Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

“It’s dangerous.”  Liam shook his head.

“You said I would serve you, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere looked up at him.  “I cannot serve you if you leave me here.”

“You are serving me.  You are watching out for my family.”  Liam folded his arms.

“I can understand the trade language now, and I’ve beaten Chidike three times now in duels.”  Mikaere lifted his chin stubbornly.  “I can help.”

“Mikaere, if you…”  Liam leaned on the ship’s railing.  “If you come with me to the Wildlands, you’d have to pretend to be my slave.”

“I am your —”

“No.”  He raised his voice, then almost regretted it as he saw the wounded look in Mikaere’s eyes.  Liam exhaled.  “Mikaere, you are not my slave.”

“Aihuroa, my life is —”

“Mikaere, I…”  He looked up, and saw Uduak giving him a sympathetic smile.  He’d once been convinced he was her slave.  Except Uduak had…  “You’re not my slave, Mikaere.  You are part of my family.”  The younger man’s eyes went wide, then started to shine with unshed tears.  “And you’re right.  You came to the Ilael because of me.”  He squared his shoulders.  “Next time I go ashore…”  He smiled.  “You may come with me.”

Mikaere’s face broke into a wide smile.  “Don’t worry, Aihuroa.  I’m sure Captain Adaeze will let you go ashore again.”  He scampered off, pausing to help one of the crew tie down a line.

Liam looked up as Uduak approached. “I have a feeling I just became a grandmother again.”

“He’s too old to be my son.”  Liam laughed, then let it die away.  “I admit, when I go to the Wildlands and see Jurgen with Rutger and Rien, I…”  He shook his head.  “Have absolutely no idea how Jurgen manages to put up with little brothers.”

“Little sisters are better.”  Ama’s voice came from behind him, and a moment later she was climbing onto his back.  He shifted so she could settle herself more comfortably.  He felt the slight spark of her power as it brushed up against his, and saw the hint of a smile that revealed she felt it too.  “The storm is going to be big.”

“If we alter our heading a few degrees we can ride it out along the edge.”  Liam nodded.

“Be more fun to go through.”  She smiled at the clouds.  “They are singing.”  She snuggled into him as he shifted so she was sitting on his hip.  “Listen.”

He closed his eyes, tracing his mind along the edge of her fledgling gift.  Her head rested on his shoulder, and he knew her eyes were closed as well as she leaned into his focus.  “They are.”  He nodded.  He started to open his mouth, then closed it before tracing the edge again.

In his arms, Ama tensed slightly.  With their powers linked, he knew she’d seen the same thing he had.  “I could try.”  She lifted her head.  “I could try.”

“I know.”  He drew her further down the line, and heard her let out a small whimper.  Then he let the vision fall away.  “We can come around the other side.  It won’t save the ship, but it will save the crew.”

“I’ll get stronger.”  He opened his eyes to meet her darker ones, and saw the determination inside.  “I will.”

“I know.”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “And I will help you.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

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The Duchess: Chapter 13

“I won’t be part of this.”  Ruarc glared at the duchess.

“You’ll do as I tell you.”  She narrowed her eyes at him.

“I’ll not help you torture a man.”  He shook his head, noting that Jurgen was watching him.  With the guard present, there was little he could do to help the man at the moment.  And with the man’s companion still threatened, Jurgen wouldn’t come to his own defense.  He’d let Durante push him toward the pillory.  The man was willing to be tortured to save his friend.  That alone told him which side he should be on.  He turned, and walked away.

“Ruarc.”  Her voice came after him.  “There will be consequences for this.”

He ignored her, and continued up the stairs.  Ignoring her felt…  Freeing.  Ruarc took a deep breath, and headed back toward the dungeon.  The blond man was pacing his cell, his expression furious.  He glared when he saw Ruarc.  “If that man is harmed, I will see this castle and all its inhabitants wiped from the face of the world.”

“He’s feisty.”  One of the two crossbowmen chuckled.

The man in the cell also wasn’t afraid.  At least, not for himself.  Ruarc took a deep breath as he walked toward the nearest of the crossbow men.  Then he grabbed the man by the throat, spun him to catch the crossbow, and fired it into the second man.  The second man fell back, the bolt sticking out of his chest.  He screamed.  The first man tried to strike at Ruarc, and Ruarc shoved him into the wall and brought his other hand in to gain leverage.  Then he snapped the man’s neck.  He turned toward the screaming man, and finished him off with a sword thrust before bending down to retrieve the keys.

