Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ficbit - The Imperial Dame (High King)

Sarrica stared at the list he'd found buried in the bottom of Allen's desk. Allen might be able to hide his every thought from the High Court and every foreign dignitary to step foot in Harken, but after nearly ruining their relationship before it could begin, Sarrica wasn't as easy to fool. Allen had been brooding over something for the past few weeks, frustratingly elusive whenever Sarrica asked what was wrong—and while he vastly preferred to pin Allen down, literally if necessary, and extract the information once and for all…

Well, sometimes it was easier to resort to less direct methods. Like waiting until Allen was locked in an hours' long meeting then ordering everyone out of the office so he could snoop.

He hadn't expected a list of names. Innocuous enough on the surface, but something about them nagged. It wasn't until he remembered Lady Tanna had been a friend of Nyle's that the pieces had fallen into place.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Excerpt - Quest of Fools

Warf had never been the type to cry, not really. It wasn't that he though he shouldn't cry, only that he couldn't. Crying had never helped anything, and over the years he'd simply stopped doing it.

Until the night his wife had died, taken by an illness no one survived. He'd smiled and sung lullabies and talked about the children and kept her smiling until she simply wasn't there anymore. Then he'd held her body close and sobbed his eyes out, until they were so red and raw he couldn't keep them open. When he was done he'd cleaned his face and gone to tell his children their mother was dead and kept his eyes dry while they cried.

That was a little more than two years ago. He hadn't cried once since, not even at her funeral. By then, he'd been too wrung out by the grief, and too terrified of the future.

But he definitely cried now as his name rang out across the pavilion and people screamed and cheered and whistled for him. As the crier announced that he was a champion of the tournament and would be marrying Lord Marian, second son of the Earl of Bellowen.

He cried because he would never again have to worry about his children going hungry. Because his beautiful wife, Fates grant her a glorious new life, could rest in peace knowing her children would be well. Because he would be able to give then proper schooling, good futures, would never have to worry they might end up on the streets, whoring or begging or dead.

Warf swallowed and wiped away his tears as a small, beautiful, elegant man climbed the stage and approached him. Lord Marian was so short, Wart felt like a lumbering giant. His hair was unfashionably short, but just long enough to show the red-gold color of it, with gold-toned brown skin, small elegant features. There was a smudge of what might have been ink on the left side of his jaw, like he'd rested his fingers there briefly while pondering something. Warf felt huge and looming and ugly beside him, but there was nothing he could do about that. Hopefully Marian wouldn't be completely repulsed by him—or at least would be polite about it, and not punish his children for their father's failings.

"It's an honor to meet you," Marian said softly, taking both of Warf's hands—his big, calloused, scarred, overworked and knobly hands—in his small, soft beautiful ones, and then they were led from the stage so the tournament could continue on to those who would be marrying into the duchies. "I hope we will get on well together." His smile seemed sincere, but did not quite banish the sadness that shadowed his pale blue eyes. What made him look so sad?

But it was not a question Warf could ask then, if ever, so he only smiled shyly in return, heart pounding in his ears and throat as he said, "I hope so, too, my lord."

Marian scoffed. "I am your tourney prize, and we're to be married, no need of formality. My name is Marian, and I would be honored to have you call me so." That sweet, sad smile again, this time with a hint of shyness that Warf never would have expected from such a beautiful, seemingly confident man. "I have a minor gift for you." He laughed, more of that shyness coming forward. "Well, I have many gifts, actually, but the majority of them are for your children. This one is for you." He pulled a small velvet box from a pocket of his jacket and presented it.

Warf hated that his hands trembled slightly as he took the box and opened it—and he nearly started crying again to see the beautiful ring inside. It was a simple thing, of gleaming gold and three small stones, two slightly smaller than the one in the middle, but achingly lovely. Far too fine for his fat, ugly fingers. The stones were the color of an early spring sky, or a robin's egg he'd seen once on a rare trip out of the city as a boy, before his parents died and everything went so wrong. Warf swallowed. "It's stunning. What—what are the stones? I'm ashamed I don't know."

"Why be ashamed? I doubt the fancy jeweler who made this knows even half the things you know, and I didn't know what it was until I went in a jewelry shop for the first time. It's called blue topaz; they represent love and affection. I do not presume, but… well, several of my ancestors come from the tournament, and it's an honor to be able to continue the tradition. I would like us to be happy together, and help my family and the kingdom." He frowned at where Warf still held the ring. "Does it fit?"

Warf fumbled with the delicate little ring, bracing for the moment when it wouldn't fit—but it slid on perfectly, resting on his finger like it had been made just for him. And it didn't look stupid or out of place the way he'd feared it would. He looked up and smiled. "Thank you. I wish I had a suitable gift to match."

Marian scoffed and moved to stand beside Warf, looping his arm through Warf's and shyly smiling again. "I am hoping we will all five of us be a family. What could possibly be better than that? Certainly not a trifling ring."

