Tag Archives: military fantasy

Echo of the High Kings Audiobook, Rerelease, and Giveaway

Good morning everyone.  I’m happy to say that progress on the Echo of the High Kings audio book is well underway.  To celebrate the audiobook release, I’m having a new cover produced for the paperback and ebook versions and running something of a contest and giveaway as well as a book bomb.

The book bomb will be timed to coincide with (roughly) the day of the audiobook release on Audible and (hopefully) Amazon.  Since there’s a delay of 3-7 days from when the audiobook is approved to when it goes live, I’m going to arbitrarily set a day now for a book bomb.  That will be the 11th of October.

On to the part that people get excited about: giving stuff away.  I’m going to do a contest as part of the book bomb.  For all reviews written on Echo of the High Kings to verified purchasers, I’ll do an entry into a drawing.  On the 15th of November, I’ll post the winners on my blog, they can then contact me afterward.  Now, for first place, I’m giving away a signed paperback copy of Echo of the High Kings (currently a $28 value).  For second place, I’m giving away an audiobook code (winner’s choice) good for either The Fallen Race or Echo of the High Kings.  Third place, you don’t get a book, but you do get put in a book as a character… no guarantees about survival, of course.  This is a random drawing, so the reviews, good or bad, that win will be the winner, also if there’s no way to identify the particular winner, (IE, no name posted with the review or no one steps forward), I’ll draw for a new winner.  Also, while the book bomb is on the 11th, I’ve no way to tell when a particular reviewer actually bought the book, so I’ll draw from all reviews posted until the 15th of November.   For those of you who take a bit longer, that’s 2 months to do some reading and write up a review.

Echo of the High Kings

Thanks everyone for reading and enjoy!

 

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Echo of the High Kings Fourth Sample

A map of the Duchy of Masov
A map of the Duchy of Masov

Here’s the fourth sample of Echo of the High Kings, you can find the first sample here, the second here, and the third here.  Echo of the High Kings will be published on 1 August, 2014 on Amazon.

Lord Hector

City of Longhaven, Longhaven Barony, Duchy of Masov

Twenty-Ninth of Idran, Cycle 993 Post Sundering

The sun had just set when Hector dismounted from his horse and passed the reins to one of his men. He had made his preparations at East Reach and ridden the remainder of the afternoon and early evening to arrive at Longhaven in time. Hector glanced up at the well-lit manor house, then back at the dimly lit town. It was just like Estrel to display his wealth while the rest of his Barony didn’t have the money for lamp oil. “You have your orders,” he said. They stared at him for a long moment in silence. He saw Sergeant Steffan open his mouth to speak, and then close it again.

Hector gave them a stern glare. “I will not repeat myself. Go to your assigned posts and prevent anyone from leaving the grounds until I return.”

The fifteen men dispersed, all except Sergeants Grel and Steffan, the two men whose loyalty and competence had most impressed him so far. Hector turned back towards the door of the manor house and took a deep breath. He walked past the pair of guards outside unchallenged. Inside, out of the dark night, the house seemed warm and cheerful. He heard his cousin’s wife before he saw her. She swept into the foyer, a plump, cheerful woman who always seemed happy to see guests. “Hector, so good to see you,” she said. “What brings you here tonight? Hopefully not any more of that dreary business?”

“More work, I’m afraid, Lady Rinata” Hector said. He forced himself to smile, though he knew the expression would look wooden. “Lord Estrel and I will need to discuss it for a few hours, I think.”

She shook her head, “Always so serious. I can tell whatever news has you here so late worries you. Do not take the world’s burdens on your shoulders, Hector, or it will send you to your grave early, a bitter man.”

Hector stared at her for a long moment, “I am the master of the guard, and Baron Estrel’s military captain. It is my duty to worry, and to guard these lands for Lord Estrel, and his and your duties to defend the people of Longhaven as the Baron and Baroness.”

She rolled her eyes, “I agree, and you’ll not hear me say otherwise. If you’ll remember, I have backed every one of your arguments with my husband. But worry and fear will drag you down, weigh down your spirit, and will age you. Do not forget to find time for friendship, love and even a family,” Lady Rinata said.

“Thank you for your concern,” Hector said, and felt a surge of guilt as he forced himself to meet her eyes. She was one of the few that had treated him with respect rather than as the by-blow of the Duke’s younger brother. Not for the first time, Hector wondered what the strong, confident, and kind woman saw in self-absorbed Baron Estrel. Then again, she might just see it as her duty to stand by him, arranged marriage or no, he thought. “I must speak with your husband.” He glanced at Sergeant Steffan, “The Sergeant here is from the town of Western Reach. He’s just returned from visiting family there, I wonder if you’d care to discuss the latest from your home?”

“Why, certainly,” Lady Rinata said. She immediately turned to the Sergeant. Some part of Hector wished that he could trust her, that she might see reason, but he couldn’t risk that she would side with her husband. Hector gave a single nod to Sergeant Steffan as she turned her back. The sergeant nodded back, nervously.

Hector just hoped that Steffan wouldn’t give the whole thing away. Lady Rinata was well known for her perception, she might see through his nervousness and figure out Hector’s true purpose here tonight before he did the deed.

Hector brushed past her, followed by Sergeant Grel. They ascended the stairs, and then walked down the hall to the library. As expected, he saw Captain Grayson, Baron Estrel’s personal armsman outside. “Evening, Robert,” he said in greeting.

“Lord Hector,” the armsman nodded, “Good to see you back. The Baron had not expected your return so soon. I take it you have news about the Armen?”

“He won’t like it,” Hector said.

Grayson gave him a sad nod. Hector knew that of all the people privy to the entire picture, Baron Estrel’s personal armsman understood best the precarious state of their defenses. Under other circumstances, Hector knew he could count on the man to provide more weight to his own arguments.