“You…”  Markus was staring at him.

Ruarc turned the key in the lock.  “They’ll have heard that.  Grab a weapon.”

Immediately, Markus obeyed.  Ruarc picked up a shield and tossed it to Markus before picking up another and strapping it to his own arm.  He exchanged a brief nod with the other man as a group of guards came to investigate, then moved in alongside Markus to attack.

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 13

The Duchess: Chapter 11

Vitalia accepted a glass of wine from a tray brought by a servant, and smiled.  Madzia had found her early in the visit and whispered to her that Lord Liam of Bohm was in attendance.  It seemed as good an opportunity as any to dispense with agents and make the purchase.  Things weren’t going exactly as she planned, but she found herself enjoying the company anyway.  She’d expected Lord Liam to be a Solsthriem lordling, all prim and proper.  The man in front of her was of Jolusth, tall and handsome in a tunic that covered only one shoulder.  His other shoulder was bare, the better to show off the tattoo that decorated it.  The servant who accompanied him was a tiny, golden skinned exotic with unusually shaped eyes.  She’d never quite seen the like before.

“How is it you’ve acquired lands in both Solsthriem and Thatela?”  She raised an eyebrow.

“It behooves one to range far.”  His accent was a soft drawl.  Despite her lands bordering theirs, she’d rarely had the chance to talk with one.  Lord Liam was delightfully tall, though slenderer than her husband.  “I have interests spanning the world.”

“Your people aren’t known to be merchants.”  She sipped at her wine.

“My people are often underestimated.”  He took a sip from his own glass.  “But pray tell, what interest do you hold…”  He frowned as his servant stumbled a little, spilling from the tray he carried.  Liam barked something in another language.  The servant bowed his head low and hurried off to replace the spilled items.  “Manisar’s training routines seem problematic.”  He glanced at her, then inclined his head.  “Forgive me, duchess.  I know the purchase of slaves is not legal in your lands.”

“Tis a shame.  Servants are well and good but so difficult to train properly.”  She raised her glass in his direction before sending another look in the direction of the servant.  She’d really never seen anything quite like him before.  “I admire your taste.”

“Is that why you wish to acquire my property?”  He smiled at her.

“I think…”  She gave Lord Liam a contemplative smile.  He was a handsome man, and clearly someone not adverse to more unconventional pursuits.  “I have acquired a member of the family that used to hold it.  I wish to acquire the property as well, to ensure there are no…”  She shrugged.  “Behavioral issues.”

Lord Liam laughed.  “Duchess, you have expensive tastes.  I am curious if this acquisition of yours is worth such a grand price?”

“To be fair, there are also the vineyards.”  She took a sip of the wine, peering at him from the rim of the glass.  “Wine and sex do seem natural bedfellows.”

“Perhaps you intend to arouse my curiosity?”  He raised an eyebrow.  “I would be interested in seeing this…”  He chuckled.  “Acquisition of yours.  Perhaps an arrangement can be made?”

She smiled, imagining the look on Ruarc’s face when she ordered him to service a barbarian lord.  “You could accompany me back to my estate, judge for yourself?”  She allowed his servant to refill her glass.  “Then we could come to our bargain.  I’m sure, after experiencing my hospitality, you’d be willing to bargain.”

“You offer an interesting enticement.”  Lord Liam nodded.  “I think there may be business at your estate that could draw my interest.”  He rolled his eyes.  “And one is often led to wonder why one leaves important work to their agents.  Especially when it seems they oft have trouble listening to the simplest of instructions.”

“It does give one an excuse to use a flogger.”  She batted her eyes at him.

“You require an excuse?”  His grin became mischievous.

“Lord Liam, I think you and I could become friends.”  Vitalia laughed.

“The future does tend to play out in the oddest of ways.”

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 11

Blood and Ashes: Chapter 1 (Sequel to Dragonlord)

“I…”  Aurel stared at him.  Then he shook his head.  Then he stared at Bastien some more.  “He what?”

“He did give me permission to tell you, though that’s probably because he figured out I was going to anyway.”  Bastien nodded.

“Alright.”  Aurel slowly nodded.  “I…”  He closed his eyes, then reopened them.  “Gods above, if he…”  He took a deep breath.  “If he knew this, why the hell didn’t he just deal with Rutger years ago?”

“That…”  Bastien blinked.  “Is a very good question.”

