I am not very good at whittling down my writing to dos, for every one story I complete I seem to add three more. I've been briefly sidetracked working on a side story for The High King's Golden Tongue. It's about Lesto, who is significantly more prominent in the rewrite than he was in the original.
After that, it's back to my to do list and sticking firmly to it because I really want to finish certain stories and am tired o getting waylaid.
The first story I'll be finished, which right now is just shy of being half done, is The Painted Crown, book two (of three) of the trilogy that The Engineered Throne decided to become, since I couldn't do Bertin's story until I took care of something else first. TPC is about Prince Istari, former general, ex-sniper, and current hostage of Tallideth :3 I don't think I've posted any of this yet? But if I'm wrong yell at me. First 3000 words, apologies for any errors, it's still very much a WIP.
I hope everyone has a lovely week ^__^
Istari sat in the hanging garden, bored to the point of madness. It was a beautiful, breath-stopping garden, something worthy of the Temple of the Sisters back home. The kind of garden he would pay a fortune to be permitted to use for his wedding. The flowers hung down in waterfalls of vibrant petals in a wide range of colors, mingling with dark and bright greens of the leaves and vines. Sweet, fruity scents filled the air, and insects added a low, pleasant hum to the muted rush of the river. If he could capture it in ink and paint, he would do it in a moment. Instead he could only sit and mope.
You will be treated as a guest. Istari had learned the hard way that 'guest' really meant 'ghost'. Or perhaps 'vermin'.
The first time they'd invited him to dinner, he'd expected awkwardness, even hostility. They'd been less harsh after hearing his explanations about his father's despicable behavior and how he'd kept what he was doing from everyone, but that didn't meant they liked him any better. That was certainly fair enough, and he was accustomed to negotiating difficult waters. Nothing was more strenuous or fraught with peril than dining with his father, who hated Istari with every thread of his soul.
So he had dreaded dinner, but doing nothing would only accomplish the same.
By the sixth attempt, however, he had conceded defeat. They did not want him at dinner, they did not want him in the palace, even if they were the ones who had chained him there. Even Vellem, whom he knew through the army, acted like they'd never sat around campfire sharing contraband brandy and mourning fallen comrades. If they ever contrived a way to dump his body in the river without drawing suspicion he had ever faith they would. By Antora, he was tired of being thrown into the Depths and left to rot.
He pushed back the sleeves on his right arm, brushed his fingers over the tattoo there: a delicate crescent moon in dark blue ink representing Antora. It was nestled amongst the green and light blue thistles of Trua, Goddess of Art. His patron gods, though technically Losara was patron of the royal family. Istari had never resonated with the Sun God. Antora, the Compassionate Moon, and Trua, Goddess of a Thousand Thousand Colors, called to him far more.
His left forearm had a tattoo as well: three black arrows, arranged diagonally in a row with the points out and down, and the red sword of Jakkos, God of War, running down the middle of them, the hilt even with the bottom arrow. It was the symbol of Kathos, son of Jakkos and the God of Marksmen, patron god of the sharpshooters.
Istari pulled his sleeves back down and sighed, staring glumly at the beautiful flowers that surrounded him, willing them to provide him with something. Anything.
He did not begrudge Perdith and Vellem their hostility. He was grateful he was not locked in chains in a dank cell somewhere. But he did not want to spend the next six years of his life being idle and useless.
Five years, nine months, three days, to be precise. He was supposed to be getting married in a few months, finally resigning his commission and trading his uniform for a dinner jacket. He should be focusing on Belemere politics and anticipating his first child. Finally live a life that did not entail endless slaughter and death breathing heavily on the back of his neck.
But he supposed all the people his father had allowed to be needlessly slaughtered would have liked to do all of those things as well.
Thinking of the destruction wrought upon Tallideth stirred memories he preferred to keep buried. Two months had passed without a nightmare, without jerking awake with a scream in his throat, sweat soaking his skin, old wounds aching with memory. He would like to break his record of four months, go for five and see if that's when life started to feel normal again. If he would be able to recognize normal.
At least he had some idea. Reaching beneath his jacket, he pulled out the locket that he almost never removed. Engaged for two years, and lovers for three before that. A proxy marriage was not what he wanted, but he did not see the sense in Flora waiting six years for him to return. She could marry him by proxy and move forward with their plans, with her own ambitions, and be the finest homecoming he could ever hope to have.
Smiling, he ran his thumb over the locket. It was silver, round, engraved with the sister moons on the front and a wreath of thistles and night roses on the back. He opened it, gently touched the small lock of hair tied with a bit of ribbon. She had given him the locket, complete with hair, on their fifth encounter when they had decided to confine themselves to each other. He'd given her a painting of the place where they'd met, had been happy to see she'd hung it in her office where everyone could see it.
