The Woods: Chapter 10

Thomas settled the breastplate over his shoulders, then smiled as Ileana began helping him with the straps.  A memory came to him.  “The last time you did this for me you tied them in knots.”

She laughed.  “I was fourteen, and you managed to win despite them coming loose.”  She straightened, then rose up to kiss him.  “And I’m much better at knots now.”

“Vula teach.”  The goblin was examining one of his gauntlets.  She poked them before wrinkling her nose with disapproval.  “Why have metal fingers if not add claws?”

Considering the time the goblin had bound him had nearly killed him, he couldn’t really deny her expertise.  “Claws make it more difficult to precisely direct the blade.”  He’d seen clawed gauntlets before, even tried them before rejecting them as impractical.  They looked frightening, but their sole use appeared to be intimidation.  Or at least, he’d always thought so until facing Keffer’s claws in a sparring match.  Granted, when Keffer abandoned his human mask his claws were more like talons and on the hands of a creature that was not only inhumanly strong and fast but capable of wielding considerable magic.  It had been a few years since a training match had left him almost too bruised and exhausted to move.

“If had good claws, not need blade.”  She sniffed before handing him the gauntlet.

“The blade allows me a greater range and more maneuverability.”  He put the gauntlet on.  And without that range and maneuverability, Keffer would have little problem tearing him to little bitty shreds.  For that matter, he wasn’t entirely sure Vula and her claws wouldn’t be able to manage the same.  He imagined fighting her would be something akin to battling a rabid wolverine.

“Until Vula bite off arm.”  She grinned, her inhumanly wide mouth full of sharp, jagged teeth.  A rabid wolverine with the teeth of a shark.  It was possible she could actually bite his arm off.  Or at least tear enough of it away to render it useless and bleeding out.

“Yes, but wouldn’t you biting off my arm also make claws useless?”  He raised an eyebrow at her.

“It…”  Vula blinked, then frowned.  “Vula need think on it more.”  She scratched her head, then her face brightened.  “Vula bite off leg!”

He exhaled.  Except in tournaments he’d always preferred to wear no more than greaves rather than bog himself down with heavier armor.  But when it came to facing something like Vula, maybe enclosing his entire body behind metal wouldn’t be a bad idea.  “An excellent tactical choice.”  He nodded to her, and she grinned again.  His eyes went to Ileana.  “Speaking of tactics…”

“We discussed this already.”  Ileana shook her head.  “The castle cannot be taken by outside forces.  The only way we can capture it is if we sneak inside.”

“If we enter announced, there may be no need to take the castle.”  He shook his head.

“As much as I hope Nicolas does prove reasonable, I cannot take the chance.”  Her voice was firm as she handed him the sword belt.  “We will use the hidden entrance.”

“And if Nicolas has already found it?”  He attached the sword belt.  Nicolas would undoubtedly have searched for such things his first day inside the castle.  Assuming he hadn’t done so upon previous visits.

“He can’t have found it.”  Ileana laughed.  “It can be revealed only by magic.  Once we are inside, we can activate the castle’s wards and hold it against anyone seeking to take it from us.”  She put her hand on his chest.  “No harm will come to Nicolas’s family, and I will do all I can to prevent harm from coming to Nicolas himself.”

“That is all I can ask.”  He gave her a small bow.

Continue reading The Woods: Chapter 10

Advertisements

DragonLord: Chapter 24

Rien couldn’t quite contain his excitement as the entrance to the tomb rolled open.  “Yes.”  He turned and kissed Rachel, who laughed.

She pointed.  “Look.”  She moved to glyphs carved into the rock.  “We need to either leave the keystone where it is or put it here to keep the door open.”

“Move it there, to the inside.”  Rien nodded.  “In case we need it.”

Rachel obeyed.  Fortunately, the door itself moved slowly.  She had plenty of time to get the keystone into its new position.  “Guess that’s why the idea was to have more than one.”  Bast was looking around.  “If anyone was here…”

“If anyone was here, they were stupid.”  Rien smirked.  Various treasures were visible in the room, prizes that would net the average raider considerable prestige.