If the man was, for reasons beyond Warf's comprehension, seeking to win his approval and affection, putting his children first and showing such a sincere-seeming interest in them was the best possible way to go about it. "They are beyond excited, my—" Warf stopped, shook his head. "I cannot imagine they will do anything but adore you. And your house, and food, and whatever toys that can wheedle out of you." He winked.

Laughing, Marian tugged lightly on his arm. "Come, shall we go find a meal somewhere and get to know one another? There's to be a grand banquet once the royal champion is declared, but for now we are left to our own devices."

"I wouldn't mind food, though I should let the children know I've won. They wanted to come, but it's too crowded and there was no one to keep an eye on them."

"Then we shall go at once so you can tell them the good news. I made certain rooms were prepared should you want to move into my home tonight."

Warf stumbled to a stop, stared at him. "That is… exceedingly generous of you. I feel you are ten steps ahead of me on this matter."

That beautiful face flushed. "I admit I have been looking forward to whatever the tournament brought me. I am not my father and brother, with days largely spent in leisure, or my sister, who loves to make the social rounds and gives lectures at the academy from time to time. But we can discuss all this at dinner, come. Where do you live?"

"East End, Fisher Street." He and Rath were always commiserating on how much fun it wasn't to live on streets that came with such terrible smells. But neither of them could afford the nicer streets on the West End. He was lucky he'd been able to find anything at all that could accommodate him, three children, and still be affordable.

He and Leana had been saving to buy a proper home, but after her death that dream had swiftly vanished.

"It doesn't smell great," he warned.

Marian made that scoffing noise again. "I assure you, I've smelled Fisher Street—and worse. I travel all over the kingdom acquiring works of art. Let me assure you that nothing strips a man of his arrogance and superiority like tumbling off his horse, rolling down a hill, and coming to a stop in a pig pen. I smelled like Fates alone know what, and I swear I couldn't get rid of the stench for two weeks." He winked, and Warf laughed, hope and wary happiness curling through him like the first rush of standing in front of a fire after a cold day.

Maybe, just maybe, this would work after all. Maybe he could dare to believe in this opportunity, this chance for a new life he'd fairly won.

He smiled briefly, thinking of Rath, one of his oldest and dearest friends for all they did not often cross paths anymore.

They were stopped several times on their way out of the tournament grounds, but Warf found it hard to complain about being the center of so much happy attention. Still, he wasn't sorry when they were finally alone, walking back to the city at a leisurely pace. Marian's arm still rested comfortably curled through his, stirring an old ache; the last time someone had walked with him so had been his wife. Leana had been more like Warf: big, loud, rough-hewn and street-hardened. She could knock a man flat with one swing, drink everyone they knew under the table, and be up the next morning singing hymns while she kneaded dough for the week's bread and got breakfast on the table.

"You seem pensive. I bet all of this is a bit much to take in," Marian said, then blanched. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I simply mean, life is probably changing significantly for you—oh, never mind, I sound terrible no matter how I try to say it."

Warf laughed, loud and long. "You're not wrong. I work the docks. My greatest skill is moving barrels of ale. I—" He looked away, shame flooding him. "I can't even read. I can write my name, but only because my late wife taught me that much." He took a deep breath and let it out on a sigh. "I hope all this means my children will do far better than I did."

"You're the one who has ensured they will; I would say you're doing the best any parent can," Marian said. "I have a lot to learn from you on that point. The most I take care of is a couple of falcons, which I suspect is a far cry from raising children." He winked, and Warf's shamed eased enough he could smile again.

Excerpt - The Toymaker's Hoard

Cadmus was putting the finishing touches on a music box when the silence in the shop was broken by the silvery tinkling of the bell above the shop door. That was odd. He had no appointments today. Maybe someone was lost or hadn't noticed the 'by appointment only' sign on the door. Would hardly be the first time. Setting down his tools and jeweler's loupe, he picked up his gloves and pulled them on as he stepped through the curtained off doorway that divided the front of the shop from the backrooms.

A young woman stood staring in rapt fascination at his display pieces, so enthralled with them Cadmus flushed with pleasure. Nothing was more gratifying than seeing his work so openly admired.

She appeared to be alone, which was odd, because by her costly clothes she was nobility and young, wealthy women did not go anywhere without an escort. She was dressed in an elegant green walking dress, the bustle decorated with ribbons and lace enough to resemble a frothy waterfall made of silk. Her beautiful curls were barely restrained by a matching ribbon, and a handsome black and green hat was perched on her head, a matching parasol clutched in one hand.

"May I help you, my lady?"

The woman turned, smiling brightly, her eyes as green as her dress, skin dark brown and flawless, set off handsomely by gold and emerald jewelry. "Good afternoon, sir. I am sorry to intrude, but I did come intending to commission a piece and can certainly make an appointment for another day. I was simply so excited once I thought of the idea that I could not bear to wait to act upon it."

Cadmus chuckled and motioned her to the table on the far side of the room, then went to make a quick pot of tea. He set it on the table with a box of biscuits from the fancy bakery at the end of the lane. "You chose a good day to come, my lady. I have no appointment today so have plenty of time to speak with you. What is it you are seeking that had you so eager to see me immediately, Miss…?"