“Well, there may be some shouting,” Hector said. “I’ll ask that you let him get over his anger without interruption.”

“More like you shout at him to get some sense in his head about this,” Grayson said with a smile. “But I’ll take your meaning. Sergeant Grel and I will wait out here and have a good chat while you talk with the Baron.”

Hector could not force himself to meet his friend’s eyes as he stepped past him into the library. He found his cousin seated at the table, back to the door. For a moment, a cowardly part of Hector wanted to do the deed then, but he had to at least try to get his cousin to see reason, first. That route would prove better in the long run.

“My lord,” Hector said. His cousin waved a hand for him to circle around the other side of the table. Baron Estrel did not look up from his book.

Hector glanced at the pile of books as he passed, and he grimaced. He did not know how such drivel had survived since the Starborn’s arrival. They included social programs for the poor, extensive taxation of the wealthy merchant class to fund programs that turned productive members of society into useless drones. Worst of the ideology, Hector thought of how he gelded the military and his policy of bribery and appeasement of enemies and barbarians.

Hector had no grasp over the history of those books, but he saw the effects on the Barony of Longhaven. He had no desire to see the end of this particular experiment. The Starborn had brought other books, books on agriculture, medicine, chemistry–at least those had some use. Not for the first time, Hector wished that his cousin’s fascination had lain with books of science or even magic, rather than social progress. “My lord, I’ve just returned from meeting with my spymaster. The Armen intend to invade this next summer. I have come to ask that our latest shipment of tribute be retained and used to bolster our forces.”

“What?” Estrel looked up from his books. “Hector, you can’t be serious. I just spoke with the emissary of one of the Semat clans, who assured me that they’ve no intention to resort to military violence as long as we pay them their rightful share of wealth. We have extorted their lands for too long, and their anger is just something that occurs naturally due to the difference in wealth between their lands and ours.”

Hector took a deep breath, “Whatever the cause, cousin, the effect will result in the destruction of the city of Longhaven and the enslavement of our people. Hold back the tribute, and send for troops from Duke Peter, else we will face raids which my men cannot hold back.”

“No, this is unacceptable,” Baron Estrel shook his head. “You always see so much of a threat from these people. I don’t understand your bigotry. You even took one of their women as a mistress!”

“I have seen what they will do, you idiot, and I am trying my best to prevent that,” Hector snapped.

“You can’t talk to me like that,” Baron Estrel angrily rose from his chair.

“Sit down, shut your mouth and listen!” Hector shouted. He saw his cousin’s jaw drop and he dropped back to his seat in shock. He doubted that any man had dared even raise his voice in his presence since his father’s death. “You have bankrupted our Barony and turned one of the most prosperous cities in the Duchy of Masov into paupers. The Duke has requested his taxes and I know that we’ll barely be able to pay our own debts, much less pay our dues to him. Your father’s military program has fallen into disarray, which is why Duke Peter sent me here in the first place: to prevent Armen raids.”

“Which I have prevented. Since we began the tribute program, no Armen have raided our lands!” Baron Estrel said. “And I–”

“Those tributes increase every cycle. And no matter what, we will be unable to pay them next cycle,” Hector said. “Which even the Armen realize, and so they intend to raid us and take what is left by force. They’ll carve your heart out in front of your wife and give your soul to one of their dark spirits. They’ll rape and torture your wife until she wishes they did the same to her.” Hector leaned over the table. “I refuse to allow that, cousin. I will do everything in my power to prevent it… even if it means removing you.”

“But…” His cousin paled, then he shook his head and sat up straight, “You don’t have that authority, only the Duke does and he would not listen to you.” Baron Estrel’s face took on a nasty smirk, “You’re just his dead little brother’s bastard, little more than an embarrassment, whatever your skills.”

Hector ignored the jibe, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t heard the like before, “No… he wouldn’t, not with how you’ve downplayed my reports. He doesn’t have the full picture. I don’t have that authority… but I have that power, as your military commander. While you have constantly belittled your guard, undercut their loyalty every time you cut their pay, and treated them as little more than servants, I have trained them, shaped them, and given them my respect and loyalty.”

Baron Estrel went ghostly white. He hunched forward in his chair, almost as if he expected a blow. “You would not dare…”

“I do not want to,” Hector said softly. “You are my cousin, and whatever your faults, I do not wish to see you dead, much less do the deed myself. But I will, if you force my hand.” He met his cousin’s gaze, and for a moment, he thought he saw the man realize Hector’s own seriousness.

Then Baron Estrel sat up straight, “No, I call your bluff. You won’t do it, not with how Duke Peter will react. You would face execution, or worse, the Traitor’s Death. No, I relieve you of command, Hector. You will place yourself under house arrest, and await my judgment. I understand the pressures you are under, and I will be lenient when I take that into consideration.”

Hector closed his eyes, “Very well, cousin.”

He drew his sword and swung it in one swift motion. The blade slashed across his cousin’s throat, and a spray of blood fanned out across his books. Baron Estrel fell back in his chair, and his hands grasped at his ripped throat.

“I am sorry,” Lord Hector said. “But you left me no choice.”

He walked past the table, and to the door. He took a deep breath, then opened it.

He saw Robert Grayson turn. The old armsman had a moment to see Hector in the doorway, bloodied sword drawn. Hector did not give him time to react. He stepped forward and drove his blade into the armsman’s chest, all the way to the hilt, then caught him as he slumped.

“Why…” Grayson whispered.

“Because there was no other way,” Hector said. He held his old friend as he died, and some part of Hector died when he felt the last quiver go through Grayson’s body.

He lowered his dead friend to the floor, and glanced at Sergeant Grel. “Secure the room. No one enters without my word.”

The sergeant gave him a solid nod. His calm under the circumstances gave Hector pause and made him note that the sergeant might prove useful for other circumstances.