“Maybe someone tried to get in, but couldn’t?”  Rachel examined a ruby pin sitting on a pedestal.  Rien picked it up, blew the dust from it, then placed it on her tunic before kissing her.

Bast and Maela were a little further in, examining the glyphs. “No.”  Bast’s voice was quiet.  “Someone was here.  Look.”  He pointed.

“Footsteps in the dust.”  Maela nodded.  “Not many, but…”  She frowned.  “They are old.”

“Who knows how old?”  Bast bent to examine them.  “If the chamber was sealed, they could have been made a decade ago.”

“Find the sword.  It’s what matters.”  Rien handed Rachel a lantern before moving further in.  “It won’t be in the first chamber.  We’re looking for his actual resting place.”  He frowned.  “No, this makes no sense.”

“Master Rien?”

“If any of my brothers wanted what was in here and got the keystone before I did, all they had to to was take it to Mother.”  Rien turned a slow circle.  “So what would be the point of coming here in secret?”

“Unless…”  Rachel hesitated.

“Lovely?”

“One of your brothers didn’t come back, Master Rien.  Perhaps the one that came here is the one that…”

“Killed Jurgen.”  Rien growled.

“The footprints don’t seem to leave this chamber, Rien.”  Bast shook his head as he held up his lantern, then looked back toward Rien.  “Whatever they wanted, it must have been in here.”

“Perhaps whoever entered…”  Rachel tilted her head.  “Did not expect the dragon to come?”

“That’s a good point, Lovely.”  Rien followed her through a passage, letting Bast and Maela take the other one.  “They wanted some prize, but the dragon threw their plans into chaos.”  He chuckles.  “That is the sort of thing dragons do.”

They were deep into the tunnel when Rachel spoke up.  “Master Rien, there is the mural.”  She pointed.

“Right, so now —”  He took a step forward as the floor beneath her opened.  “Rachel.”  He dropped the lantern and just barely managed to catch her before she fell.  The lantern rolled and hit part of the wall.  A portcullis dropped from the ceiling, smashing the lantern and trapping them.  The lantern sputtered and went out, leaving them in total darkness.

“Master Rien?”

“Rachel?”

“Would you like me to yell for help?”

“Yes, Lovely.”  Any other time he wouldn’t have minded holding Rachel tightly in the dark.  “Yes, I would.”

“I see.”  She raised her voice.  “Help.”

Continue reading DragonLord: Chapter 24

Stone and Fire : Chapter 28

Pauwel was disappointed when Mbali was left behind, but he clearly understood.  Given Thirza’s feelings about Liam himself, there was no way to be sure how she’d react to his daughter.  Liam only stayed in Darodelf a week himself.  The queen was cordial, but didn’t do a good job of hiding the fact she’d prefer Liam to be far away.

Jurgen watched the children playing with the gifts Liam had brought.  For Rutger he’d brought an instrument made from the shell of a large turtle and two story-books, as well as the gift the boy was currently guarding like a dragon.  The lapdesk was made from olive wood, beautifully patterns and lovingly carved, and the pens inside were made of glass.  There were five vials of ink, three of them colored, cakes of paint, sealing wax, and a signet ring carved to look like a winged lion.  He wasn’t sure if the boy treasured it because of its own intrinsic value, or for the fact that Liam had told Rutger it had initially been commissioned as a gift for Koert.

Marinus and Petrus had both been given metal tubes that fired darts when they blew on the ends.  The people of Ocia apparently used them to hunt rodents and birds.  Marinus and Petrus were using them to hunt each other.  Fortunately, the darts had blunted tips.  Both boys had also been given small boxes that played a brief tune when a handle was turned, before fanciful creatures leapt out of compartments at the top.  The infants were both given stuffed versions of creatures Liam swore existed.  An elephant and an octopus.

