Stone and Fire: Chapter 40

He strode into the room and narrowed his eyes at his brother.  Liam’s face took on a resigned expression, and he sighed.  Jurgen just nodded.

Then he punched his brother in the face.  Liam staggered backward, landing on the rug in front of the fire.  “You fucking promised.”  Jurgen stared down at him.  “You son of …”  He pointed.  “You promised.”

“I did.”  Liam wiped at the blood on his face.

“Then why the fuck did Mother say whoever brought a keystone back to Darodelf first?”  He shook his head.  When Liam didn’t respond, Jurgen reached down, caught him by the front of the tunic, and hauled him back to his feet.  “You had me bring it to Diantha…”  He glared.  “In.  Darodelf.”

“Yes.”  Liam looked down, then wiped at his face again.

“You promised.”  Jurgen shook him.

“Yes, Jurgen, I did.”  Liam’s head came up, and his eyes locked onto Jurgen’s.  Jurgen took a startled step back as he felt a chill go down his spine.  “But nothing in that promise stops me from trying everything I can to save you both.”  His eyes seemed to glow.  “You’re my brothers, Jurgen.”

Jurgen let his hands fall to his sides.  He clenched his fists and took a few deep breaths before looking up at his brother again.  “I don’t intend to stand meekly by while someone kills me.  What happens?”

“Phillip waits in ambush.”  Liam picked up a potion that had been sitting on the mantle and took a drink.  “Rutger has no interest in killing Rien, but Phillip would rather not risk Rien complicating things if he can help it.  If you don’t show for the ambush…”

“He goes after Rien instead.”  Jurgen nodded.  Then he squared his shoulders.  “Only Rien won’t be forewarned and prepared.”  He walked over, grabbed a map off the table, and shoved it into Liam’s chest.  “You know where Phillip will be, so…”  He saw pain in his brother’s eyes, and sighed.  “And you thought of that already.”

“I walked the web a thousand times.  I called upon Wendel and his knights, and Solsthriem broke apart into civil war.  I hired mercenaries.  I tried to handle it myself.”  Liam looked away, resting his head on the mantle.  His voice broke on the words.  “I can’t watch you die again, Jurgen.”

“Hey…”  He caught Liam’s arm, then pulled him into a hug.  “What happens next isn’t your choice, Liam.  Whatever Mikaere believes, you are not a god.”  He felt Liam shake, and tightened his arms.  “For almost thirty years, I’ve had faith in you, my brother.  Have faith in me.”

“I do.”  Liam nodded.

“Look out for Rien.”  He patted Liam’s back, then managed a small smile.  “I hate admitting this, but uh…”  He shrugged.  “He needs all the help he can get.”

“I have…”  Liam drew back, then nodded.  “I’ll make sure Jochem gets him some of the help he needs.”

“If we don’t see each other again, I…”  Jurgen smiled, then patted Liam’s cheek.  “I’ll be down at the water’s edge, with drinks, and we will sail upon the storm.”

(more…)

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 39

“He’s doing fine, Liam.”  Jurgen folded his arms and glared.  “He’s been reading up on irrigation and even talked with her about an aqueduct.”

“On the holding that provides his supply of ale.”  Liam sighed.  “I’d hoped…”

“You’d hoped what, Liam?”  Jurgen exhaled.  “That Rien would snap his fingers and solve all our problems?”  He shook his head.  “You’re not stupid.”

“I could argue that point.”  Liam leaned on the stone wall, staring out the window at where Rien was practicing in the combat circle.  His voice sounded a little grudging when he spoke again.  “He inherited his father’s fighting ability, at least.”

“You think that’s impressive?”  Jurgen laughed.  “A couple days ago he took out three of those guys blindfolded.”

Liam blinked before turning toward him.  “Rien fights blindfolded?”

“Sure does.”  Jurgen grinned.  “I’ve been teaching him.  He’s better than I am now.”

“Since when do you fight blindfolded?”  Liam raised an eyebrow.

“Since I saw you do it.”  Jurgen patted his brother’s shoulder.  “Figured if you could learn to do it, couldn’t be that hard.”

“You learned…”  Liam gave him a strange look.  “You learned how to fight while blindfolded?”

“And it was a pain in the ass.”  Jurgen nodded.  “I went through Wendel’s entire library, couldn’t find a single book on the technique.  Pretty much had to make it up myself.”  He twitched a shoulder.  “Where’d you learn it?”

“Jurgen…”  Liam stared at him for a moment.  “I have Asrael’s Sight.”