"Imperia. Serena Imperia." She made a face when Cadmus froze. "Yes, that Imperia, I'm afraid." The daughter of the Chief of Police, one of the most notorious figures in the city. He was also handsome, compelling, fierce, and a marvelous dancer. "You are Master Cadmus Tulari, the toymaker whose creations never need winding, but don't rely on magic, and will work for a hundred years?"

Cadmus smiled, flushing again at the praise. "Yes, that is me. Toys, music boxes, and many other clockwork devices—even boring old clocks on occasion." He winked, making her laugh. "So what manner of novelty do you seek, Lady Imperia?"

She caught her bottom lip between her teeth, eyes dipping to the table. "A gift, actually, for a young man I favor." She looked up, regarding him warily. "My father would not approve, you see, he is very strict. Understandably so, given his position and all that he sees about the city every day."

"The less you tell me, the better," Cadmus replied. "My job is not to judge or admonish or advise, it is only to make the novelty and deliver it to the recipient. That being said, you are hardly the first to commission a piece meant to be gifted to a sweetheart."

Her shoulders eased and her smile returned. "Oh, good. I was worried I meet seem strange or forward."

Cadmus laughed. "Oh, my lady, you are a long way from forward. What sort of novelty would your sweetheart like? Figurines of some sort? A music box?"

"The figurines!" She replied, clapping her hands together. "I saw one in Lady Betherford's parlor that had a little boy and girl picking apples and it was absolutely charming. I was wondering if it might be possible to contrive something like that, only of a boy reading in a little library, or pulling a book off a shelf or something like that."

Sparks tingled along Cadmus's neck and down his spine as the image bloomed in his mind. He could feel the pieces he needed, the final creation they would make, the warmth and beauty of it. "I can do that," he said. "It will take me a couple of weeks, and will not come cheap." He quickly sketched a rough approximation of the design and listed a figure, then slid the sheet of paper across the table to her.

She teared up, and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at her eyes. "Master Cadmus, if it only half-resembles what you've sketched, it will be above and beyond perfect. Is it true you build clever little secret drawers and such into them?"


"Could you do that for me? I would like to leave a note in it for the recipient. Nothing nefarious or anything, if you are worried about being caught up in something untoward."

"I do not ask such questions unless the client gives me cause. You've not give me that cause. I will begin work and when it's partially done I'll send word so you can approve the rough. We'll fine tune any details you'd like altered, adjust the price if necessary, and then I'll make the final product. The down payment is one quarter of the price."

She clapped her hand and dug happily into her reticule, and dropped several heavy, gleaming coins onto the sketch before sliding it back across the table. "One quarter, sir."

Cadmus smiled. "Return at this time I precisely one week and I will have the rough composite for you."

"Thank you so, so much," she said, and pushed to her feet, darted around the table, and instead of shaking his hand she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. Kissing his cheek, she then stepped away and said, "I truly appreciate this, Master Cadmus. Thank you so very, very much."

"My pleasure, my lady." He slowly ushered her to the door, mentally marking all the things she rambled about to decide on including or not in the final product.

Once she was gone, he locked the door and turned the sign to closed, then returned to his backroom. He settled on his stool and picked up right where he'd left off, polishing the little silver mice with sapphire eyes that would run around a gold cat with emerald eyes. The cat's twitching tail had taken him the longest, though timing everything so the mice would run under the tail as it twitched up had been the hardest.

But now the hardest parts were done and he was simply on cleaning and fussing. Soon this beloved treasure would be ready for its new home.

The doorbell came again, and Cadmus sighed. Standing, he went to see who the latest uninvited guest was—and perhaps, when they were gone, he would turn the sign to 'those with appointments only'.

He growled as the smell of a familiar cologne, too sweet and too sour all at once, reached his nose right as he pushed through the curtain. "I told you to get out and stay out."

Smiling, the man at the door prowled further into the room. "Now, Cadmus, I've been a reasonable man so far—"

"You're not a man, you're a scheming snake," Cadmus snapped.

The too-pleasant expression on the man's face vanished. "We're not snakes, and you're one to talk, you overgrown, scaly bird."

Cadmus pointed to the door. "Get out of my shop."

"I've offered you more money, more jewels, more treasure than you could acquire in another two hundred years—"

"And I have told you countless times that the secret to my automatons is none of your business. I don't need a slimy wyrm offering me cold treasure you probably stole from someone else." Cadmus stepped around the counter and barreled toward the man, shoving hard when he was close enough, over and over again until the man slammed into the door.

Reaching up, Cadmus wrapped a hand around his throat and hissed, "Stay out of my shop, Vidner, this is your last warning." He threw the door open and shoved Vidner out, then slammed it shut and turned the lock.