Wharf Tower was functional, and Thirza grudgingly admitted it would increase Draak’s standing.  In addition to what the Ilael had brought, goods were starting to come in from Solsthriem traders.  Bringing goods by sea was considered less risky than bringing them by land, as the ships didn’t have to worry about being raided by rival clans.  King Wendel was keeping tariffs on that trade low in the interest of being a good neighbor.

He started to head for the door, then winced as something hit him in the left buttock.  He turned to see Pauwel concealing something behind his back and giving him an innocent look.  Jurgen rolled his eyes.  “He just had to get you one too, didn’t he?”

Pauwel grinned.

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 28

Dragonlord : Chapter 2

Bastien stared up at his captor before testing the manacles again.  There was no give in the chain, and short of removing his thumbs he would not be able to slide the metal off his wrists.  “Well, Rien…”  He emphasized the man’s name.  “That seems rather unlikely.  Now, if you wish to ensure a ransom is paid, I suggest —”

The big man tossed something to Bastien.  It landed next to him with a clanking sound, and Bastian felt a slight chill when he realized the item was a heavy steel collar.  “Don’t worry.”  Rien smiled.  “You’ll get used to the idea.  We’ve still got some travel ahead of us.”

“You cannot possibly imagine I will be cooperative.”  He narrowed his eyes.

“Oh, I’m absolutely sure you won’t be cooperative.”  Rien’s smile widened.  “That’s going to be half the fun.”  Rien rose, picking up a set of manacles joined by a long chain as he did.  Then he started toward Bastien.  As soon as he reached for Bastien’s ankle, Bastien pulled his leg back before lashing out.  The big man moved fast enough that the kick didn’t connect.  Bastien tried to shift for a better angle of attack, and was caught by the length of chain securing his wrists to the tree.  He growled.  Rien gave him a smug look.  “And you are definitely going to be fun.”

He kicked again when Rien approached, this time connecting with a glancing blow.  The larger man nearly caught his ankle that time, and Bastien jerked back.  With his hands secured and little room to maneuver, he was at a decided disadvantage even before taking into account his opponent’s greater size and strength.

On the third try, the man caught his ankle and pulled.  Bastien slid forward before his wrists were caught by the chain, sending pain up his arms.  The heartbeat it took him to regain leverage enough to be able to pull back was enough for the man to close one of the shackles around his ankle.  Bastien tried to yank his leg back, but the big man kept hold of the chain.  He lifted it, yanking Bastien’s leg into the air and causing the wrist manacles to yank at his shoulders again.  The other end of the chain was tossed over a tree branch and the man used it as a pulley to lift and pull Bastien.  He cried out in pain, and heard Rien laugh.

“You can give me your other ankle…”  Rien shrugged.  “And be a bit more comfortable, or you can make me fight for it and I’ll leave you suspended.”  He reached for Bastien’s other leg.

Using his trapped ankle for leverage, Bastien kicked again.  This time his foot connected with his captor’s face.  Bastien felt the man’s nose break beneath the blow.  The big man dropped the chain, and Bastien fell back, landing painfully on his wrists.

Continue reading Dragonlord : Chapter 2

Stone and Fire : Chapter 27

Jurgen nodded to Pauwel.  “Things seem…”  He gave a cautious shrug.  “Better.”

“They…”  Pauwel smiled.  “They are.  Not fast or…”  He glanced up at the balcony above.  “Koert was teachin Rutger how to read a couple of the other languages.  I pointed out just how smart he was, and that maybe he could help her like Koert used to.  Taking notes during meetings and all.”

“Sounds like…”  Jurgen nodded.  “That might be good for both of them.”

“As long as she don’t want to actually read the notes.  He’s smart, but he can’t write fast and good at the same time yet.”  Pauwel grinned proudly.  “He’d getting there.  How’s Marinus?”

“Rien.”

“What?”

He laughed.  “Petrus started calling him Rien.  He likes the name.”

“I named him Marinus.”  Pauwel folded his arms.