“I…”  Jurgen trailed off.  “You weren’t fighting me without being able to see?”  Liam gave a tiny shake of his head.  “You were watching the entire fight in your mind?”  Liam gave a small nod.  “You were cheating?”  Liam’s lips twitched.  Jurgen took a deep breath.  “I’m going to give you a five second head start, and then I’m tossing you in the…”  He didn’t finish getting the words out before Liam turned and broke into a run.

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 38

He jumped down the last of the stairs, landing with a loud thump.  Just to be sure, he reached up and set the lantern swinging, making it rattle.  He also kicked a barrel and counted to thirty in his head.  Then, and only then, did he open the door to Mikaere’s chamber.  The young man was sitting up in the bed, the blanket mostly to the side covering a lump that was moving slightly with each breath.  “I’m heading ashore to discuss the new sails.”  And Adaeze hadn’t permitted him to go ashore without Mikaere’s blades since Diantha had told her about the assassination attempts.

“Yes, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere slid out of the bed and reached for his leggings.  The lump beneath the blankets moved just a little.

“I’ll meet you on deck.”  He tried not to look at the blanket.  “I’m going to go look for my sister.”  Liam turned and headed back the way he’d come.  He stopped when he got to the deck, then began counting in his head.

A minute later, Ama came up the stairs behind him.  She was dressed, though her hair was still tousled as messy.  “We just going to keep pretending —” He shot her a glare, and she snickered.  “You know, it’s going to be hilarious when Mbali —”

“Stop talking.”  Liam folded his arms but couldn’t quite stop himself from wincing.

Ama just laughed.

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 37

She stared a moment at the willowy, dark-skinned young woman.  The girl was taller than the Ilael, with long legs that had leaped the gap between the longboat and the dock with ease.  The girl grinned, and Diantha laughed softly.  “Mbali.”

“Chieftess Valyk.’  She turned to catch hold of the rope, so the boat could be tied to the dock.  Her eyes danced as she turned again.  “Mine aunt, we come bringing trade.

“You…”  Diantha gave a small shake of her head.  Mbali was taller than her own daughters.  Tears threatened.  “You grew up.”  She exhaled.  “You weren’t supposed to do that.”  She opened her arms.

Mbali stepped inside to return the hug.  Then she gave Diantha an apologetic look.  “I sail on The Wayward Dolphin.  Mama and Papa —”

“Sailed south for a moot.”  Diantha nodded.  “I got the letter.  We have barrels of ice peppers and a selection of carved rubies.”

“We have salt.”  Mbali jerked her head at the ship.

“Oh, I could kiss your father.”  Diantha laughed softly.  “We sent Clan Gorit running with their tails between their legs, but their little stampede did result in our stores getting swamped.”

“Papa made sure we have enough to resupply you.”  Mbali handed over the manifest.  “We also brought silk, glass from Sahit, and a cage of songbirds for the twins.”

“Is the Wayward Dolphin your ship then?”  Diantha took the manifest from her and handed over the parchment Torin had prepared.  A quick scan of the manifest showed there was once again no need to doubt Liam.  Everything was exactly as she would have requested.

“I’ll not be fifteen for a moon yet.”  Mbali shook her head.  “I sail with Captain Tendai, under the flag of Admiral Uduak.”  Mbali leaned forward.  “But the Captain is letting me handle a lot of the trading so…”  Her smile was eager.

“Soon.”  Diantha offered the manifest back.  “I want everything, but you knew that already.”

“Your offer is fair…”  Mbali handed the list back.  “But you knew that already.”  She tucked the list into her pouch, then took a deep breath and looked up at Diantha with a huge smile.

Diantha blinked, then put her hands over her mouth as her own face broke into a smile.  She’d been waiting for this news every time she heard from Liam or his family.  They knew a son was coming, but Liam had refused to peek ahead to tell them when the boy would arrive.  “When?”

“Papa said if we continue the run as requested, we’ll make it to the islands in time.”  Mbali spread her hands.  “They are going to name him Enu, after Mama’s brother.”

“Enu.”  Diantha had heard the story from Jurgen.  “It’s a good name.”

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 36

Adaeze stretched, then glanced at her daughter.  Mbali was giggling.  “What?”

Mbali put a hand to her own forehead, then moved her hand to touch Adaeze’s forehead, then moved it back.  “I’m taller than you.”

“You don’t have to keep reminding me of that.”  Adaeze shook her head as Mbali started dancing her way across the deck.  She sent a mock glare up at her husband, then pointed at Mbali.  “Your fault.”  He was staring off the side of the ship, his gaze distant.  “Liam?”  She walked over and put her hand on his arm, making him jump.  “Liam, what’s wrong?”