Hands shaking he returned to his backroom and immediately set to work going through every drawer, cabinet, shelf, and box to count every single piece of treasure. It was all there, he knew it was all there, he'd feel it if something had been taken—but Vidner left him feeling sick and afraid, and he wouldn't be soothed until all his treasure had been counted, every last gear, cog, jewel, wire, and all the gold, silver, and other metals he used. Then the tools, fabrics, wood…

By the time he was done, everything was counted but Cadmus was exhausted and hungry. He dragged himself over to the music box, gave it a last inspection, and finally packaged it for delivery first thing in the morning. After that, he made a pot of coffee and unwrapped the sandwich he'd bought earlier in the day.

Excerpt - Silverhands

Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman, named Annia, who was possessed of flawless dark skin, hair the red-gold of autumn, and eyes the gold of a summer sun. She was admired and envied by all in the village, but none coveted her more than her stepbrother.

She was beautiful of face and form, kind of heart and smile, but it was her hands he most obsessed over. They were strong hands, from keeping house and assisting in their humble mill all day, but soft, the fingers long and elegant, easy when petting animals and deft when sewing, strong when cooking and gentle when stroking a brow at the end of a long day.

He declared he loved her as the sun loves the sky, and wanted her not for a stepsister, but for a wife. Dismayed at his revelation, she begged him to give up such a notion, that though she loved him as any sister loved a brother, she had no desire to be his wife.

The brother begged and pleaded, but still she would not give in. He raged and ranted, screamed and shouted, but still she refused, and urged him to let the notion go and let them be happy siblings once more.

Enraged beyond all reason, he determined that if he could not have what he wanted, no one would—not even her. Dragging her out to the chopping block, he there took an ax and cut off her hands.

Overcome by pain and fear, Annia passed out.

When she woke in the dark, it was to find someone had carefully bandaged and tended her wounds—and her brother was snoring heavily, the smell of alcohol heavy on the air. Stifling her tears, she did her best to pack what food and supplies she could, and fled the only home she had known her whole life.

On and on she traveled, resting on in brief burst, keeping hidden whenever she heard people approaching. Eventually, however, her food ran out and exhaustion got the better of her, and Annia was forced to seek shelter in the roots of a great tree.

The sound of horses and murmuring voices woke her a second time, and she cried out in fear—only to be stopped by a handsome man with kind gray eyes and a warm smile. He was a handsome man, with brown skin and soft-looking curly hair, dressed in clothes finer than anything she'd ever seen.

Though she was at first afraid, eventually the man convinced her to let him help her, and into his carriage she went. Several hours later they reached the man's destination: the royal palace, where everyone greeted him 'Your Majesty.'

Before she could run away, terrified all over again at being in the company of the king, Annia was ushered inside and swept off to the healer and then to a room so beautiful and luxurious it made her homesick for her little cottage by the river and the familiar rattle and creak of the mill as it made flour for the village.

Eventually, she fell asleep, and for the first time in many days slept peacefully. But when she woke in the morning, it was not to find all had been a strange dream, as she had hoped. She had no hands. She was far from home, in a castle that was as terrifying as it was beautiful.

And the king, she was told as a servant appeared to see if she was awake, had invited her to breakfast…

Annia tried not to gawk as she walked through the halls, following the kind woman who had helped her the previous night and woken her this morning. She reminded Annia of so many women back home, with the efficient manner and bright smile, hair pulled tightly back so as to be out of the way, a rolling lilt to her words that the rare city folk who passed through the village did not possess. That the king did not possess.

Oh, moon and stars, the king.

She tried to grip the folds of her heavy skirts with her hands, and was yet again reminded that she didn't have hands. That the finger she expected to be there, could swear she felt there sometimes, were probably still lying in the grass where Tomi had throne them.

Tears threatened, and a scream started to form in her throat, but Annia blinked away the tears and choked the scream. Neither would help. She would do as she'd done when her mother died, when her father had died, when he stepmother had remarried and left them for her new life in a city far away: make do and carry on.

The servant woman led her through a pair of enormous doors made of wood and glass designed to look like trees, the branches intertwining when the doors were closed. Inside was a room that continued the forest theme, morning sunshine pouring through the glass dome at the top.

It made her long for home all over again, even as she recoiled at the thought of returning to a place where her brother spewed bile and venom, and chopped off her hands in a blinding rage.

Taking a deep breath, Annia stopped several paces away and gave an awkward curtsy.

"Good morning," the king said warmly, and if she was not so terrified and miserable, that smile might have made her chest flutter, made fanciful, girlish notions spin in her head.

Excerpt - The Fallen King's Penitent Soldier

Desmond would have liked to say he faced his death with dignity, that when they came for him he was cool and contained, had the grace and poise of a defeated king.

But he didn't. When they broke into the room where he'd managed to hide himself, he was already crying. He screamed and kicked and bit and raised all the ruckus he could. Fuck dying with dignity, he'd be as ugly and noisy as necessary in order to live.

All for nothing, of course. He was a scholar forced to be king, never trained as a soldier. The only knives he could hold were those on the dining table. He'd been raised in a monastery, not an armory.

So he lost the battle swiftly, beaten, bruised, and broken into submission. One felt fast to his arm as they dragged him through the halls, another dug fingers painfully tight into his hair and pulled him along like an angry child with their least favorite toy.