Hector drew the armsman’s sword. He retraced his steps to the foyer, and found Sergeant Steffan and Lady Rinata had paused their conversation. Estrel’s wife looked up at him with a look of confusion. “Hector, I thought I heard something…” Her eyes dropped to the sword in his hand. Hector saw realization flash through her eyes.

She reacted without hesitation. Sergeant Steffan’s hand had dropped to his own blade, but Lady Rinata whipped a hidden knife from her sleeve and drove it into his throat before he could react.

Hector gave a curse and ran towards her. She ran for the door.

Hector leapt off the stairs and felt something pop in his ankle as he landed in a stumble, between her and the doors.

She tried to skid to a stop, but the smooth stone tiles made her slide towards him.

Hector brought the sword up in a lunge. She twisted to the side at the last instant, and his strike caught her through the side rather than cleanly through the heart. She let out a shrill scream of pain, even as she whipped her blade at his face.

Hector dropped the sword and stumbled back. He clutched at his face in pain. He heard the doors open behind him.

He turned to find the two armsmen from outside. They stared between him and the wounded Lady Rinata in shock for a second. Hector used their hesitation. He reached down and ripped the sword out of her and spun to attack the nearest. His sword caught the younger man before he could get his own blade out. The other leapt to attack with a shout of alarm.

Hector blocked the strike and then lunged to run the guard through.

He looked down and saw Rinata clutch at her side. “Why, we loved you like a brother, why would you–”

Hector thrust down with the sword. He left it planted in her heart.

He stumbled away from the bodies and took a seat on one of the chairs. A moment later, several of his own guards swept in, followed by servants and more armsmen. “Captain Grayson and the two guards on duty went mad,” Hector said. He clutched at the cut on his face. “They attacked Lady Rinata, and when I went upstairs, I found they’d killed Baron Estrel.”

His own men stood silent, while the remaining armsmen stood in shock. Several of the servants gave out wails, and Hector saw Lady Rinata’s maids rush to her side.

“There can be no doubt of Captain Grayson’s guilt,” Hector said. “He left his sword planted in her.”

Sergeant Tunel, Grayson’s second in command stared between the bodies and Hector. “My lord… this is impossible. Captain Grayson would never hurt them.”

“I came here to confront him,” Hector said. “I found paperwork that suggested he had debts to a criminal, and he had sold information to the Armen to pay off those debts. I never expected his betrayal ran so deep.”

“This…” Tunel looked between Hector and the bodies of his men. “Lord Hector, you are the senior ranking man on the scene. However, I must request that you send for one of Duke Peter’s officers to investigate and magistrates to take down sworn statements.”

“Of course,” Hector said. “I will dispatch a messenger at once.” He looked over at his guards, who stood unobtrusively at the doors. “Secure the area, and send a runner to Magistrate Helman. Tell him we need him here to take statements and collect evidence. Also, send for a courier and I’ll write up a message for him to deliver to Duke Peter, along with a request for his assistance in this matter.”

Sergeant Tunel nodded and Hector saw him relax slightly. Even so, the armsman continued to look suspicious. Hector made note of that. He would have to make sure that some evidence implicated the armsman… and that he suffered a fatal wound when he resisted arrest. It pained him to kill another good fighting man, but armsmen were loyal to their charges first and foremost.

He did not expect for the story to last or even for most to believe it. But it would serve as a polite fiction. Magistrate Helman would find the evidence which would uphold Hector’s story. Whatever officer arrived from Duke Peter, he would have only Hector’s men as witnesses and evidence collected by Helman would support their story.

In the meantime, Hector would take his cousin’s position, as both the senior military officer and the nearest blood relation. He knew that some others might have claims to the once-wealthy barony, but few would want to press those given the Armen threat and the state of disrepair.

Hector glanced around the room. “Let us hope that this is the end of any treasonous plot,” he said. He spoke the truth, for he wanted no more bloodshed. Let this be the end, he thought, let Duke Peter accept this, despite whatever suspicions arise.

***

Echo of the High Kings Third Sample

Here’s the third sample of Echo of the High Kings.  In this section, we see the consequences of Lord Hector’s discussion with his son.  Echo of the High Kings is an epic fantasy that comes out 1 August 2014.  You can find the first sample here and the second one here.

Lord Hector

City of Longhaven, Longhaven Barony, Duchy of Masov

Twenty-Ninth of Idran, Cycle 993 Post Sundering

The sun had just set when Hector dismounted from his horse and passed the reins to one of his men. He had made his preparations at East Reach and ridden the remainder of the afternoon and early evening to arrive at Longhaven in time. Hector glanced up at the well-lit manor house, then back at the dimly lit town. It was just like Estrel to display his wealth while the rest of his Barony didn’t have the money for lamp oil. “You have your orders,” he said. They stared at him for a long moment in silence. He saw Sergeant Steffan open his mouth to speak, and then close it again.

Hector gave them a stern glare. “I will not repeat myself. Go to your assigned posts and prevent anyone from leaving the grounds until I return.”

The fifteen men dispersed, all except Sergeants Grel and Steffan, the two men whose loyalty and competence had most impressed him so far. Hector turned back towards the door of the manor house and took a deep breath. He walked past the pair of guards outside unchallenged. Inside, out of the dark night, the house seemed warm and cheerful. He heard his cousin’s wife before he saw her. She swept into the foyer, a plump, cheerful woman who always seemed happy to see guests. “Hector, so good to see you,” she said. “What brings you here tonight? Hopefully not any more of that dreary business?”

“More work, I’m afraid, Lady Rinata” Hector said. He forced himself to smile, though he knew the expression would look wooden. “Lord Estrel and I will need to discuss it for a few hours, I think.”

She shook her head, “Always so serious. I can tell whatever news has you here so late worries you. Do not take the world’s burdens on your shoulders, Hector, or it will send you to your grave early, a bitter man.”