Continue reading Blood and Ashes: Chapter 1 (Sequel to Dragonlord)

Dragonlord: Chapter 40

Reluctantly, Bastien stepped back as ordered.  They did need answers from Lammert.  Lammert, for his part, seemed fairly calm about having two crossbows pointed at him.  “First question.”  Rien tilted his head.  “Where is Mikaere?”

“Handling another matter.”  Lammert waved a hand.

“He’s hiding it, isn’t he?”  Maela shifted the crossbow slightly.  “Answer yes or no.  Is he hiding the scepter?”

“Yes.”  Lammert nodded.

“Why is…”  Bastien started to frown, then his eyes widened.  He saw Rien’s eyes do the same thing.

“How does one kill a dessicated corpse?”  Rachel narrowed her eyes.

“After it got back up for the third time…”  Lammert shrugged.  “I stabbed it with the scepter.”

“Blood and ashes…”  Rien started to stand but sank back into the chair.  “Blood and ashes, that’s how…”

“Yes or no.”  Maela stood.  “Did you put the keystone in the manticore’s den for Master Rien to find?”

“Yes.”

Bastien fumbled for a chair before falling backward into it.  “That’s how you knew to arrange a spear ahead of time and…”

“How you could tell the baron exactly when and where we would be.”  Rien shook his head.

“Find a dragon you couldn’t have known…”  Bastien stared.

“But…”  Rien rubbed his eyes.  “The bearer of the scepter can’t lie.  You lie all the time.  I mean, you lied about poisoning Ludo.”

“Did I?”

“He didn’t.”  Rachel shook her head.  “Every word he said was true.”

“It’s the way he said them that’s the lie.”  Maela glared.  “He didn’t say he didn’t poison Ludo.  He asked how he could possibly have done it and let that serve as a denial.”

“Clever girls.”  Lammert nodded to them.

“You can…”  Bastien took a deep breath.  “You can see the future.  You know what is going to happen.”

“I know what will happen if certain factors do not change.  I do not always know what will occur once I change them.”  Lammert shook his head.  “I am in no way omniscient, or we would never have reached this point in the first place.”

“How long ago did you arrange Rien’s pardon?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow.

“Twenty-two years ago, though that was more Jurgen’s doing than mine.”  Lammert leaned forward.  “We helped him rescue his son.”

“Did Jurgen know of your…”  Rien’s voice was quiet.

“Yes.”

“Then why…”  Rien’s eyes were dark.  “Is he dead?”

“I’ve seen all of you die a thousand times, Marinus.  There are nights I watch everyone I love be torn apart, watch the world turn to chaos and destruction.  As a boy, I used to wake screaming from the things I saw when I closed my eyes.  I don’t choose what I see, and I have learned, very much the hard way, what things I can change…”  Lammert looked away.  “And what things I cannot.  Sometimes…”  His voice thickened a little.  “I have to choose who I can save.”

“You chose wrong.”  Rien leapt to his feet.  “You chose wrong.  Jurgen was ten times the man I am.”

“And he made me promise that if I ever had to choose between him and you that…”  Lammert gave a short, bitter laugh.  “He chose you, Marinus.”

Rien looked as though he’d been run through.  Rachel set her crossbow aside, and went to him.  He pulled her into his arms, and buried his face in her hair.  The big man was shaking.

“If you knew…”  Maela frowned.  “To be in the market when Bast was being hurt…”  She adjusted the aim of her crossbow slightly.  “Why did you let him be hurt in the first place?”

“Because I know what would have happened if I had not.  The time he spent recovering kept him out of the way of another attempt by Rutger to eliminate him.  Phillip wanted Sir Bastien dead for thwarting his earlier plans.”  Lammert turned toward Bastien.  “You would have survived the second attempt.  Maela would not have.”

“You…”  He glanced at Maela.  “Made the right choice.  Put the crossbow down, Maela.”  He waited until she obeyed.  He glanced at Rien, and saw tears on the man’s face.  Bastien swallowed.  “We can…”  He exhaled.  “Continue this conversation another time.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 40

Dragonlord: Chapter 39

King Wendel’s entourage filled most of the courtyard.  The king was nearly fifty, but still a sturdy man.  His brown hair was half turned to steel gray, but he walked as confidently as his knights.  In his youth, he’d been accounted a fair warrior, and Bastien knew the sword that hung at the king’s side was not purely ceremonial.  He greeted Nadja, playing the part of a fond uncle rather than the part of a king.  Hopefully, that meant he would be in a good mood, though there were the girl’s own feelings on Rien to consider.