He had spent a month painting a miniature of her into the locket. Every year he stripped it and painted a new one. His smile widened as he stared at it, let the lock of bright, red-gold hair curl around his finger. Missing her left a deep, cutting ache in his chest. Left him feeling hollowed out. Everything would be so much more bearable if she were with him. Flora would know how to get through six years of isolation and loneliness. She would probably charm half the palace in a month, and the second half in three.
Swallowing against the lump suddenly lodged in his throat, he tucked the locket away again. Maybe he would write another letter later that evening. It wasn't like he had anything else to do; his only forms of amusement were books and the odd walk in the gardens when he was reasonably certain he would not be bothering anyone else. If he thought asking for painting supplies would accomplish anything, he might try it, even if he preferred to keep his silly hobby to himself.
Perhaps he'd ask anyway. The worst they'd say was no. He'd heard worse in his life.
The sharp rap of shoes on stone drew him from his brooding. Istari looked up and watched the footman approaching him. The footman bowed as he reached Istari, then said, "Your Highness, the High Minister requests you come to his offices to claim the items that have arrived for you from Belemere.
Something had arrived for him? Had Flora or Morrin sent him gifts? That was not really like either of them, but his circumstances were unusual… maybe they'd sent him painting supplies. "I'll come at once, thank you."
"Highness." The footman bowed again, then swept away as briskly as he had arrived.
Istari braced himself, set his jaw, then slowly rose to his feet. Pain flared at his side as always, and his right leg wanted to be especially stiff that day, but it all settled back down to bearable levels as he walked. At least six years of house arrest meant he was unlikely to go back to war, and hopefully it would result in an end to all the warring. He was tired of war. Everyone was tired of war.
He reached into his jacket, pulled out his pillbox and dry swallowed two of the small, bitter yellow pills that helped keep his pain manageable. What he would do when he ran out, he did not know. Probably best to learn to live without them, he supposed.
A problem for another day.
Leaving behind the cool, sweet air of the hanging garden, he stepped into the wood-and-velvet air of the royal palace and turned right to head toward the section of the palace where the royal offices were located. Going by way of the galleries took longer, but there was rarely anyone there and so it made for a more peaceful walk.
He glanced at the paintings as he walked. He already knew them well after three months of little else to do, but the Lemenso landscapes especially were worthy—
Something crashed into him, sending bolts of slicing pain jolting through his body, but Istari ignored it in favor of the small, thin, trembling figure in his arms. Resting his hands on the young man's shoulders, Istari asked, "Are you all right, there?"
The man tensed, probably realizing who Istari was. He barely reached Istari's chin, and Istari was not of remarkable height. He looked up, and Istari frowned at the tears staining his cheeks, still wet on his lashes, clouding a truly stunning pair of bright, blue-green eyes. The man was handsome—young, at least ten years younger than Istari if he had to guess, but distractingly handsome. His skin was darker than Istari's, but light enough to see the freckles that generously smattered it. His hair was short, like he'd only just started growing it out again, soft looking and already showing hints of its tight, small curls.
"B-beg p-pardon, Hi-hi-Highness. I didn't m-mean—"
Istari squeezed his shoulders. "It's quite all right. What is the cause of your distress, if you are comfortable sharing."
The man pulled away, drew out a handkerchief and wiped his tears and nose. "Nothing to trouble you, Highness. Please, I will cease—"
Istari let go of his shoulders and took his arm, guided him to one of the many benches that lined the center of the gallery. Sitting beside him, Istari said, "Now, obviously you are under no obligation to speak with me. I'm at best a stranger, at worst an enemy." His mouth twisted in a crooked smile. "But you do look as though you need an ear and I am happy to lend mine. What is your name?"
"Teverem Dorias. Um. I suppose it's Lord Dorias now. I'm… not used to it."
"No, I suppose you wouldn't be," Istari said softly. Dorias was an old Tallideth title that held a large swath of land along the Dethmane border. The Earls of Kormandane had been around nearly as long as the royal family. He'd met the previous Earl, Teverem's father. The man had been approaching seventy and had decided old age meant he could be as unpleasant as he like. His eldest son, of three if Istari recalled correctly, should have taken up the title. If Teverem had done so, both of his brothers must be dead. Damn his father to the Depths. "I am sorry for your loss, as inadequate as I know those words to be."
Teverem shook his head. "No, the words are appreciated, Highness. Thank you. And for troubling yourself with me."
"It is no trouble. What has you upset?"
"Being a lord. Stupid, right? But my brothers did all of this. I just took care of the house and the children."
Shards of glass dropped into Istari's stomach. "Children?"
"My nieces and nephew, the children of my eldest brother and sister-in-law. They have a nurse, of course, but I tutored them and spent the most time with them. The nurse was only there to take over when I had to leave, and to look after them in the evening. They've been most distraught, obviously."
Istari took hold of his hand, squeezed it. "You sound overwhelmed. I have found when that happens that it helps to list everything out, and sort it into priorities. What are your three biggest problems?"