There was too much blood and sweat in his eyes to see where they were going, too much smoke and noise in the air to even try to get a question out—not that he thought anyone would answer.

But the heavy smell of incense reached his nose a few minutes later, and a familiar thick, soft carpet beneath his knees. They were in the grand throne room. Well, wasn't hard to figure out why he was still alive. One of Benta's favorite stories was of how his many-times great grandfather, the first of his family to rule as monarch, had taken his thrown by beheading his predecessor in that very room. The supposed sword that had done the deed hung on the wall immediately behind the throne. By blood, by might, by right do we rule.

Ah, it would be a good one for the history books and many generations to rule on. The kings who took by the sword eventually died by the same sword, having fallen from heroes to villains. Poetic, if trite, the perfect story by which the rebels would win the hearts of the masses.

If he wasn't about to be the executed king in the tale, if the rebels weren't far greater a problem than he could ever be, he might almost approve the ridiculous story being spun at his expense.

Familiar voices spoke around them, including the backstabbing bastard who had been second in command of his private guard. She and half of Bitter Frost had made swift work of killing the rest of them—and Captain Matthias had died trying to get Desmond to safety.

So much for their long history of honor and loyalty.

Desmond's head was yanked up and his face crudely wiped. He blinked away remaining flecks of crusted blood and stared into the dark green eyes of Bryan Kettermane, Royal Seneschal and someone Desmond had stupidly thought was his friend. Someone else who'd sworn loyalty, made promises to speak for the good and the just. Hundreds had attested he was an honorable man.

"How are you feeling, Majesty?" Kettermane asked.

Blood had filled Desmond's mouth from where his teeth had cut his cheek after one backhand or another. He spat it in Kettermane's face.

Chuckling, idly cleaning the blood from his face, Kettermane replied, "Don't be childish, Majesty. You've lost the war, face it with dignity."

"Dignity is the purview of honorable men, and I have no desire to resemble the likes of you," Desmond said. He spit again. Kettermane snarled and backhanded him, but Desmond only laughed. That seemed to infuriate Kettermane more, but before he could hit Desmond again, Bethany, the backstabbing First Lieutenant of Bitter Frost, grabbed his arm.

"Unhand me, Lieutenant," Kettermane snapped.

"He's had about all he can take. If you want to make a spectacle of his death, leave off."

Kettermane snarled several colorful words, but jerked his hand free and stood. "Where are we with matters?"

"The city has been taken, and the castle is nearly secure," Bethany said. "I've had reports of trouble, but no details yet. Scouts should be bringing me information shortly."

"Probably just a last few stragglers from the royal guard," Kettermane said. "Or misguided fools who think their pathetic king is worth dying for."

Desmond hoped not. He wasn't worth dying for, though he doubted he and Kettermane agreed on the reasons.

"Hopefully that's all it is," Bethany replied. "I've given the order to start having all relevant persons brought here for the ceremony." She dropped her gaze briefly to Desmond, something almost like regret filling her face for a fleeting moment. "Are you doing it? Or do I need to arrange someone? Whoever it is should probably go masked."

"I'll do it."

Bethany eyed him. "You do know—"

"Be quiet," Kettermane snapped.

"Sir." Bethany turned away, sharing a look with some of her people.

Curiosity fluttered briefly through Desmond, then snuffed out. He didn't care about discontent in the ranks. Not when those ranks had already betrayed him. He was vastly more concerned with Kettermane "doing it" himself. Kettermane wasn't a soldier any more than Desmond; there was no way he'd be able to cut Desmond's head off. So not only was Desmond going to die, it was going to be an agonizing death. Hopefully someone else would step in and finish the job after Kettermane failed miserably.

Kettermane shifted restlessly. "I want—"

The words were drowned out by the booming thunder of an explosion, followed by the crashing sound of a wall or something collapsing. That was followed by screams, cries--and then the unmistakable sound of battle.

"Find out what's wrong!" Kettermane snarled, even as Bethany surged forward, gesturing sharply for soldiers to flank her.

They hadn't made it more than a handful of steps when the enormous, iron and wooden doors of the grand throne room were blown in, and soldiers surged into the room.

"Oh, merciful gods,"  Bethany said, voice quavering. She whipped around and returned to Kettermane. "We need to get you out of here. Bitter Frost, soldiers! Protect Kettermane's retreat at all costs." She glanced to the men still holding fast to Desmond. "If they reach the door, use him to delay them." Once the soldiers had acknowledged the order, Bethany and Kettermane vanished through the door behind the throne.

The soldiers he'd only glimpsed before were now clear as day, and even more terrifying in reality than he'd always heard: blood red tunics, emblazoned with slash marks that seemed to open up their chests to reveal only a dark void, and dark steel armor riddled with sharp spikes.

Penance Gate, the most feared mercenary band in Harken—one of the most infamous in the world. Most mercenaries in the world tried to project a noble soldier front. Those from Treya Mencee seldom bothered, of course, but everyone else did.