Hector stared at her for a long moment, “I am the master of the guard, and Baron Estrel’s military captain. It is my duty to worry, and to guard these lands for Lord Estrel, and his and your duties to defend the people of Longhaven as the Baron and Baroness.”

She rolled her eyes, “I agree, and you’ll not hear me say otherwise. If you’ll remember, I have backed every one of your arguments with my husband. But worry and fear will drag you down, weigh down your spirit, and will age you. Do not forget to find time for friendship, love and even a family,” Lady Rinata said.

“Thank you for your concern,” Hector said, and felt a surge of guilt as he forced himself to meet her eyes. She was one of the few that had treated him with respect rather than as the by-blow of the Duke’s younger brother. Not for the first time, Hector wondered what the strong, confident, and kind woman saw in self-absorbed Baron Estrel. Then again, she might just see it as her duty to stand by him, arranged marriage or no, he thought. “I must speak with your husband.” He glanced at Sergeant Steffan, “The Sergeant here is from the town of Western Reach. He’s just returned from visiting family there, I wonder if you’d care to discuss the latest from your home?”

“Why, certainly,” Lady Rinata said. She immediately turned to the Sergeant. Some part of Hector wished that he could trust her, that she might see reason, but he couldn’t risk that she would side with her husband. Hector gave a single nod to Sergeant Steffan as she turned her back. The sergeant nodded back, nervously.

Hector just hoped that Steffan wouldn’t give the whole thing away. Lady Rinata was well known for her perception, she might see through his nervousness and figure out Hector’s true purpose here tonight before he did the deed.

Hector brushed past her, followed by Sergeant Grel. They ascended the stairs, and then walked down the hall to the library. As expected, he saw Captain Grayson, Baron Estrel’s personal armsman outside. “Evening, Robert,” he said in greeting.

“Lord Hector,” the armsman nodded, “Good to see you back. The Baron had not expected your return so soon. I take it you have news about the Armen?”

“He won’t like it,” Hector said.

Grayson gave him a sad nod. Hector knew that of all the people privy to the entire picture, Baron Estrel’s personal armsman understood best the precarious state of their defenses. Under other circumstances, Hector knew he could count on the man to provide more weight to his own arguments.

“Well, there may be some shouting,” Hector said. “I’ll ask that you let him get over his anger without interruption.”

“More like you shout at him to get some sense in his head about this,” Grayson said with a smile. “But I’ll take your meaning. Sergeant Grel and I will wait out here and have a good chat while you talk with the Baron.”

Hector could not force himself to meet his friend’s eyes as he stepped past him into the library. He found his cousin seated at the table, back to the door. For a moment, a cowardly part of Hector wanted to do the deed then, but he had to at least try to get his cousin to see reason, first. That route would prove better in the long run.

“My lord,” Hector said. His cousin waved a hand for him to circle around the other side of the table. Baron Estrel did not look up from his book.

Hector glanced at the pile of books as he passed, and he grimaced. He did not know how such drivel had survived since the Starborn’s arrival. They included social programs for the poor, extensive taxation of the wealthy merchant class to fund programs that turned productive members of society into useless drones. Worst of the ideology, Hector thought of how he gelded the military and his policy of bribery and appeasement of enemies and barbarians.

Hector had no grasp over the history of those books, but he saw the effects on the Barony of Longhaven. He had no desire to see the end of this particular experiment. The Starborn had brought other books, books on agriculture, medicine, chemistry–at least those had some use. Not for the first time, Hector wished that his cousin’s fascination had lain with books of science or even magic, rather than social progress. “My lord, I’ve just returned from meeting with my spymaster. The Armen intend to invade this next summer. I have come to ask that our latest shipment of tribute be retained and used to bolster our forces.”

“What?” Estrel looked up from his books. “Hector, you can’t be serious. I just spoke with the emissary of one of the Semat clans, who assured me that they’ve no intention to resort to military violence as long as we pay them their rightful share of wealth. We have extorted their lands for too long, and their anger is just something that occurs naturally due to the difference in wealth between their lands and ours.”

Hector took a deep breath, “Whatever the cause, cousin, the effect will result in the destruction of the city of Longhaven and the enslavement of our people. Hold back the tribute, and send for troops from Duke Peter, else we will face raids which my men cannot hold back.”

“No, this is unacceptable,” Baron Estrel shook his head. “You always see so much of a threat from these people. I don’t understand your bigotry. You even took one of their women as a mistress!”

“I have seen what they will do, you idiot, and I am trying my best to prevent that,” Hector snapped.

“You can’t talk to me like that,” Baron Estrel angrily rose from his chair.

“Sit down, shut your mouth and listen!” Hector shouted. He saw his cousin’s jaw drop and he dropped back to his seat in shock. He doubted that any man had dared even raise his voice in his presence since his father’s death. “You have bankrupted our Barony and turned one of the most prosperous cities in the Duchy of Masov into paupers. The Duke has requested his taxes and I know that we’ll barely be able to pay our own debts, much less pay our dues to him. Your father’s military program has fallen into disarray, which is why Duke Peter sent me here in the first place: to prevent Armen raids.”

“Which I have prevented. Since we began the tribute program, no Armen have raided our lands!” Baron Estrel said. “And I–”

“Those tributes increase every cycle. And no matter what, we will be unable to pay them next cycle,” Hector said. “Which even the Armen realize, and so they intend to raid us and take what is left by force. They’ll carve your heart out in front of your wife and give your soul to one of their dark spirits. They’ll rape and torture your wife until she wishes they did the same to her.” Hector leaned over the table. “I refuse to allow that, cousin. I will do everything in my power to prevent it… even if it means removing you.”

“But…” His cousin paled, then he shook his head and sat up straight, “You don’t have that authority, only the Duke does and he would not listen to you.” Baron Estrel’s face took on a nasty smirk, “You’re just his dead little brother’s bastard, little more than an embarrassment, whatever your skills.”

