An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.
Blood Ladders, Book 1
“Bit sudden,” Chester said. “Shall I make tea?”
I hesitated, then said, “Tea would be pleasant.”
He nodded and went to the kitchen. While there, he said, “So, what precipitated this, if I may?”
I didn’t want him to ask because I didn’t want to examine my own reasons too closely. But he had and it seemed useless to lie. “They were right about my being adopted.”
He put the teapot to boil and leaned back against the counter. “I’m sure your parents told you that mattered not at all.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s not it.”
“What’s it, then?” he asked.
“No one in my family’s died of a wasting disease,” I said.
He tilted his head. Then his brows lifted. “Ah.”
Just like that, he understood. My relief sickened me: I would not have to explain. All my life I’d assumed that because no one in my family had been afflicted by a disease like mine, that it would resolve… that there was some chance of a normal life. Now…
I said, “Mind if I dress?”
“Actually I mind more if you stay like that,” Chester said with a grin.
I laughed and went to my bedroom. Kelu had fallen asleep beside two filled packs—had that constituted her idea of luggage? I couldn’t imagine traveling without a trunk. I’d have to check them later. I shook my head and pulled on trousers and a blouse and went back out to find a cup of tea on the table.
“So when are you leaving?” Chester asked.
“That soon?” Chester asked, startled. “Have you told anyone else?”
I measured a few spoons of honey into the tea, watching the fluid drip. “No.”
“Your parents will worry.”
“They know I’m likely to be incommunicado for the next few weeks while on retreat.”
“After that, though…”
”I’ll leave them a note.”
“Damned cowardly of you.”
I couldn’t bear the thought of speaking with them again so soon. “Suppose so.”
Chester sighed. “Have you made any plans, then?”
“I need to get to Far Horizon,” I said. “There’ll be a ship there, I’m presuming.”
“Presuming!” Chester exclaimed.
I glanced over at Almond. “Won’t there?”
She said, “We have access to a vessel, yes, Master. Engaged by our mistress on behalf of her mission to find you.”
“You should take someone with you,” Chester said.
“You volunteering?” I said with a snort.
“I would, yes,” Chester said.
“Forgive me,” Almond whispered, crawling closer. “That would not be wise, Master.”
I looked down at her.
“He’s human,” she said, her ears dipping.
I began to say, ‘As am I’ but couldn’t find the words in me. I was obviously human, and yet my blood had soothed Kelu and the presence of the genets affected me. What did that make me? Perhaps some half-breed. Elven parent, human parent. Possible. Not the story on the pendant they’d given me, of course, but…
“And that means what?” Chester said. “If he’s this prince of yours, won’t he have some say over my treatment?”
She flushed and looked away.
I slipped my crooked finger beneath her chin and lifted her face. “What are you not telling me?” I asked her, my voice gentle.
She took a shivery breath and said, “It has not gone well for the humans of late, Master. They were once valued servants. Now they are chattel… some whisper that in Valisna they are hunted for sport.”
“Say that again?” Chester said, horrified.
“Things are not well in the Archipelago, Master,” Almond whispered. I found myself brushing my thumb to and fro on the underside of her jaw. “Some say it is because our masters are without a king, and were never meant to be ruled by a council of elders.” She swallowed, a movement I felt against my fingers. “You are needed, Master.”
“I thought your king was dead,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “And you are his brother.”
“God,” Chester said.
“You didn’t realize?” said a sleepy alto from the passage to my bedroom. “I thought we said it clearly. We were sent to fetch you to marry your brother’s intended. She wants to set you up as a king.”
Chester said, “Locke, think a moment about all this, please. Do you seriously want to go to some foreign nation where they hunt humans for sport, marry some girl you’ve never seen and become a despot?”
“Now, now,” I said. “I might be a wise and benevolent ruler.”
“Be reasonable,” Chester said. “Even if you were a wise and benevolent ruler, tell me what history teaches us about kings.”
“They’re lucky bastards?”
“They’re eventually deposed,” Chester said. “And their heads come off.”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe in it, Chester. To be honest with you, I think they’re lying.” Almond gasped but I continued, “but let me explain this to you. My parents are not truly my flesh and blood. I suspect I have driven Ivy away. And I’m dying.” I sipped from my cup. “As I’m going to expire, I may as well do it someplace where I won’t be an embarrassment to the people who’ve known me all my life.”
“Is that what this is about?” Chester asked. “Or are you hoping they’ll be able to cure you?”
“And if they can, I’ll come back,” I said. “But it bears repeating. I can’t live like this, not much longer.” Mud in my mouth, mingling with bile. “Even if it doesn’t kill me, what will my life hold? Trapped in my own house, unable to go anywhere without knowing whether I’ll have one seizure or many, spells of vomiting or hallucinations. Unable to marry–what woman would have me? My world would dwindle to the inside of this flat, futureless and devoid of meaning. Tell me, Chester, what am I supposed to do with that?”
Chester finished his tea and poured himself a fresh cup, stirring the milk and honey into it. Then, “I can get you transport to Far Horizon.”
“Pardon?” I said, startled.
“You forget,” he said. “My family manages the majority of overland trade and transport. The reason I’m marrying Minda, remember? To put a lock on the sea lanes as well?” He set his spoon down and framed the cup in both hands. “We have regular runs down to Far Horizon. I can get you a seat on one in the morning.”
“I…” I stopped. “You don’t have to do that.”
“No,” Chester said. “But I’m your friend. You’ll recollect that we look out for one another.” He grinned. “If you decide to stay and become the benevolent king of the nation, though, pass a decree about the human-hunting so that I can come examine the ruins for languages, eh?”
I laughed. “You know I’ll never be a king,” I said. “Monarchies are too exploitable, kings too subject to corruption. But I’ll see if I can’t find someone to fix me up right well and then I’ll come back.”
Chester nodded. “In the mean, we’ve work to do.”
I glanced at the folio and chuckled. “I suppose we do.”
And… we are $5 toward our next episode on Saturday, which means we either need $15 or 3 reviews (and you know, Rose Point just came out, so reviews of it or Earthrise would be timely… *grin* )
Mirrored from MCAH Online.