Rien stood beside him, uncharacteristically quiet as they awaited what could easily be his trial.  It was nearly an hour before the little duchess went back to her studies, and most of the king’s entourage left the hall.  Maybe a half-dozen men remained.  Only then did the king appear to take notice of Rien.  Bastien felt his stomach clench.  It was more than just their lives at stake.  Even the king’s mercy could result in Bastien himself being banished from Solsthriem entirely, and the disgrace of the newly formed noble house of Kohler.

“King Wendel.”  Aurel and Bastien both took a knee.  Aurel’s face darkened just a little when Rien did not.

“Rise.”  The king gestured.  His eyes went to Bastien.  “Sir Bastien Kohler, the realm owes you a great debt.  I am not blind to the sacrifice you made to keep our kingdom safe.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.”  Bastien bowed again.

Then the king turned his eyes once again to Rien.  “You are the one they call the River Dragon.”

“I am.”  Rien nodded.  “And you are King Wendel Jaeger.”

“I am.”  King Wendel returned the nod.  “Whatever your motives, you assisted Phillip in murdering my beloved cousin.  Additionally, you have conducted other raids along my borders, resulting in the deaths of both my soldiers and civilians.  You have taken slaves from among my people.  And I have been assured that if I do find in favor of your execution I will not incur the wrath of the Dragon Queen.”

His stomach started sinking.  It was starting to sound as though the king had made up his mind even before arriving.  And the worst part was the man was stating plain facts.  Aurel bowed his head.  “Your Majesty, I…”

“So, let us be very clear on this matter, Prince Marinus.  Your pardon extends only to the crimes previous committed.  Any further…”  King Wendel’s eyes narrowed.  “Malfeasance will not find me merciful.”

Bastien blinked.  Aurel looked shocked.  Rien tilted his head as if trying to make sense of what the king had just said.  “My…”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Pardon?”

“Your pardon.”  King Wendel nodded.  “Have his shackles removed.  We have much to discuss.”  He turned and stalked back to the table.

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 39

Dragonlord: Chapter 38

Aurel folded his arms and shook his head.  He should have known that message and its offer was too good to be true.  When the king arrived, he’d be lucky if he managed to escape with nothing more than being stripped of his new title.  Two sons of the Dragon Queen, and he’d not only let one get away he’d obliged himself to protect the other.  Though it would have changed nothing if he hadn’t agreed to the deal.  There was still Bastien to protect.  “He called you his friend.”

“Father?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow.

“Marinus.  He called you his friend.”  Aurel turned to face his son.  “Are you his friend?”

“I…”  Bastien shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Maybe.  It’s…”  He rubbed the back of his head.  “It’s a lot harder to hate him than it should be.  He’s not evil, he’s just…”  Bastien shook his head.  “Kinda stupid.  I’m guessing that’s why Lammert didn’t argue with you putting him in a cell.  Whatever Lammert is doing, he wanted Rien out of the way while he took care of it, and that…”

“Is a troublesome notion.”  Aurel frowned.  “He didn’t call himself Lammert in the message he sent.  He used the name Liam.”  He sighed.  “Alright, Marinus said he’ll abide by what terms you set, so I suggest you come up with —”

“My lord?”  A servant stepped into the room.  The man’s face was red, and he couldn’t quite look at them.  “We have a…”  He winced.  “Situation.  With the prisoner.”

“What kind of situation?”  Aurel narrowed his eyes.

“Well, the woman brought him a book as instructed, but…”  The servant turned even redder.

“But?”  Aurel stopped himself from tapping his foot.

“Oh for…”  Bastien ran a hand down his face.

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 38

Dragonlord: Chapter 37

Rien fell to his knees and tried not to vomit.  The baron was pulling the little girl away before she continued pressing her attack.  By the time he got his breath back, one of the servants was guiding the girl back to her room.  “You don’t…”  He glared.  The manacles weren’t heavy ones.  He could feel the lock that connected the two wrist cuffs.  “Have to find this funny.”

“Yes.”  Bast nodded.  “Yes, I do.”

“Blood and ashes.  I should introduce her to Jurgen’s youngest.”  Rien winced as he got back to his feet.  “Then we could just sit back and let them take over the world.”  He shook his head, then exhaled.  “I suppose I had that coming.”

“Duke Harald was a good man.”  Bast’s voice was quiet.  “A noble in every sense of the world, and he loved his daughter dearly.”