“It’s a big name for a little boy.”  Jurgen shrugged.

“It was my grandfather’s name.”

“Give him time, Pauwel.  He’ll grow into it.”  Jurgen put a hand on Pauwel’s shoulder.

“He will.”  Pauwel lifted his head and gave another proud smile.  “He’s the River Dragon, and there ain’t nothing out there can fight a river and win.”

“I’m giving him Winterstar.  She’s a mare out of Lavender by Sugar…”  His eyes narrowed.  “Are you snickering at my horse?”

“Yes.”  Pauwel nodded.  “Sugarplum.  Lammert’s funny.”

“Speaking of Lammert…”  He held up a piece of parchment.  “Diantha and I are going to inspect Valyk’s holdings on the coast.  He’s going to meet us there.”  He tucked the parchment away again.  “Why don’t you come with us?”

“I…”  Pauwel hesitated a moment, the nodded.  “Yeah.  She’s got stuff to occupy her right now and uh…”

“And you could use some time for you.”  Jurgen squeezed his shoulder.  “You can bring Marinus as well.  Rozenn’s coming along to watch my kids.  One more…”  He frowned.  “I’ll get her a bodyguard.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 27

Stone and Fire: Chapter 25

“Permission to board, captain?”  Liam looked up at the deck.

“Get up here.”  Adaeze laughed.

He caught hold of one of the ropes and swung aboard.  Mbali let out a giggle from where she rode in a sling over his shoulder.  Adaeze met him with a kiss as soon as his feet were both on the deck.  The repairs were nearly complete.  “Are you keeping the name?”

Adaeze’s smile widened.  “You didn’t peek.”  She kissed him again, then shook her head.  “No.  The Silver Trident died with her captain.”  She touched the railing, running her hands over the repaired wood.  “This ship is ours.”  She shrugged.  “Well, Uduak’s, but ours.”

Liam looked over at where The Phoenix was undergoing a few small repairs.  Abeni was going over her new ship, and she’d already dragged him over four times to use his sight upon the vessel.  The little bit of work he’d suggested was already underway.  “Well, Mbali, what do you think?”

“Down.”  She pointed.

“Not just yet, little blossom.  They are still treating the deck.”  Adaeze touched her daughter’s nose.  Children among the Ilael often were left at the islands due to the dangers of ship life.  Uduak had chosen to keep Ama with her in no small part due to Liam’s powers, and Adaeze had decided the same.  “My deck.”

“A couple of the crew think you are too young to be captain.”  He looked over at where some of the sailors were gathered, chatting among themselves.  “They think you are only the captain because you married Uduak’s son.”

“I am.”  Adaeze shrugged.  “On both counts.”  She exhaled.

“Uduak wouldn’t give a ship…”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “Or her son for that matter…”  He lifted his head to kiss her forehead.  “To anyone she didn’t think could manage them well.”

She caught his neck and pulled him down for a proper kiss.  Then she smiled at him hesitantly.  “I did decide on a name.”

“Oh?”

A sad smile came to her face as she touched the railing again, then she nodded up at him.  “I’m calling it The Bard.”

“I…”  He blinked.  “Adaeze…”

“He gave his life to ensure you came home to me.”  Adaeze blinked back damp eyes, then touched the golden band around her upper arm.  “How could I not honor that?”

“I love you.”  He kissed her again.

“I love you too.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 25

Stone and Fire : Chapter 18

She lay next to him, her head on his shoulder, tucked under his chin.  Her hair was just long enough to tickle his nose.  It felt right, having her there.  She hadn’t untied him, but he knew she wasn’t asleep either.  Strange how even bound, he felt safe with her.  He let out a contented sigh.

“Falling asleep on me?”  She brushed a hand over his belly, barely avoiding a tickle.

“No.”  Liam smiled.  “Your hair smells faintly of ginger.”

Cuddled against him, she laughed.  “It’s only taken you three years to notice.”  She raised her head, then kissed the side of his jaw.