“I…”  He gave a small shake of his head as the far away look left his eyes.  “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”  She stared, feeling a chill go down her spin.  “Liam?”

“Your grandmother is dead.”  He met her eyes.  “My queen.”

“Oh.”  She stared at him, taking a few deep breaths.  Then she turned to the helm.  “Set course for the islands.”

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 35

Petrus gave a gleeful shout before forming himself into a ball and splashing into the water with the other children.  Ama began splashing him as soon as he surfaced, and Petrus laughed as he retaliated.  Jurgen laughed, then glanced at where Adaeze was sitting.  “You know, I thought Liam’s ability to hold his breath was impressive.”  He glanced at the water.  “Aren’t you…”

“Wait.”  Adaeze shook her head.

He was squirming by the time Mbali finally surfaced, shooting out of the water almost the full length of her body and catching hold of one of the ropes to start pulling herself back onto the ship.  He couldn’t quite stop himself from giving a relieved chuckle.  “Aren’t you worried about those shark things?”

Adaeze rolled her eyes at him before giving a pointed look to where Liam was over on one of the small rocky outcroppings with Zuri and Mikaere, collecting something.  “No.”  She smiled at where Petrus and the other kids were moving onto the sandbar, whooping and hollering.  “Most Ilael vessels do not have so many children.  The risk is too great, so they grow up on the islands.”  She smiled.  “But there is no place in the world safer than the vessel upon which my husband sails.”

“I wish…”  He stopped himself before wishing aloud that he could have brought his other two brothers.  He sighed.  “I wish.”

“I know.”  Adaeze watched Mbali dive back into the water.  “I would like to send Mbali back with you.  To learn horses and mountains.  To learn that even though it is the sea to which we will return, we too take life from the land.”  She exhaled.  “And perhaps to learn from Diantha how to fight.”

Jurgen laughed, then looked out at the sandbar again.  Ama was showing Petrus how to spear fish.  “One day.”

“One day.”  Adaeze nodded.

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 34

“No.”  Adaeze shook her head.

“Adaeze…”  Liam gave her a pleading look.

“You’re not going alone.”  She folded her arms.  “Efua and Mikaere will —”

She cut off as he dropped to his knees in front of her, then bowed forward until his forehead touched the top of her foot.  “Please.”

Her eyes closed, and she swallowed.  Then she nodded.  “Go.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 33

“Feel the air against your skin.”  Jurgen swung the quarterstaff near Rien.  “Trust your ears.”

Rien stuck his tongue partially out of his mouth as he screwed his face up in concentration behind the blindfold.  When Jurgen aimed the next blow, slowed, at him, Rien suddenly swung his own staff up.  It hit Jurgen’s staff, though the angle wasn’t quite sufficient to completely deflect the blow.  Still, it brought a smile to Jurgen’s face.  “I got it.”  Rien ripped the blindfold off.  “I hit it.”

“Good job.”

The sound of activity from the hall drew his attention, and a moment later Rutger came bursting through the door.  “Rien, Rien.”  Rutger grabbed his little brother’s hand.  “Come see what I got.”

Jurgen watched Rutger drag Rien out of the room, then gave a small shake of his head.  “Hello, little brother.  I missed you too.”  He tossed the quarterstaves into the corner, then followed the boys out.  A whoop of glee from Rien had him quicken his pace, and he emerged into daylight to see two stallions, both nearly golden in color save for their black socks.  “Well now…”  He glanced at where Liam was standing, then frowned at his brother’s expression.  “Liam?”  He put a hand on Liam’s shoulder.  “Everything alright?”

Liam opened his mouth, then closed it again.  “The horses are twins.  Such a birthing is considered sacred.”  He turned back to look at where Rutger was stroking the nose of one of the stallions, while the other butted up against him for a share of the attention.  “A gift for a prince.”  He exhaled.  “I hope he understands the magnitude of what he was given.”

“Things aren’t alright, are they?”  He folded his arms.  “You’re back sooner than I expected.”

“Diantha’s with child.”  Liam looked back at him.

“Yeah, she…”  The smile died on his face.  “Liam.”  He started shaking his head.  “No.”

“They’ll not survive the birthing, Jurgen.  Efua can…”  Liam sighed.  “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.”  Jurgen looked away.  “Me too.”

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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.”

(more…)

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.

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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.”

(more…)

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.”

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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.”

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)