“You don’t have to keep reminding me of how badly I fucked up.”  Rien sighed.  “Phillip killed Jurgen.  He murdered my brother, then I stupidly helped him kill his.  I’m trying to make that right.”

“It isn’t us you will need to convince.”  Aurel shook his head.  “You…”  He gestured to the other four knights standing guard in the room.  “We lost friends in your attack.  Those four armed and armored men you killed were our brothers.”  His eyes narrowed.  “You put a collar around my son’s neck.”  He folded his arms. “Give me one reason not to shove you into an oubliette for the rest of your natural life.”

“I’m cooperating.”  Rien squared his shoulders.  “Phillip murdered my brother.  He conspired with Rutger to take over my people to use us as nothing more than weapons for Phillip’s war.  Left to their plan, they will destroy both our peoples.”  He took a deep breath and met Aurel’s eyes.  “I intend to kill them first.  You are my friend’s father, so I would really prefer not to have to go through you to do so.  So, I’m cooperating.”

“You are —”  Aurel started shaking his head.

“You don’t know me, or you would know that four knights are not a threat to me.  So let me be very clear on this matter.”  Rien put his full strength to work.  The lock connecting the cuffs snapped, and he brought his hands in front of him.  The eyes of the knights around him widened as they reached for their weapons.  “I am the River Dragon.  I am going to kill Phillip.  You are not going to stop me.”  He took a step forward.

“Rien, enough.”  Bast shook his head.

“I —”  Rien narrowed his eyes.

“Enough.”  Bast folded his arms.  “Behave yourself —”  He smiled.  “Or I’ll hold you to your bet.  Right now.”

“You —”  Rien turned to stare at him.  “You —”  He growled.  “Fine.”  He made himself take a couple deep breaths, ignoring the knights.  They were all looking at Aurel as though waiting for instruction.  Aurel, however, was merely watching him calmly.  It occurred to him in that moment that Aurel was the man who had trained Bast.  He turned back to the man.  “There is your reason.”  He pointed to Bast.  “I trust him.  I’ll abide by whatever…”  He shrugged.  “Whatever terms he arranges.  He knows the stakes.”  He turned and started walking back toward the cell.  “And someone bring me a damn book or something.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 37

Dragonlord: Chapter 36

Bastien watched as another knight escorted Lammert, Efua, and Mikaere to rooms within the castle.  His father was no fool.  Though Lammert could not be arrested, his father ordered a guard placed.  He’d be watched at all times and if he did try anything, he’d quickly find himself in a cell.  Maela and Rachel exchanged worried glances.  Aurel turned toward them.  “Ladies, I can arrange rooms or an escort to take you wherever…”  he trailed off uncertainly.

“Master Rien told us to stay with Bast.”  Rachel shifted her weight from foot to foot before turning her eyes to him.  “Bast?”

“It’s alright, Rachel.  You’ll be safe here…”  He trailed off when he saw the scared look on Maela’s face.  Bastien swallowed.  The last time she’d been in a castle…  “Father, could we arrange them a room near mine?”

“Bastien?”  Aurel blinked before giving the women an uncertain look.

“They are under my protection.”

“Of course.”  Aurel nodded.  “Yes.  It will be arranged, and I will have one of the servants fetch them, er…”  His father blushed a little.  “Proper attire.”  He shifted a little.  “Come.  Let’s get those collars off all of you.”

“But…”  Rachel’s eyes went wide.  “Bast, what if someone thinks we…”

“It’s alright, Rachel.”  Bastien held up a hand.  “It’s alright.  We’ll get…”  He exhaled.  “Trust me.”

Rachel gave him another fearful look, but Maela put a hand on her shoulder.  “Sister, it’s Bast.  You know he won’t let anyone hurt us.”  Maela smiled.

“Alright.”  Rachel slowly nodded.  “If Bast thinks it is best, then…”  She nodded again.  “Alright.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 36

Dragonlord: Chapter 35

Even if Bast hadn’t identified the man it would have been obvious who he was.  The resemblance between his knight and the knight currently hugging him was obvious.  Which meant they were once again in Solsthriem, in what had been the duke’s territory.  Surrounded by knights loyal to the deceased duke and following Baron Kohler.  Who happened to be Bast’s father.  This had the potential to be…  Rien blinked.  “Wait a minute.”  He turned toward Lammert.  “He’s your contact?”