Hector ignored the jibe, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t heard the like before, “No… he wouldn’t, not with how you’ve downplayed my reports. He doesn’t have the full picture. I don’t have that authority… but I have that power, as your military commander. While you have constantly belittled your guard, undercut their loyalty every time you cut their pay, and treated them as little more than servants, I have trained them, shaped them, and given them my respect and loyalty.”

Baron Estrel went ghostly white. He hunched forward in his chair, almost as if he expected a blow. “You would not dare…”

“I do not want to,” Hector said softly. “You are my cousin, and whatever your faults, I do not wish to see you dead, much less do the deed myself. But I will, if you force my hand.” He met his cousin’s gaze, and for a moment, he thought he saw the man realize Hector’s own seriousness.

Then Baron Estrel sat up straight, “No, I call your bluff. You won’t do it, not with how Duke Peter will react. You would face execution, or worse, the Traitor’s Death. No, I relieve you of command, Hector. You will place yourself under house arrest, and await my judgment. I understand the pressures you are under, and I will be lenient when I take that into consideration.”

Hector closed his eyes, “Very well, cousin.”

He drew his sword and swung it in one swift motion. The blade slashed across his cousin’s throat, and a spray of blood fanned out across his books. Baron Estrel fell back in his chair, and his hands grasped at his ripped throat.

“I am sorry,” Lord Hector said. “But you left me no choice.”

He walked past the table, and to the door. He took a deep breath, then opened it.

He saw Robert Grayson turn. The old armsman had a moment to see Hector in the doorway, bloodied sword drawn. Hector did not give him time to react. He stepped forward and drove his blade into the armsman’s chest, all the way to the hilt, then caught him as he slumped.

“Why…” Grayson whispered.

“Because there was no other way,” Hector said. He held his old friend as he died, and some part of Hector died when he felt the last quiver go through Grayson’s body.

He lowered his dead friend to the floor, and glanced at Sergeant Grel. “Secure the room. No one enters without my word.”

The sergeant gave him a solid nod. His calm under the circumstances gave Hector pause and made him note that the sergeant might prove useful for other circumstances.

Hector drew the armsman’s sword. He retraced his steps to the foyer, and found Sergeant Steffan and Lady Rinata had paused their conversation. Estrel’s wife looked up at him with a look of confusion. “Hector, I thought I heard something…” Her eyes dropped to the sword in his hand. Hector saw realization flash through her eyes.

She reacted without hesitation. Sergeant Steffan’s hand had dropped to his own blade, but Lady Rinata whipped a hidden knife from her sleeve and drove it into his throat before he could react.

Hector gave a curse and ran towards her. She ran for the door.

Hector leapt off the stairs and felt something pop in his ankle as he landed in a stumble, between her and the doors.

She tried to skid to a stop, but the smooth stone tiles made her slide towards him.

Hector brought the sword up in a lunge. She twisted to the side at the last instant, and his strike caught her through the side rather than cleanly through the heart. She let out a shrill scream of pain, even as she whipped her blade at his face.

Hector dropped the sword and stumbled back. He clutched at his face in pain. He heard the doors open behind him.

He turned to find the two armsmen from outside. They stared between him and the wounded Lady Rinata in shock for a second. Hector used their hesitation. He reached down and ripped the sword out of her and spun to attack the nearest. His sword caught the younger man before he could get his own blade out. The other leapt to attack with a shout of alarm.

Hector blocked the strike and then lunged to run the guard through.

He looked down and saw Rinata clutch at her side. “Why, we loved you like a brother, why would you–”

Hector thrust down with the sword. He left it planted in her heart.

He stumbled away from the bodies and took a seat on one of the chairs. A moment later, several of his own guards swept in, followed by servants and more armsmen. “Captain Grayson and the two guards on duty went mad,” Hector said. He clutched at the cut on his face. “They attacked Lady Rinata, and when I went upstairs, I found they’d killed Baron Estrel.”

His own men stood silent, while the remaining armsmen stood in shock. Several of the servants gave out wails, and Hector saw Lady Rinata’s maids rush to her side.

“There can be no doubt of Captain Grayson’s guilt,” Hector said. “He left his sword planted in her.”

Sergeant Tunel, Grayson’s second in command stared between the bodies and Hector. “My lord… this is impossible. Captain Grayson would never hurt them.”

“I came here to confront him,” Hector said. “I found paperwork that suggested he had debts to a criminal, and he had sold information to the Armen to pay off those debts. I never expected his betrayal ran so deep.”

“This…” Tunel looked between Hector and the bodies of his men. “Lord Hector, you are the senior ranking man on the scene. However, I must request that you send for one of Duke Peter’s officers to investigate and magistrates to take down sworn statements.”

“Of course,” Hector said. “I will dispatch a messenger at once.” He looked over at his guards, who stood unobtrusively at the doors. “Secure the area, and send a runner to Magistrate Helman. Tell him we need him here to take statements and collect evidence. Also, send for a courier and I’ll write up a message for him to deliver to Duke Peter, along with a request for his assistance in this matter.”

Sergeant Tunel nodded and Hector saw him relax slightly. Even so, the armsman continued to look suspicious. Hector made note of that. He would have to make sure that some evidence implicated the armsman… and that he suffered a fatal wound when he resisted arrest. It pained him to kill another good fighting man, but armsmen were loyal to their charges first and foremost.

He did not expect for the story to last or even for most to believe it. But it would serve as a polite fiction. Magistrate Helman would find the evidence which would uphold Hector’s story. Whatever officer arrived from Duke Peter, he would have only Hector’s men as witnesses and evidence collected by Helman would support their story.

In the meantime, Hector would take his cousin’s position, as both the senior military officer and the nearest blood relation. He knew that some others might have claims to the once-wealthy barony, but few would want to press those given the Armen threat and the state of disrepair.