Not Penance Gate. They went in the complete opposite direction and were as menacing as possible.

Why in the world was Penance Gate there?

Of the Bitter Frost and royal guards who'd been ordered to cover Kettermane's escape, at least a third ran away. The remaining were being destroyed like paper before a torch. Desmond swallowed, horrified and awed all at once as he watched Penance Gate fight their way through the grand throne room. Even with a third of the soldiers having fled, there was hundreds to go through and Penance Gate seemed only to have a small force—honor guard numbers, not more than fifty—rather than a fighting force.

One of the men holding Desmond yanked him to his feet and pressed a knife to his throat, right as the other one dropped with a crossbow bolt in his forehead. Desmond stared at the man bearing the mark of captain, a faceless soldier in a spiked helmet. But those eyes. The very color of a summer sky. Even if he hadn't known already that Allen's brother headed Penance Gate, he would know those eyes anywhere. Prince Chass—Crown Prince Chass. Why was he here?

"Don't come closer!" the guard said.

Chass laughed, low and derisive. "Next time, make certain to secure your rear."

The man drew breath to reply, but in the moment Desmond felt him jerk, and heard a wet, sucking sound. Then Desmond was free. He turned around, saw the man bleeding out from a wound in his neck, a tall Penance mercenary sheathing a long, thin digger.

"Your Majesty, are you all right?"

Desmond turned back and watched as Chass climbed the stairs to the throne dais. "Yes, thank to you and your people, Captain. What is Penance—"

"Questions later," Chass replied. "Can you walk?"

"Yes, I'm fine." Desmond walked toward him—and everything went black.

When he stirred, he was lying on the floor. No, he was lying on someone on the floor. He turned his head and looked up into familiar blue eyes. "Perhaps I was mistaken."

A husky laugh rolled over him. "Perhaps."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ficbit - Punishment (High King)

In which a seventeen year old Sarrica, and sixteen year old Lesto, are punished for misbehaving.


"The very moment I'm out of these I'm going to finish breaking your face," Sarrica said.

He couldn't turn his head to look at Lesto in the stocks beside him, and his left hand was in his way anyway, but Sarrica didn't need to see to know the scathing, disgusted look on Lesto's face.

Sarrica's mouth, his teachers and commanding officers and father were fond of telling him, was what always got him into trouble.

Lesto didn't need words to express his opinion. According to his father, Lesto's every thought was on his face—all the more when that thought wasn't a good one. But then, the notorious Duchen was known for the very same thing. The Duchess, even across the seas, despaired of both husband and heir.

"Why did you punch me this time, anyway?" Sarrica asked. "I haven't even seen you all day. Father had me in council meetings with him all day, which was even more stupid and boring than I knew it would be. The minute I'm High King I'm making a new law that no member of the council is allowed to speak longer than five minutes at a time, and have to wait for three other people to speak before going a second time."

That got a sharp bark of laughter. "Good luck with that, Imperial Crown Halfwit."

Sarrica shot a nasty look in Lesto's general direction.

"Keep talking, both of you, and you'll earn yourself an extra hour," said a guard as he strode into the yard to check on them.

Sarrica started to reply, then actually thought better of it. The guard gave him a faintly surprised look. "Half an hour more and you get a break." He strode off again, calling to someone out of Sarrica's line of sight.

When he was certain no one would hear them talking, he said, "Seriously, why did you punch me? I haven't done anything! Even if I wanted to incur your wrath, which I don't, I haven't had time."

"Oh, shut up," Lesto said sourly. "I know damn good and well what you've been saying about me, you pantheon-rejected bastard."

"Well that makes one of us." What had he said? Sarrica wracked his mind for anything that could have been misconstrued or twisted by people in the palace, but Twelve, if he wasn't in training or in lessons then he was shadowing his father learning things that managed to be even more boring than mathematics. "You can be mad at me all you like, but it doesn't do much good if I don't know what you're talking about."

"Pantheon reject you!" Lesto snarled. "I heard you! And everyone was more than happy to repeat it to me over breakfast anyway!"

"Repeat what?" Sarrica asked. "The last time I said anything about you was telling my father I wanted you to come along on my trip south, though I'm starting to change my mind."

"You said you were tired of me following you around! That irritating know-it-all desperate for friends that even his fancy title can't buy. The only thing he loves is his sword."

Sarrica groaned. "Seriously, Lesto? You're supposed to be smart! You're dumber than a broken crate of rotted clams!"

"The minute I'm free—"

"Whatever, I'll knock you flat for being a halfwit long before you're able to get a swing in," Sarrica snapped. "I wasn't talking about you. I was talking about Corrian, that creepy bastard from Benta. The one who looks like someone sat on his nose and thinks he's better than everyone else because his daddy is best friends with a bunch of stuffy, supposedly important people. He won't stop following me. I keep using the secret tunnels to avoid him. I was complaining to Farawni; just how many people were eavesdropping? I can't believe you thought I was talking about you."

"It made sense," Lesto muttered.