Baron Kohler turned toward Lammert.  “You’re the one, then?”  He was smiling, and his hand stayed on Bast’s shoulder.  The older knight laughed softly before looking at the prisoners.  “The captain of Phillip’s mercenaries.”

“That was our arrangement.”  Lammert nodded.

“True, it’s just…”  Baron Kohler laughed again, then his voice softened.  “Until I saw you riding in I didn’t dare hope…”  He turned toward his son again.  “Come, we should head back to the castle.”  There were actual tears in the man’s eyes.  And if he wasn’t mistaken, the same was true of Bast.

Nervous as he was about riding into that castle again, he couldn’t deny this to his knight.  If for no reason other than he likely wouldn’t survive doing so.  “Thank you, Baron Kohler.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 35

Dragonlord: Chapter 34

As much as it went against his nature, he had everyone sleep in separate cots.  It felt strange not having any warm bodies curled up next to him.  Rien woke well before dawn.  Mikaere was awake, having taken the last watch.  He still couldn’t get over just how tiny that man was.  Even the twins were taller.

They’d brought most of their gear in with them.  Mikaere and Efua had clearly expected them to come with Lammert, as they’d had horses and food enough for everyone.  His own gear, however, was distressingly light.  The girls had brought the jewels he’d given them, and he’d packed others as well, to trade for what they might need.  It had seemed a smarter idea than to try to pack for every contingency.

He’d forgotten to pack himself a bow.  Not that he really minded sticking to the axe and letting the girls do the shooting, but from time to time someone needed to die and insisted on standing all the way over there.  Rien shrugged, and walked over to the bundle of extra weaponry Lammert’s people had brought with them.

“What are you doing?”  Mikaere frowned as he caught sight of Rien.

“Borrowing one of your longbows.”  Rien untied the bundle.

“I will get one for you.”  Mikaere started to rise, stumbling out of his chair a little.  Around them, the others started to stir.

Rien pulled back the woven blanket that had been wrapped around the bundle of weapons, and then stared in shock.  A shorter spear, one made of a gleaming silvery metal, was at the center of the bundle.  A faintly glowing emerald was set into curved blade, and ornate runes were inlaid into the haft in a coppery metal.  Rien looked up at where his brother was rising.  “You stole it?”  He shook his head.  “You actually stole it?”

“Rien…”  Lammert took a deep breath.

Laughter escaped him.  “You stole the Scepter of Asrael back.”  Rien pulled the woven blanket back over it.  “Brother, that’s…”  He ran a hand down his face as he kept laughing.  “Nice to know you aren’t above a little petty vengeance.”  He rolled his eyes.  “She’s going to be furious when she finds out.”

“We should get moving.  It will be dawn soon.”  Lammert ran a hand through his close-cropped hair.

“Right.”  Rien went back over to his side of the room.  Maela and Bast were already up and dressing.  Rachel was up, sitting on the side of her cot.  There was a small frown on her beautiful face.  “Lovely, is everything alright?”  He put a hand on her shoulder.

“I…”  Rachel looked up at him, then smiled.  “Just pondering.”

“As long as it is only pondering.”  He bent and kissed her.  “You don’t have to do all the worrying.”

“Yes, Master Rien.”  She let him pull her to her feet.

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 34

Dragonlord: Chapter 33

He took watch.  Maela and Rachel both curled by Bast, their heads resting on his torso.  Frankly, he considered it a rather heroic act of willpower that he didn’t kick his brother awake and then go pounce on his bed-slaves.  They looked rather adorable in their little dog-pile.  Early on, Bast had objected to the girls using him as a pillow.  The knight had lost that particular battle without the girls even having to call upon Rien for aid.  Maela even had hold of Bast’s hand.

They were all in danger.  Because of him.  He’d had bed-slaves before.  The last one he’d kept for almost a year.  She’d pleased him well enough he’d told Jochem to free her before he’d left.  He’d been fond of her but…  He’d been fond of her the way he was fond of his good boots.  Rutger had been surprised when he’d stepped between the archer and Rachel.  Looking back, so was he.  He’d told Bast that Rutger would target the girls to make him and Bast stand down.  Frankly, he hoped he was wrong, that Rutger wouldn’t use such a tactic.  It was somewhat terrifying to realize if Rutger did, it would work.

Rien was considering pouring himself some tea when Lammert’s eyes abruptly opened.  He sat up, then exhaled before pinching the bridge of his nose.  Nearby, Efua stirred and looked up at him.  “Mi’sala ven adomas?”