Hector glanced around the room. “Let us hope that this is the end of any treasonous plot,” he said. He spoke the truth, for he wanted no more bloodshed. Let this be the end, he thought, let Duke Peter accept this, despite whatever suspicions arise.

***

 

In Eoriel, the High Kings are legend: rulers who once stood against the darkness and ruled the world for two thousand turns of peace and prosperity. In the long turns since their fall during the Sundering, Eoriel’s civilization has faded. Dark men and darker beings have torn down and destroyed the old works. While some have held out against the grind of history, other places have been reduced to primitive tribes of savages, worshiping dark spirits and demons as their gods.

Yet, a spark of hope remains: some still believe in the old legends, some still fight to restore the old ways, and some will stand against the darkness, in an echo of the High Kings.

Echo of the High Kings Second Sample

Here’s the second sample from Echo of the High Kings.  Once again, Echo of the High Kings will be published on 1 August 2014.  For the first sample, check here.

Lord Hector

Town of East Reach, Longhaven Barony, Duchy of Masov

Twenty-Ninth of Idran, Cycle 993 Post Sundering

 

Lord Hector pulled his cloak tighter against the damp air of the tavern as he read through the scout’s report. He wasn’t certain if the cool, damp fall air or the dire news laid out in the precise handwriting on the parchment that made the gooseflesh rise on his arms.

“You need to kill him tonight,” his spy said, his voice tight with strain.

Hector’s head snapped up and he met the blue eyed gaze of the source of the reports. “You seem eager for me to commit treason based on the Armen threat.” For a moment, he almost forgot that the dusky-skinned man across from him wasn’t one of the barbarians from the north. He had seen many such faces, often marked with ritual tattoos or brands, often blood-spattered from their work. Most of what he saw at little better than arms reach as they tried to take his life and he theirs.

Hector didn’t realize that his hand had dropped to his sword until the other man reached out and put his hand atop Hector’s, “I do not seek to drive you to treason… I seek to save these lands from the savagery that we both know awaits. You raised me to be your spy amongst the Armen and your scout on campaign. Believe me, father, the Armen will come with the spring.”

Hector failed to hide a wince. It wasn’t that he didn’t have pride, of a sort, in his bastard son’s accomplishments. Yet, the truth remained, his boy was a halfblood… and while half his blood came from Hector, the other half of that blood came from the enemy. Hector shot a glance around the all-but-empty tavern, but it looked like the old drunks at the bar had little interest in their conversation. Hector’s eyes lingered on a hooded man in the corner, but the hunched figure in the shadows looked to be too far away to overhear their conversation. Even so, Hector pitched his voice low so it would not carry, “I sent you to gather information. You brought back rumors and vague warnings, talk of sorcerers and the mutterings of Armen holy men. I can’t bypass Baron Estrel and go to the Duke with this, not without hard numbers.”

“Do not allow your hate for me to blind you to the truth, father,” his son said. For a second, he looked so much like is mother that Hector had to look away. His chest ached with a long-remembered pain and Hector’s left hand stroked a scar that ran along his left thigh.

“I don’t hate you,” Hector managed to mutter. “But as you said, if this is all I have, then I am left one option: kill the rightful Baron of Longhaven and take his place. Otherwise, there isn’t time to prevent his next tribute shipment.”

Hector’s son nodded, “You can’t go to the Duke without solid proof, or Baron Estrel will undercut anything you say. The barony will fall without a strong leader. Your cousin has whored away his father’s gains. The talk amongst the Armen is that his lands are ripe for raiding.”

Hector nodded despite himself. He had arrived two cycles earlier, sent by the Duke with direction to try to repair some of the damage Baron Estrel had done to his defenses. What he had found had made the most pessimistic reports of the Barony’s readiness look far understated. Little remained of Baron Estrel’s forces. Most of his soldiers were unfit for duty, and his Master of Arms was an old drunk. Hector had done what he could, but the truth remained that the Barony was in a state of disarray… a fact that the Armen raiders knew quite well. Estrel had held them off until now with bribes and tribute, but even the Armen knew that soon he couldn’t afford any more. Soon the Armen would descend along the coast. They would rape, enslave, pillage and burn, and Hector had seen what they left behind often enough to feel sick at the thought.

Hector’s mouth twisted in a grimace, “I know what I have to do, yes… and I know the cost. If even a whisper of this gets out, the Duke will demand justice. My head will be the one that rolls for this.” Hector looked down and noticed that his wine sat untouched. He took a sip of his wine and the liquid burned in his throat. He shook his head as his vision flared for a moment. His head felt a little light.

“You need not face that,” his son shook his head. “Have me do it, father. It will look like an Armen raid, I’ll even hire a few Armen to launch a distraction. Even if I fail, the worst anyone will think is that I’ve betrayed you.”

Hector heard the words as if through a tunnel. He shook his head again, and he heard his own response as if it came from someone else, “You think I lack the stomach for it, do you?” He hadn’t realized that he stood until he heard his chair hit the floor behind him. Some part of him wondered at his own reaction, yet it was a disconnected thought, one he barely noticed.

His son stretched out an arm, “No! I merely think that this is the best way to do this! Please, sit. I did not mean to anger you, father–”

Hector seemed to rush back into himself and his head cleared. Forgotten was the lightheaded feeling, replaced by a spike of rage, “Do not dare to try to placate me!” Hector shouted. “You think me too cowardly to do the business myself, you seek to make me skulk behind you and then you seek to insinuate that I’m unreasonable?!” Incandescent rage filled him, and only the shreds of his self control allowed him to rip his hand away from the hilt of his sword. “Begone,” Hector snarled.