Sarrica rolled his eyes. "It did not. Does not. Whatever. You're a clod of dirt. If I was sick of you, I'd say go away, Lesto. If I was talking to someone else, I'd say 'I'm sick of Lesto' or 'I'm sick of the future Duke of Pirates' or—" He pitched his voice to sound like the breathy sons and daughters of the courtiers, "I'm sick of Lord I Love Pirates More Than Anything In the World."

"I hate you."

"Yes, I know, my nose is still feeling it."

A long sigh, and then Lesto grumbled, "Sorry." A pause, and then he added, "I do not love pirates more than any—"

The rest of what he said was drowned out by Sarrica's laughter.

"Why do I spend time with you?" Lesto asked when Sarrica stopped laughing. "I'm going to get in more trouble for showing up late for afternoon drills. I was supposed to be going into the city tonight, and now I'm going to be scrubbing the barracks floors until I pass out."

"Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be right there with you," Sarrica said. "I'm supposed to be with my father meeting the delegates from Treya Mencee. That starved pigeon from university is supposed to be among them."

"Lord Oscar?"

Sarrica grunted. "That's the one. Father says we should be good friends."

"Lord Oscar thinks it's acceptable to slip dream powder into the drinks when he can't be bothered to ask for consent. That's no friend of yours. Why did they let him back out of Treya Mencee?"

"His father was appointed ambassador, didn't you hear?"

"Sarrica, when in the sixteen years I've been alive have I given a single damn about who is ambassador to what? I barely know the names of the people we put up with every day."

"Lucky you."

"Shut up."

Silence fell for a few minutes, then Lesto asked in a tone Sarrica had only heard from him on one other occasion. "You really weren't talking about me?"

"Lesto, if there's anyone between the two of us who should hate the other, it's you who should hate me. I called you stupid the day we met. It cost me a rose ice. Why would I go behind your back now? Because I don't want to wind up in the stocks? Ha!"

"You're an ass."

"That's rich coming from you, pirate lover."

"I don't love pirates!" Lesto hissed.

Sarrica sniggered. "Please. You probably write love notes and put them in bottles and toss them into the sea. Then you stand there all dramatic on the shore or the coast pretending—"

"I am going to fucking kill you. At least I didn't dump an entire pitcher of wine down the front of Lady Minu's gown."

"I hate her and I hated that particular wine. It seemed a good combination."

A startled silence, then, "You did it on purpose?"

"Of course I did it—"

"Are you supposed to be talking?"

They both snapped their mouths shut.

"You're supposed to be getting a break," Captain Leela said, "but I think I'll let you suffer another ten minutes."

"That's cruel."

"So is having to put up with the pair of you," Leela retorted. "But here we all are."

Sarrica winced. "Apologies, Captain."

"I don't want to hear it," she said, then sighed. "What I want is for the two of you to show sense. You're young—too young, I think, for all that is falling and will soon fall on your shoulders. But it is what it is and there's nothing to do about except ensure that you are as ready as you can be. And being mindlessly violent about every little thing, especially with each other, isn't how to deal with problems. Both of you would be where you should be right now if you'd had a civil conversation instead of a shouting match followed by a round of punching. Listening to gossip doesn't accomplish anything, and I thought you both knew that. Cadet?"

"I am sorry, Captain," Lesto said. "I should have known better. I should have asked."

"Better. Your Highness?"

"I didn't—" Sarrica snapped his mouth shut at her look. "I shouldn't have punched him after he punched me." But he was going to find out who had told Lesto lies and punch them.

She gave him a look. "Subtlety is never going to be your gift, Highness. It's rarely difficult to tell what you're thinking. You should work on that, but also accept that you'll probably never be as contained regarding your thoughts as would be preferable. If you can't hide them, own them, but don't be controlled by the emotions driving them."

"So what am I supposed to do? Just let people get away with lying to Lesto and trying to sabotage our friendship?"

"Well from where I'm standing, it certainly looks like they succeeded. Whatever they wanted, those parties are having a grand laugh, at the very least. What if they had wholly succeeded and you and Lesto were no longer friends? All because you let other people control you. Instead of yelling and punching people, try hitting them where it hurts."

Sarrica gave her a look.

"Don't get smart," Leela said. "I mean: these are nobles. All their power is in their titles and their fortunes. It's generally not worth tampering with their position in court, so go after their money. Fine them. Sit down and actually read some of those books your tutors and professors put in front of you and learn all the reasons you can force them to hand over money to the courts. That will simmer them down."

"Father never does that," Sarrica said.

"Your father doesn't heed advice very well. I am hoping to fix that problem in the son."

Sarrica couldn't argue with that, so didn't bother.

"As for you," Leela said, and Lesto groaned. "You have a long way to go, cadet, if you're going to be worth anything as a soldier. Fathoms Deep should be ashamed of you right now. What will your parents say?"

"Not to bother them unless I'm bleeding to death?" Lesto replied, and yelped when she cuffed him. "It's true," he muttered.