Teverem blew out a breath. "The children. The estate. Learning my new role."
"Are the children here?"
"Yes. I wanted to leave them at home, but the idea terrified them to the point I had no choice but to bring them along. I can hardly blame them."
Istari nodded. "So we must free up your time to spend with the children, since they are the most important. Who is running the estate in your place?"
"The groundskeeper and the housekeeper. It mostly runs itself but I know I should be supervising directly."
"No, you just need to hire a trustworthy person to oversee it for you—and make it well worth their while to be trustworthy. Put a notice in the papers that you need a Steward. As to learning your new role … I have found a good general rule to be: Be polite, be reserved, be brief. When even that is too much to manage, pick a quiet corner and look at everyone like they are the greatest of disappointments. Obey royalty, tolerate those above you, ignore or indulge those below you, and always be courteous to staff and tradesmen. A loyal servant is worth ten kings. The finer points you will learn with time."
Teverem stared at him, blue-green eyes wide, red-rimmed with tears. He ducked his head. "Thank you, Highness. You've been most kind—kinder than anyone here. I am in your debt, and eternally grateful for your advice."
"No need of that, and I would wait to see if it works first," Istari said wryly. "But I am glad I could help. I know—" He broke off as the galley filled with chiming. "Depths, I am meant to be meeting with Lord de Reis. Forgive me, but I must go. Moons watch over you." He squeezed Teverem's shoulder, then rose and walked off, not waiting for Teverem's reply.
He walked quickly through the halls. A servant bowed when he saw Istari, and slipped into the office to announce him. The servant reappeared a moment later and bowed him in.
"There you are," Koit said, looking up from the papers he was reading. "I was wondering where you had gone."
"Apologies, your grace. I was unexpectedly delayed."
"Delayed by what?"
"Someone who seemed troubled," Istari said.
Koit's mouth tightened. "I doubt there is anything you can do to ease the troubles burdening everyone. You'd do best to leave everyone alone and you well know it." He jerked his head toward the far right corner of the office. "Trunks have arrived for you. They've already been inspected, so you are free to take them to your chambers."
"Thank you, your grace." At least Koit wasn't reading his mail anymore.
Istari knelt by the trunks and pulled the keys from hidden compartments at the back. He opened the first, slightly larger, trunk. Frowned. It was filled with all the belongings he had left at Flora's home, the place they'd taken to calling their country home. He'd proposed to her there, on a summer evening, with glowbugs all around them and the air redolent with the scent of lavender and honeysuckle. He'd spent most of the night suffering the effects of a spider bite, but the proposal had gone well before he'd been felled. She'd giggled at him the whole night, between rattling off wedding ideas and keeping a cool cloth on his fevered head.
Was something wrong? He had said he required nothing that he'd left there… maybe she'd decided to send it all anyway. He dug gingerly through the lot, finally found a letter where it had slipped down between two books. Breaking the seal, he unfolded the letter and read.
Then read it again, chest so tight and full of sharp, hot needles he could scarcely breathe. It had to be a mistake.
It is with a heavy heart I write this letter. I will go straight to the point: I am calling off the marriage and severing our relationship. Waiting as long as I have has been hard enough. I cannot bring myself to wait another six years to see you and begin our life together. I must, at some point, see to my own needs. This decision does not bring me joy. I had been looking forward to our life together. But I feel this is the best decision for me.
I've returned all your belongings that I still retained. I do hope that you are doing well, despite your unhappy circumstances. I wish you the Moons' favor in all future endeavors.
Years of training alone enable him to neatly refold the letter and tuck it away in his jacket. He opened the second trunk, which was filled with art supplies. They failed to improve his blackened mood. A brief note from his brother accompanied them. Wasn't sure they'd be willing to supply you and I know you must be missing it. ~M
Istari opened the office door and requested the servant there to have footmen brought to take the trunks to his room. Bracing himself for the argument he knew was coming, he turned to Koit and said, "Your Grace, I need to send an urgent letter regarding a personal matter."
"You will have to explain the matter in detail."
"Personal," Istari repeated. "Extremely. I would prefer to keep my private business to myself. I promise it is no threat. I should think in the past three months I have proven—"
"You have proven nothing," Koit cut in. "The rules have been lightened, Highness, but they've not lightened that much. You will have to explain the matter to me, or I will have to resume reading your correspondence."
Istari bit back futile frustration. "Fine. My fiancée has decided that a six year absence is too much for her and has severed our relationship. I would like to write to her on the matter."
Koit looked up sharply, hand stuttering to a halt where he had been writing out a letter of his own. Something like dismay flickered across his face. "Highness—"
"May I write the damned letter?" Istari demanded.
"Yes, of course," Koit replied. "I—"
Istari turned on his heel and strode from the office. If Koit wanted to punish him for being rude, so be it. He truly did not care right then if he was clapped in manacles and thrown into a dank cell.