“I noticed the first time you used the rinse.”  He raised his head to touch his forehead to hers.  “Just as I noticed your eyes are like polished mahogany.  Brown with a hint of fire.”

“What else do you notice?”  She smiled down at him.

“That your skin is softer than the finest doeskin.  And you taste of…”  He gazed up at her.  “Autumn.”

Slowly, she came closer, then she pressed her lips against his.  He closed his eyes and drank her in, enjoying the sensation.  The shadows fled at her touch.  “Do you want me to untie you?”

Liam tilted his head before looking up at his bound wrists.  “Do you want to untie me?”

“I…”  She shifted, then sat up and put her leg over him to straddle his torso.  “Not really.  I like you like this.”  Adaeze’s smile was playful.  “You’re so tall most of the time, but here and now…”  She leaned down, then kissed him softly.  “You’re just the right height.”  She hesitated a moment after sitting up, chewing her lower lip.  “Another night, I would like to tie your legs as well.  But I’ll not push you further tonight.  You’re not ready.”

“I…”  He took a deep breath, nodding as he realized she was right.  “Thank you, Adaeze.”

“Liam…”  She ran her knuckles over his cheek, then down his throat.  “Tomorrow I intend to go to Uduak and tell her that I am claiming you.”

“Adaeze…”  He nodded.  “I have been yours since you smiled at me in a dream.”

Her eyes lit up as she bent down to kiss him again.

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 18

Stone and Fire : Chapter 16

Diantha looked over the holdings.  It was somewhat better than a pittance, but still less than half of what Jurgen had received.  Though to be fair, Jurgen had inherited from his father as well.  To be even more fair, Levi’s holdings had been confiscated by Thirza, and thus could have been passed to Lammert.  “Vulkyr borders the lands attached to Fort Valyk.  It’s all wild woods there.”

“You can consider yourself permitted to utilize the land.  I trust you to make fair recompense.”  Lammert smiled as he looked over the documents.  “I’ll need a steward for most of the holdings.”  He gave a small frown.  “Hopefully the revenue from Kindir will be enough to start the work Wharf Tower.”

“You do intend to hold it?”  Diantha gave him a surprised look.  “Lammert, it’s years away from habitable.”

“And the docks are poorly designed.  They are incapable of handling the very vessels capable of making the trip.”  Lammert shook his head.  “I think I’d be better served rebuilding than repairing.”  He moved to the map.  “Clan Valyk has a holding here, yes?”

“Yes.”  She looked over the map.  “We control a fortress here.”

“I don’t have means yet to keep the builders safe.  Would you consider a bargain of trade rights in exchange for protection?”

“You don’t have trade coming in yet, Lammert.”  She gave a small shake of her head.  “You’re asking me to gamble my people on your success.”

“Until I have success, your people won’t be in danger.”  He shrugged.

“I…”  She nodded.  “Fair point.  Valyk pays no tariff for foreign trade.”

“Valyk may use the southern dock without paying tariffs.”

“Done.”  She offered her hand to his, and he shook it just as Jurgen walked in.

“Should I be worried about this?”  Jurgen raised an eyebrow.

“If your brother can make good on his end, I just got us tariff free trade with Solsthriem and you can tell Clan Merkir to go bugger their ‘safe passage’ tithes.”  She smirked, then narrowed her eyes.  “Wait until he’s made good on his end though, I don’t want the tithes going up in the meantime.”

“I was hoping you’d just let me conquer them.”  Jurgen gave a disappointed sigh.

“Long as they are paying tribute to clan Draak, you can’t.”  She looked down at the map again.  If Lammert could get the Wharf Tower going…  “Solsthriem however, might be an issue.”

“It won’t.”  Lammert shrugged.

“You sound pretty sure about that.”  Jurgen chuckled.

“The future king owes me a favor.”  Lammert moved some of the parchment around.  “By the time Wharf Tower is repaired, he’ll be on the throne and we’ll be establishing set routes.”