Leela gave him a look. "I think you can have your break now, and then you still have one hour to go, I think?"

"Yes, Captain," Lesto and Sarrica sighed together.

The barest hint of smile flickered across her face. "Sergeant, unlock—"

Her words were drowned out by laughter, as a tall figure with milk-white skin and a lean frame stalked across the yard. Other figures followed him, one who looked just like the young man laughing at them, all of them dressed in Treya Mencee clothes, all tight fits and shiny gold buttons and lace trimming everything. "The imperial crown prince in the stocks! This country is barbaric."

Sarrica barred his teeth. "Barbaric is turning people into slaves."

"Why are you locked up like a common criminal, Harkenos?"

"I'm locked up like somebody who broke the rules," Sarrica said. "Why do you always ask such stupid questions, Oscar?"

He jutted his chin out as the rest of the group reached them. "Where I come from, we don't put future kings in stocks."

"That explains a lot," Sarrica replied. "Maybe if they put a few more of you royals and nobles in stocks, you might get through your heads that treating people like animals is wrong."

Oscar gave him a pitying look. "Some people are not as smart and capable as others. It's for the best they're looked after by those of us who are capable."

Sarrica nearly lost it then, but the wan look on Leela's face stopped him short. Her wife was from Treya Mencee—an escaped slave from one of the colonies under Trey Mencee rule, in fact. Tamping down on what he wanted to say, Sarrica instead asked, "What are you doing out here?"

"I wanted to see you, and they were giving us a tour of your rather eccentric palace. Someone said you were here, but I couldn't quite believe they'd be so disrespectful of their betters."

"Everyone is subject to punishment for breaking rules," Sarrica said, looking at Oscar like he'd grown two heads. "I'm a cadet in the army, and therefore subject to military law. But I only have another hour of punishment left and then I will be more than happy to discuss the matter further. I'm not really supposed to be talking right now."

Oscar looked as though he wanted to argue, but his father called to him sharply, offered apologies to Leela and someone Sarrica couldn't see, and shortly after that they finally left.

"My father is going to kill me," Sarrica moaned.

"For once, I disagree," Leela replied. "That was well done, Highness. Show that much class and sense every time you're mad at someone, and you'll be the finest High King this empire has ever seen."

"Ha!" Lesto said.

"I'm going to punch you the minute we're free," Sarrica retorted.

Leela sighed. "Let them out for a break, then they have one more hour left—and an additional fifteen minutes for being smartasses and talking when they shouldn't."

"Yes, Captain," said the nearby sergeant holding the keys.

Sarrica and Lesto groaned, but didn't argue, merely called farewell as Leela swept away in a jangle of armor and swordbelt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Things and Stuff

Greetings, All,

Been awhile since I've done a post that wasn't a ficbit. I'm sure we all prefer those but needs must.


My computer needs to be sent in for repairs. I have a backup, but it's a small, lowkey thing that can't handle all the shit I do on a daily basis, only the bare minimums. So if I am slow to reply in the next few weeks, that is why. Definitely feel free to reach out to me on Twitter/FB/Tumblr DM if I seem to take too long or it's a quick question easily answered on my phone.


I was meant to be having the first book in a new trilogy coming out via ARe, but thanks to their shitshow it will not be published there. But good news, it has a far better home in Ninestar Press and ATM has a tentative release date in May. The second book is also completed, and I am currently working on the third.


I am nearly done with beta edits on Heart of the Lost Star, the third High Court book. The fourth book is nearly done, I have like 3-ish chapters left, and I am also two chapters into the fifth book, which will finish the series (not including Rene's story, which is currently running as a serial, and I will have an update for that this month ideally, February at worst. I am currently overwhelmed with editing and writing deadlines)


Regarding LT3 stuffs:

The Prince of the Moon comes out January 25th, this is a re-release, it was originally published in Fairytales Slashed volume 4. Nothing significant has changed.

Love Tokens is another re-release, it was originally part of the Halloween Rentboys collection, again nothing significant has changed, though I really love the new cover.

And it's not on the LT3 site yet, but Twilight comes out April 5th.

Heart of the Lost Star is ideally set for late summer/early fall, it all depends on how badly my editor hurts me :3


Speaking of re-releases, The Royal Inquisitor I chose to self-publish. Thanks to ARe (fuck you) I set up payhip stuffs, but it's also at the usual suspects. Again, hasn't really changed, I just cleaned up typos and it has an awesome cover.


I am currently writing the third in the aforementioned trilogy, the last two High Court books, and am about to start the story I owe the winner of last year's anniversary contest. It'll be poly and have a dragon.


If you haven't been around the ol' blog lately, I posted a few stories for Christmas/New Year, including a High Court story about how Sarrica met Nyle, a Harem Master story about Ihsan's fifth concubine, and a Tournament of Losers fic about the gift Tress left for Rath :3


I hope everyone has a lovely 2017. Have an excerpt from The Mercenaries of the Stolen Moon, which is about Myra, Jac, and Charlaine (whom you'll meet in Heart). This story is MMF (and Myra is trans)

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