He saw his son’s face go slack with shock and then firm with rage of his own. Even so, he tried to reason with him, “Please, do not do this. You need some cut out or this will all be for naught–”

Hector saw some movement behind his son, the cloaked man in the corner. For a moment, Hector met the other man’s dark eyes. Hector thought he saw the slightest twist of a smile on the other man’s shadowed face. He laughs at me, just as my son always has… The smile was the last straw, the catalyst that sent his rage to boil over.

Hector leaned across the table and struck his son twice, once across each cheek. “You are no son of mine. You’ve done your task, now begone, and let a man of honor do his duty.”

Hector righted his chair as his son turned away without a word. He saw that the drunks had given him their attention, but a glare from him sent them back to their drinks. Hector sat and stared down at the reports and ignored the sound of the inn’s door as his son walked out into the cold fall rain. Hector pushed the wine goblet away and stared down at the reports. A part of him wanted to get up, to go after his son.

Yet his pride and his anger kept him in his chair and his duty forced him to examine what he had to do. He knew how to do it and he knew exactly what it would cost him to do it right. He was right to tell his son that he must do the deed himself. Hector was sent by the Duke to fix things, and so it fell to him to make it right. If nothing else, he owed it to his cousin to kill him in person.

Hector rolled up the parchment report and his gaze went distant as he began to make plans. He went past the immediate deed and had begun to plan his campaign against the Armen for the spring within a few minutes. He never noticed the hooded man from the corner as he slipped out of the tavern, just as the tavern maid hadn’t noticed when he slipped a vial of amber liquid in Hector’s wine when he’d entered.

***

Blurb

In Eoriel, the High Kings are legend: rulers who once stood against the darkness and ruled the world for two thousand turns of peace and prosperity. In the long turns since their fall during the Sundering, Eoriel’s civilization has faded. Dark men and darker beings have torn down and destroyed the old works. While some have held out against the grind of history, other places have been reduced to primitive tribes of savages, worshiping dark spirits and demons as their gods.

Yet, a spark of hope remains: some still believe in the old legends, some still fight to restore the old ways, and some will stand against the darkness, in an echo of the High Kings.

Echo of the High Kings will be published on 1 August 2014

Echo of the High Kings First Sample

This section is the opening scene in Echo of the High Kings.  Echo of the High Kings will be released on 1 August 2014.

 

Lady Katarina Emberhill

Castle Emberhill (Ducal Seat) Duchy of Masov

Twenty Seventh of Idran, Cycle 993 Post Sundering

 

Katarina ducked under the swing of her opponent and swung wildly in return. Her hit connected with his shield, but he grabbed her arm, lifted, and threw her flat on her back to the cold, muddy ground of the stable yard. Katarina felt the air woosh out of her lungs and for a moment, stars danced before her eyes. She caught her breath with a gasp and scowled up at Jarek, “You cheated.”

He smiled down at her, his brown eyes merry. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you wanted me to train you the prim and proper methods of fighting. It’s not like you’re going to duel someone.”

Katarina groaned and sat up. She felt the chill mud of the stable yard through her leather riding clothes and as she ran a hand through her raven black hair, she realized that she had more there… in addition to the sweat from the past hour of impromptu ‘training’ from Jarek.

Jarek looked behind her and his face went pale. Katarina saw him snap to attention, his wooden practice sword discarded, “My lord.”

Katarina felt her heart drop. She stood as quickly as she could manage and turned. As she’d feared, Lord Peter, Duke of Masov, sat on his horse at the stable yard entrance. Her father had no expression on his face, but she could see the irritation and disappointment in his eyes. Worse, she saw a half dozen mounted men behind him, many of them dressed in fine furs and robes on the blustery fall day. Their expressions ranged from amusement to disgust.

Katarina gave the best curtsey she could manage, “Father.”

The slight pinched expression he showed then suggested that he almost didn’t want to admit his connection to her. Katarina bit the inside of her lip at that realization. It wouldn’t be the first time, she thought, although finding me in this state, breaking my promise not to try to train in fighting is sure to reach a new level.

“Jarek, I will speak to Lord Elaisz about this, you may go,” Duke Peter said as he dismounted. Katarina winced at that. Lord Eliasz was the Baron of Zielona Gora, Jarek’s father, and her own father’s closest adviser. One of the stable boys ran out to catch the reins of his horse. Duke Peter walked forward to stand in front of Katarina. She was almost his height, a fact that did not instill any confidence in her. “Katarina, we will discuss this later. Get yourself cleaned up and come to my study.” The lack of emotion in his voice hurt even more than the cold look in his gray eyes.

Katarina managed a curtsey to her father and a polite nod at the noblemen and then hurried away from the scene as her eyes welled up. I just wanted to learn, she thought, angrily. Her brother, Peter, had already begun training. She had heard that women in other nations, even Marovingia, learned at least some weapons training. Her father had denied it to her, with multiple reminders that proper women did not find interest in such things.

Half in tears, she almost ran into her little brother as she raced through the corridors of the keep. He blinked at her, “What’s wrong? How’d you get so muddy, you better get changed before someone sees you.” Behind him she saw his armsman, Zeno.

Katarina pushed past him and rushed to her room. She heard him behind her, “Kati, what’s wrong?”

Katarina turned, “Father’s back. I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you.” She couldn’t help the vitriol in her voice. With Father, Peter can do no wrong, she thought, while I can do nothing right.

She saw the look of shock on his face. Katarina wiped at the tears on her face and sighed. She miserably spoke, “I talked Jarek into teaching me how to fight, in the stable yard because we thought it would be mostly deserted. Father showed up right after Jarek dumped me in the mud.”

Peter winced, “I told you I could train you what I’m learning…”

“No,” Katarina said. She looked around the hallway and dropped her voice. “Peter, you’re the heir. You can’t be seen disobeying father, or there will be half a dozen people who will spread rumors about you.” Katarina sighed, “I’m his too strong-willed daughter, who rides horses and reads books.” She didn’t know if Peter understood. People didn’t talk as freely around him as they did her. In some ways, being considered the outcast meant she heard much more of the gossip and talk, in part because people didn’t care what she overheard.