“Se cha.  Vola drisis non sala.”  Lammert shook his head at her.

Efua nodded before laying down and going back to sleep.  Lammert however, rose and went to the fire.  Rien shrugged, and grabbed a second cup.  He filled both before handing one to Lammert.  “What language is that?”

“Ilael.”

“Those are the sea people, right?”  Rien nodded.  “You know, I’ve never actually heard you speak other languages before.  I mean, I guess it’s not a surprise you can, just…”  He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Suppose I just hadn’t thought about it before.”  Rien tilted his head.  “How many languages are there?”

“Hard to say.”  Lammert shrugged.  “Some regional dialects differ enough they may very well be separate languages, and then there are written works that have outlived any speakers of those dialects.  Even more have been lost save for a relic or two.”

“This contact of yours, where are we meeting him?”  Rien kept his voice quiet, and added another piece of wood to the fire.  The fire was small, but there was a chill in the air.  Maybe he should start fresh tea.

“He’ll find us, you needn’t worry.”

For a moment, he was quiet.  “Did you mean it?”

“Marinus?”  Lammert raised an eyebrow.

“When you said…”  He sighed.  “When you said that this time when you leave, you’re not…”  He looked down at his tea.  “You’re not coming back?”

“Yes.”  Lammert hesitated, then looked up at him.  “You offered to stand as my champion.”

“Yeah I…”  Rien snorted softly.  “Thought you didn’t stand a chance against Ludo and I…”  He rubbed the back of his neck.  “I was pretty sure I could take him.”

“I appreciated that, little brother.  Perhaps more than you can understand.”  Lammert was quiet for a moment.  “Kindly ask Maela to stop, if you would.”

“Maela to…”  Rien blinked, then looked up at Lammert.  “You mean you did notice?”

“I would rather Efua not decide she needs to handle the matter.”  Lammert shrugged.  “I will answer your questions, Marinus, in time.”

“Alright.  I just…”  Rien shrugged.  “You know I don’t actually mind, really.  I mean, if you want Maela to…”  He looked up.  “I could share Bast if you…”

“Sela tenai, Rien…”  Lammert began taking items from their food store.  “You do realize I’m the same age as his father, yes?”

“Yeah, I guess.”  He chuckled.  “So…”  He shrugged.  “Are you and Efua…”  He glanced at Lammert’s side of the camp.  “Or you and Mikaere…?”

Lammert sighed.  “Oh, Marinus.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 33

Dragonlord: Chapter 32

The girls required only a small amount of assistance to climb down from the balcony.  The rope harnesses prevented any chance of them falling, even carrying their packs and weaponry.  Lammert had brought five sets of climbing harnesses and hidden them in a sack in Rien’s own quarters.  He’d planned this ahead of time, somehow.  Bastien stared helping Maela out of her harness when they reached safety.  Something kept nagging at him.  He looked up at Maela.  “We are missing something here.”

She nodded.  “I think you are right, but…”

“We need to be moving.”  Rien’s voice was firm.  “This way.”  He started moving.

To Bastien’s surprise, Lammert didn’t object.  Instead he followed Rien like the rest of them.  Unlike Rien and Bastien, he had no armor of any kind, but he was carrying the spear.  Rien had said Lammert was a competent fighter, at least.  Maela and Rachel weren’t wearing armor either, but both carried their crossbows and fierce expressions.  “Keep your heads down.”  Bastien nodded to them.

“He’ll try to take us alive, at least.”  Rien frowned, then glanced at Lammert.  “Well, most of us.”  He gave Rachel a worried look before turning back to Bastien.  “Rutger isn’t stupid.  He’ll target the girls to make you and I stand down.”

“If he tries, Master Rien…”  Rachel checked her crossbow.  “I will aim for his testicles.”

“That’s my girl.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 32

DragonLord: Chapter 30

He tried questioning his brother, but Lammert refused to explain anything or answer any questions until they’d bathed.  It made for an unprecedented experience.  Bast, Rachel, and Maela were all naked in the basin with him, and he wasn’t inclined to luxuriate.  Rien didn’t even object when Bast pulled on trousers instead of the loincloth.  Bast must have also been distracted, because he didn’t protest when Maela handed him just a vest instead of a tunic.

They emerged into the living area to find Lammert had made tea.  He held a cup out to Rien.  Rien stared at it a moment.  “You just poisoned a man.”

“Marinus, if I wanted you dead you’d never have made it to your first birthday.”  Lammert lifted the cup.