“You know, when he says things like that it’s really tempting to believe him.”  Diantha grinned.

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 16

Stone and Fire: Chapter 14

Jurgen’s hug nearly took him off his feet and cracked his ribs.  Before he could quite catch his breath, Koert was there, also hugging him.  “You’re alive.”  Tears were visible on Jurgen’s cheeks.  “You’re alive.”

A shadow passed over them, and he looked up to see Thirza on her feet, staring.  The scepter was in her hands.  She looked down at it, then back at him.  Slowly, she descended the couple steps to him.  Her hand reached out and touched his cheek lightly before it was pulled away again.  Then she gave a small shake of her head and to his surprise, she smiled.  An actual warm smile, not the tight-lipped expression she’d always given him before.  The scepter gleamed as she held it above her head, the glow visible to all.  “My son.”  Her voice was loud, echoing through the hall.  She lowered the scepter again.  “You have returned.”

“I have.”  He squared his shoulders, his back straight.

“Lammert Draak.”  She inclined her head.  It took him a couple heartbeats to recognize the name as his.  There was a moment of uncertainty in her expression, then she slid into the ritualistic words.  “You left us a boy.  Your clan welcomes your return as a man.”  She lifted her head, raising her voice as she continued the speech.

No sooner did the speech end than Jurgen was dragging him out of the hall toward the royal quarters.  His brother kept a tight grip on his arm.  They were halfway down the corridor to the residence when Jurgen finally stopped.  He caught Liam’s shoulders, then looked him over, his face incredulous.  “You’re alive.”

In his memory, his brother was a giant that towered over him.  Now, though, he could nearly look Jurgen in the eye.  “I…”  Before he could say anything, there were footstep rushing up behind them.  Koert was in the lead, a toddler on his hip.  A large man he didn’t recognize followed a pace behind, holding an infant.  Diantha was a step behind Thirza, and Diantha was also carrying…  Liam’s eyes widened as he turned back to his brother.  “You’re a father.”

“Yes, I…”  Jurgen started laughing, then pulled him into another hug, pounding on his back before turning.  “Rutger.”  He gestured for Koert to bring the toddler closer.  “You remember your brother?”

“Brudder?”  Rutger looked confused.  Then he turned to look at the baby the other man was holding, then back at Jurgen.  He scratched his head.  “Brudder?”

“We thought you dead.”  Thirza gave a small shake of her head.  “We…”  She turned toward Jurgen, and her face was slightly pale.  “Jurgen, you found his horse.”

“What happened?”  Koert stared.

“Where have you been?”  Diantha half spoke over Koert.

“Who are you?”  The big man gave him a confused look.  The others all turned toward the big man.  The big man shrugged.  “Who is he?”

“Lammert, this is Pauwel.”  Jurgen slung an arm around Liam’s shoulders.  “Our queen mother’s new husband.  And this —”  He gestured at the infant Pauwel was holding.

“Marinus Draak.”  Liam nodded.  “My new brother.”  He smiled, then looked over Pauwel.  He’d seen the man before, in one of his dreams.  It was difficult to keep the smile on his face when he realized which dream.

Pauwel nodded, then grinned.  He offered the infant to Thirza, who took the babe.  Then to Liam’s surprise, the big man stepped forward and engulfed him in a hug, actually lifting him a couple inches of the ground.  “Welcome back.  Good to have all our boys home.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 14

Stone and Fire : Chapter 13

“You’re sure?”  Uduak held Liam to her.

“If I don’t go…”  Liam wiped at his eyes.  “My brother will die.  And…”  He curled in a little on himself.  “I…”  He took a deep breath.  “He’s not born yet.  He won’t be able to defend himself at all.”

“Liam…”  She rubbed his hair.

“I’ll come back.  That’s…”  He leaned his head on her.  “This is home.  I’ll come back.”

