down for the hiring fair. Keva needs help now we have three children so I wanted to get a nurserymaid to help her.”
“Have you had any luck?”
“No. Most of the women are kitchen drudges. Nobody has any experience with babies.” The woman sighed. “I must find someone soon. Keva can’t carry on without help for much longer.”
“I think I have the answer, Milady. May I present Lise? She’s good at housework, experienced with babies and young children. And she’s looking for a job.”
Lise squirmed as the woman looked her over. She’ll want me to open my mouth next so she can examine my teeth.
“You’re very young. How did you gain this experience?”
“I worked on my stepfather’s farm and helped my mother take care of the house and farmyard,” Lise said quietly. “After my two little brothers were born I took care of them as Mother had a lot of other work to do.”
“When you speak to the Duchess you must say ‘Milady’,” the woman servant cautioned, but not unkindly.
Duchess! This can’t be Duchess Caishel of Lan! Lise’s face flushed with embarrassment as she sank into a curtsy. Why didn’t the Capet warn me? The ruler of Lan won’t want a farm girl to look after her children.
“How old are your brothers, Lise?”
A light touch on her arm brought Lise to her feet and she found herself looking directly into the blue eyes of the Duchess. She saw warmth and friendliness. Deep inside, she felt a longing to be accepted by this unusual woman.
“Four years and two years, Milady.”
“I have a three year old son and four month old twins, a boy and a girl. My nanny needs help to look after them. I’d like to offer you the position of nurserymaid. You’d live in the castle.” The Duchess waved a hand at the huge estate floating high in the sky. “I’d give you a three month trial. If we find we don’t suit one another, I’d help you find another job. How does that sound?”
Lise stared at the Duchess, her throat blocked with such a strong feeling of emotion she found herself unable to speak. She nodded instead.
“Good. I shall leave Sard to bring you up to the castle and make sure you get settled in.” The Duchess turned to the young man. “I think you’d better take the transport. My groom will take Vassar back for you. Introduce Lise to Keva and don’t forget to tell her I hired her personally. Tell Keva to start Lise on her nurserymaid duties tomorrow, but to make sure she’s given a uniform and other necessary clothes. Goodbye for now, my dear.” The words were accompanied by a warm smile. “I’ll see you in the nursery tomorrow.”
Lise stood dumbfounded as the Duchess turned and walked away through the marketplace. She was still surprised at the speed of her change in circumstances. She’d gone from an unemployed farm girl to nurserymaid of the Duke and Duchess of Lan’s children, and she’d only left the farm a few hours ago. A man came hurrying through the crowd and stopped in front of Capet Sard. With a few words Sard handed over the reins of the nahhar then turned to her as the man led the animal away.
“Shall we go?” He held his arm out to her, but she blushed and refused his offer.
“Please, sir, it isn’t right. I’m not a lady like the Duchess.”
“Lise, you can be whatever you want to be.” He waited, but when it became obvious she wasn’t going to accept his offer, he sighed and withdrew his arm. “Shall we go up to the castle?”
Meekly, she followed him as he wove
his way through the crowded marketplace.
Sard led the way through the main hall of the skyport to where transports waited on the landing apron. She gasped, then held her breath as a freight transport coming in to land hurled itself at the ground. At the last minute the vessel levelled out and settled down gently, but it took Lise’s heart several moments to stop pounding with fright.
“Stupid idiot.” She heard Sard mutter, before he led her towards a transport standing with its doors wide open.
Nervously, Lise followed him. Her earliest memories were of her father telling her stories, then his disappearance and the resulting grief of her mother. All memories from then onward had been unpleasant and involved the farm and Horgarth. She hadn’t left the farm since she was six years old. Landon seemed strange and frightening and now even the comfort of solid earth was to be taken from her.
Sard stood to one side, waiting for her to take a window seat before he settled next to her. Lise clenched her hands nervously as the transport lifted off with a jerk, banked and sped into the blue sky. Cautiously, ready to glance back immediately to her lap, Lise let her eyes turn to the window. Maybe flying wasn’t so bad; nearly all of Landon spread out below them. The clouds in the sky reminded her of the fluffy bolls growing on the cardo bushes in Horgarth’s fields. The transport banked again and Lise’s eyes opened wide as she caught her first sight of the castle.
The Castle of Lan floated in supreme majesty in the sky, its walls and turrets straining upwards, while verdant grounds surrounded stonework like the skirts of a noble lady. On top of the tallest tower, she could see the blue and silver dragon pennant of the House of Lan.
Looking at the regions below the castle grounds, she nodded to herself. She’d found out early in life that all beautiful things had a sordid side and this was no different. The lower regions were full of ugly box structures, pipes and steaming vents and huge hangers gaping at the outer edges.
Their transport headed for one of the hangers and the upper castle and grounds were lost to view. They docked in one of the boxlike areas with a jolt. Courteously, Sard took her elbow and led her onto the docking bay.
“Doesn’t look like much does it?” Sard commented as Lise looked around. “This is the working part of the castle; you’ll find the upper regions are completely different. You won’t have to come down here very often as your job will be to take care of the children.”
Sard led her through the docking level to a recess in the far wall, where he stood back for her to enter first.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Lise frowned at the recess. “What’s the point in entering such a small space?”
“This is a dropchute,” Sard explained. “It will take us to the upper levels. Here hold my hand; it can be a bit unnerving if you’ve never used one before.”
Shyly she reached out. Her fingers touched his and she jumped nervously as he caught her hand and led the way forward.
“Nursery level,” Sard stated to the empty space.
She jumped with fright as their bodies rushed upwards, and when they stepped out of the drop chute, they were at a different level. Lise blinked in surprise at the change of scenery, totally unaware Sard still held her hand.
The lower level had been utilitarian, but the corridors stretching in front of her were lit by glow globes which illuminated the rich tapestries hanging on the wall.
Sard led her forward and she felt the warmth of heat globes drift across her ankles and wondered if she was dreaming. Heat and light on the farm could only be found at the cooking hearth and the men of the family usually appropriated this area.
“Here’s the nursery.” The Capet opened a door near the end of the corridor and let go of her hand to usher her inside.
On the opposite side of the room, a middle aged woman bent over a low bed where a little boy slept. Further along the wall were two identical cribs and although she couldn’t see the occupants, two small bumps under the covers indicated the twin babies were sleeping.
“Keva, this is Lise, the new nurserymaid.”
The woman straightened and crossed the room towards them. Lise squirmed inside. Keva’s sharp eyes were analysing everything about her.
“Hired by the Duchess?” the woman asked.
“Of course.” Sard grinned. “Milady said to tell you Lise is to begin her duties tomorrow, but you are to make sure she gets her uniform today.”
“What experience do you have?” Keva asked, pinning Lise with a look. “How many children have you looked after before?”
“I’ve looked after my two little brothers since they were born.” Lise’s voice faltered under the gimlet gaze of the older woman.
“And you think this makes you experienced enough to look after the heirs to the Duke of Lan?”
“Then why did you apply for this job?”
“She didn’t apply,” Sard interrupted before Lise could reply. “I asked the Duchess to consider her.”
“I see.” For a moment Keva’s eyes looked troubled, and then she shrugged. “If the Duchess thinks you’ll do, then we’d best give you a try.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Lise bobbed a quick curtsy.
“Good gracious, child, you don’t curtsy to me. You keep that for the Duke and Duchess.” Keva turned to look at Sard. “Are you still here?”
“I’m going right now.” Sard held his hands up in mock defence, then turned to Lise. “I’ll leave you in Keva’s capable hands.”