“Right.”  He took the cup.  “I’m sorry we were too late, Lammert.”

“On the contrary, your arrival was just in time.”  Lammert handed cups to Rachel, Maela, and Bast.  Then he took one for himself.  “Had you not been present, I imagine I’d not have been permitted to walk away from the arena.”

“Probably not.”  Rien sniffed at the tea.  It smelled pretty good.  Then he sighed, and took a deep breath.  “Rutger had Phillip kill Jurgen.”

“So you said.”  Lammert sat down.  “The only way the likes of Phillip could kill Jurgen would be through treachery.”

“We’ll bring charges against Rutger.”  Rien drank from his cup.

“Don’t be a fool, Marinus.”

“Lammert…”  Rien started shaking his head.

“What charge will you bring?”  Lammert took a sip from his own cup.  “That Rutger allied with the man responsible for our brother’s death?”  He glanced at Bast.  “Sir Bastien, would you be so kind as to remind Marinus who he was working with when he took you prisoner?”

“But he —” Rien cut himself off.  He made himself take a couple breaths.  He’d missed too much already.  If he went charging in, he’d end up tripping and falling on his own axe.  He sat down in the chair across from Lammert.  Rachel sat beside him, and he put his arm around her.  “I spoke to Jochem.  He said you…”  He frowned.  “He said you gave your holdings away before…”  He looked up at Lammert.  “Why?”

“Because the next time I leave these lands, Marinus…”  Lammert swirled his tea before taking another drink.  “I’ll not be returning.  One way or another, they were going to cease to be mine anyway.  I’d rather Jurgen’s children have them than Thirza give them to Rutger.”

“They were supposed to…”  Buy time.  Whoever had left him the keystones had promised they would buy time.  Perhaps they had, just not enough of it.  He couldn’t blame Lammert for wanting to leave.  He sighed.  “Damn it.”

“What happened with the dragon?”  Lammert raised an eyebrow.

“We found it and…”  He hesitated.  Then he glanced at Bast, and sighed.  “And Bast killed it.  The blade bonded to him.”

“That…”  Lammert leaned back.  “Makes everything more complicated than it should be.”

“No, it’s alright.”  Maela spoke up.  “It still fits the prophecy, because Rien wields Bast.”

“She’s got a point.”  Bast’s voice was resigned.  “I owe Rien fealty.”

“I brought the keystone, and led the expedition that got the blade and killed the dragon.”  Rien nodded.  “That makes me the future king.”

“No, Marinus.”  Lammert shook his head.  “That makes Sir Bastien there the kingmaker.”

“Bast belongs to me.”  Rien frowned.

“For now.”  Lammert exhaled.  “Until someone finds means of taking him away from you.”  He looked up at Bast.  “I do not mean to impugn your honor, Sir Bastien.  But the fact that you kneel to Marinus proves you have a price, and even if that were not true…”  He sighed.  “Every man has a breaking point.”

“Bast can’t be bought.”  Rien glared.

“You bought him with warning drums, Marinus.  Thirza won’t bother to find his price.  She’ll have him shattered, smelted, and reforged into whatever manner of blade she feels best suits Rutger’s hand.”  Lammert leaned forward.  “You’re the heir apparent, Rien, for now.  But you are not the king.”

““The blade is bound by honor, not by chain.”  Maela spoke up.  “The fate of oath and crown are sealed together.”

Continue reading DragonLord: Chapter 30

Dragonlord: Chapter 29

He wanted to smash everything.  To race back to the hall and put his axe through Rutger and damn the consequences.  The worst part was Lammert hadn’t even been surprised that his own mother was willing to condemn him to death.  Once he’d wondered why Lammert had left so often.  Now he found himself wondering why the man had ever come back.  Rien turned and headed for the stairs.

“You don’t have to watch this, Rien.”  Bast’s voice was quiet.

“Yes.”  Rien swallowed.  “I do.  I missed this, Bast.  I never wondered why Sten wasn’t here.  I nearly got you killed by telling Rutger I needed you.  And somehow, in twenty-seven years I never fucking realized my mother hated my brother despite knowing…”  He shook his head.  “I closed my eyes too long, Bast.  Lammert deserves better than for me to turn away now.”

“I’m sorry.”

“If there is a way, if…”  Rien took a deep breath.  “An opportunity presents itself…”

“I owe him, Rien.”  Bast nodded.  Behind him, the girls also nodded, and he realized they were both still carrying crossbows.  “Just give the word.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 29