She could feel him shaking.  Her son, so brave and wise.  He’d been given his gifts for a reason.  “You must hold your course, my little lamb.  The sea will be here when you return.”  She put her chin atop his head.  “We’ll go up river.  Take you as far as we can.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire : Chapter 13

Stone and Fire: Chapter 11

He took Adaeze’s hands, and let her lead him through the steps of the dance.  Fortunately, she was aware enough of his movements that she wasn’t thrown by his single misstep.  Baako and Tau played drums, the rhythms playfully competing for the attention of Nkruma’s pipes.  The first time he’d tried dancing Ilael style, he’d nearly broken his own leg and his partner’s.

Nearly a dozen ships were gathered at the atoll, trading goods and information with each other.  Any shipsmeet was cause for celebration, and the fact that it had been a good year for trade just made spirits higher.  The Phoenix was one of the wealthiest of the ships, wealthy enough that Uduak was considering taking on a sister-ship.  Apparently, word had spread, because many prospective young captains had found excuses to spend time on board.

Though few actually wed that young, Ilael were considered of marriageable age at fifteen.  Though he lacked some months yet, Liam found himself gaining no small amount of attention.  Ships were often inherited, and it was not uncommon for a wealthy mother to give captaincy of a sister-ship to a daughter or the spouse of a son.  And rumors about him and his gifts had spread throughout the Ilael.  The exotic and mystic son of Uduak was apparently considered quite a prize.

Adaeze had come to his rescue, and hadn’t left his side after finding him being cornered by a rather persistent woman a few years older.  They finished the dance, then joined the onlookers.  Less than a dozen heartbeats after they sat, Enu joined them.  “Liam, the young pilot from The Ranger just asked me the strangest question.”  He leaned forward and smirked at Liam.  “She wanted to know if you’re proportional.”

“She wanted to…” Adaeze started to ask, then her eyes widened.

“Another one?”  Liam ran a hand down his face.

“Wait…”  Adaeze stared at him.  “What do you mean another one?”

“I’ve been asked that four times now.”  Liam sighed.  Then he gave Enu a suspicious look.  “What did you tell her?”  When Enu just grinned, Liam glared.  “Enu, what did you tell her?”

“That you’re still growing…”  Enu’s smile was evil.  “And if you end up proportional you’re going to be about eight feet tall.”  When Liam gave him a look, Enu just laughed.  “I think she’s actually scared off now, so you’re welcome.”

“You’re terrible.”  Adaeze shook her head fondly, then glanced over her shoulder.  “Though that would explain some of the strange looks I’ve been getting.”

“He’s a full foot taller than you already, little sister.  They’re probably wondering how you can kiss him without carting a ladder around.”  Enu reached out to rub Liam’s hair affectionately before standing.  “Pardon, but Lesedi is giving me looks that suggest she’s offering to be far better company than you two.”  He left.

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.  Adaeze leaned into him, and he put an arm around her shoulders.  “It’s okay.”  She said softly.

Liam blinked.  “What’s okay?”

“That we aren’t kissing.”  She caught his hand, and twined her fingers around his.  He squeezed her hand gently.  “This is nice too.”

“I…”  He shifted just a little so she could lean on him more comfortably.  “Thank you, Adaeze.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 11

Stone and Fire: Chapter 10

Jurgen set his axe down, then folded his arms atop the pommel.  Diantha blinked as she came over to where he was.  “Aren’t you supposed to be…”

“Shhh.”  He nodded.

She turned in the direction he was looking, then put a hand on his shoulder.  “Blood and ashes, he just cut a man in half vertically.”

“Yep.”

“Huh.”  She tilted her head.  “Okay, refresh my memory.  We were sent as reinforcements…”  She stared at the warrior.  “Why?”

“Mother looked at the numbers and noted Clan…”  He let out a low whistle.  “Well, that’s one way to take down a knight.”

“That poor horse.”  Diantha winced.

“Right.”  Jurgen picked up his axe, and set it on his shoulder.  “Let’s go meet this guy.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 10

A Princess and Her Unicorn : Chapter 2

Zierski proved to be a fair-sized village.  From the looks of things, it was probably big enough to have more than one blacksmith.  She patted Aysi’s neck as they started down the hill.

“Pardon…”

She looked up at the sound of Fadekya’s voice.  “Yes?”

He gestured at Roffe.  “I am uncertain of the reception your companion will receive.  They may mistake him for a wild wolf.”

“Ah.  Right.”  She glanced down at Roffe.  “We should get you pants.”  Roffe rolled his eyes and sneezed.  Just because he could take human form didn’t mean he liked to.  She chuckled as she rummaged through the baskets, eventually settling on a beaded scarf.  The wolf gave her an irritated look, but allowed her to fasten it around his neck.  She looked up at Fadekya.  “Better?”

“Hopefully.”  He slid down from the back of Aysi, then patted the rhinoceros’s neck before giving Veronika a contemplative look.  “You may wish to place your weapons in your pack.  Zierski does not allow strangers to go around armed.”

She scoffed.  “That’s silly.  What if I need to hit something?”

“I believe that is exactly the sort of situation the policy is intended to avoid.”  He gestured at the axe.  “If you wear your weapon, the guards will insist it be peace bonded.  And if the seal on the peace bond is broken, you will be arrested until they can be certain you have not committed any violence within the city.”

Veronika gave him a dubious look before looking down at her axe.  It was clearly a weapon rather than a tool.  Then she looked back up at him.  This was his land and his people, so if he said it was the custom he was probably right.  It just didn’t exactly make sense.  “You’re trying to tell me that nobody in that city is armed?”

“The sheriff and his guardsmen are armed.”  He frowned.  “And there are undoubtedly a few ruffians with concealed weapons on their persons.”

“So, you’re saying I might need my axe.”  She shrugged.  “Good to know.”

“I…”  Fadekya glanced at her as she started walking again.  Then he shrugged and followed.  “Do not think that is what I was implying, no.”

Continue reading A Princess and Her Unicorn : Chapter 2

A Princess and Her Unicorn : Chapter 1

Her feet made little noise in the ice and snow as she padded lightly up the mountain, Roffe at her heels.  Judging by the marks on the trees, she was in the territory of a girkalon.  Veronika sniffed at one of the marks.  The odor of the bark was acrid.  Fresh then, probably no older than a day or so.

Next to her, Roffe scented the wind.  He sneezed, then sniffed again before glancing up at her.  “Urf?”

“What are you smelling?”

He shook his head and sneezed again before taking the lead.  She followed as he veered slightly westward.  Between the trees ahead she caught a glimpse of firelight.

Veronika emerged to find a dais containing three stone pillars.  The pillars on either side held metal sconces ablaze with flame.  The third pillar had a young man, wrists chained above his head.  He wore nothing but a pair of trousers and a strange glyph painted on his chest.  She frowned.  His head hung and his form was slumped as he shivered in the freezing cold.  “What are you doing out here?”

He made a startled noise at the sound of her voice, and his head came up.  “What are you doing out here?”

She shrugged.  “I asked you first.”  She walked closer.  The dais had been swept clean.  There was a stone altar behind the pillars, containing two baskets filled with various items.  She squinted at the closer of the baskets.  It looked a bit like the handiwork of the river people.

“You should get out of here.”  He shook his head at her.  “The beast will be coming.”

“Why are you chained out here if the beast is coming?”  She raised an eyebrow at him.

“I am chained out here because the beast is coming.”  He straightened, making the chains binding him to the pillar rattle.  She took another look at him.  He was smaller than she was, and standing fully upright the top of his head barely came up to her nose.  His dark hair and the olive tones to his skin marked him as one of the River People.  His lips were blue, and more worrisome was the fact that other parts of his skin were also starting to show signs of exposure.

Roffe made a coughing sound, and lifted his leg on the altar.  She nodded to the wolf.  “This is one of those we feed the monster it doesn’t wipe out our entire village things?”

Continue reading A Princess and Her Unicorn : Chapter 1