“Look, just trust me, it was better that I do it that way. Besides, I’m five foot tall, you’re only three feet tall. Jarek’s a better match for me.”

Peter scowled, “I bet he’s in trouble, huh?”

Katarina winced again, “Yeah, Father said he’s going to tell Lord Eliasz.”

“Well, if you don’t want Mother to see you like that, you should probably head down the back stairs, she’s on her way up to make sure that the guest wing is prepared for the guests,” Peter said. He still looked confused and a little hurt that she hadn’t involved him. But the things she’d heard some of the noblewomen talk about… she didn’t want to make things more difficult for her family. She had intended her little training session to be a secret. Next time, I’ll do it in some of the hidden passages, she thought, assuming there is a next time.

Whatever trouble Jarek got into, she was certain she could talk him around. Though she had the feeling he wouldn’t be too fond of her for the next week or two until his father forgave him. Like Peter’s relationship with their father, Jarek and Lord Eliasz were close and Katarina felt certain that whatever punishment Jarek received, he’d be more upset by his father’s disappointment in him than anything else.

Katarina gave Peter a nod, “Thanks, Peter. Father will no doubt tell her soon enough, but I’d rather not have the confrontation right now.” She turned away and rushed to her room. She felt more than a little grateful that her father hadn’t moved her out of the children’s wing yet. Really, at her age, it was customary that she be moved to adult quarters in Estera Tower. But Estera Tower’s bathing rooms were designed around proper adult women who never got muddy or dirty at all. The children’s suites all had access to the larger bathing chamber, because even noble children got messy.

Katarina bathed quickly and then rushed back to her room. She frowned when she found two of her father’s armsmen outside her door. The older one, Tomek gave her a nod and a slight smile, “Lord Peter wanted someone down here to keep watch.”

Katarina managed a nod and continued past them into her room. Tomek was one of her father’s oldest armsmen, he had served her grandfather, from what she’d heard. She thought, briefly, to ask what had happened to her last armsman, Covle. She thought better of it though. Neither looked comfortable down here, away from their main charge. For that matter, Covle had disappeared so suddenly and without any fanfare that Katarina felt certain it meant he’d done something dreadful.

His disappearance had made her more recent adventures possible. Without an armsman to follow her around, she had been able to explore the hidden passages within Emberhill Castle for hours and even had time to convince Jarek to train her a bit on fighting. Combined with the fact that Armsman Covle Darkbit always made her feel uncomfortable, she hadn’t asked many questions about his departure. He would always get those weird smiles on his face when he thought no one was looking, Katarina remembered, like he knew some secret that no one else did.

She found her maid, Linsey, awaiting her, a disapproving frown on her face. “My lady, I warned you that you’d get in trouble.” Katarina pinched her lips together against a retort. She didn’t know why her mother had assigned the skinny woman to her. Linsey was the keep’s most poisonous gossip. Katarina had little doubt that half the castle would know about the incident before evening.

“Not a proper thing for a Lady to do, you ask me,” Linsey said. “For that matter, riding isn’t even proper, not unless you’ve some place to go, and then a carriage or palanquin is far more proper…” the woman continued her tirade and Katarina made polite noises as Linsey helped her into a dress. Katarina was tall and thin for her age, at six cycles, though she wouldn’t be considered of age until nine cycles. Katarina still had a ways to grow for that matter, a fact which quite vexed Linsey. This newest dress was already too short, and in another few weeks Katarina wouldn’t fit into it at all.

As she stared into the mirror, Katarina realized that she looked more and more like her mother. She had the same curly black hair, the same pale skin, and her thin face with sharp nose and arched eyebrows. She was fast catching up with height, for her mother towered over most people in the Duchy of Masov. Perhaps, she thought enviously, I’ll even grow into her curves.

As if on cue, the door to her room opened and her mother swept in. Katarina rose and curtseyed, and her mother gave her a slight sniff and a nod. She glared at Linsey, “I told you to ensure she was presentable to our guests. I’m holding you responsible for that incident in the stables.”

Katarina winced. Linsey would take that out on her. The maid had a joy of using a brush to dig into her scalp and yank at her dark hair when she was angry. Besides, it wasn’t as if Linsey had known the Duke would be back so soon. Even for her dislike of the maid, she spoke up, “Mother, Linsey didn’t know that the Duke would be back, she couldn’t have warned me.”

“She did, indeed, know that,” her mother said. Lady Alexia scowled at Linsey, “I told her that Duke Peter would return this morning.” Anger cut sharp lines into her mother’s face, and Katarina realized with a shock that her mother had aged much in the past few years. Lines of gray worked through the dark curls of her hair. “And I specifically told her not to let you go out riding, much less get into this kind of mischief.”

Linsey looked away, “My lady…”

“We will speak of this later,” Lady Alexia snapped. “You are dismissed.” She waited as the maid left, then turned her blue eyed gaze on Katarina. “You look much more presentable, though I doubt anyone will look at you now and see aught besides the mud spattered girl they first laid eyes on.”

Katarina lowered her head, “I’m sorry, Mother.”

“I can’t be angry at you, my dear,” Lady Alexia said. “I might as well be angry at water for being wet, the Viani for being mysterious, or Auir for shining.” She gave a sigh. “But you do try my patience.” Lady Alexia took a deep breath. “Your father wished to keep this… quiet, but the purpose of this event tonight was to show you off… for potential betrothal.”

“What?” Katarina asked in shock. She had known, theoretically, that she would be betrothed and married someday… but that day had seemed a distant thing.

“Half the Duchy’s nobles have come, along with their heirs. We’ve even a couple noblemen from Boir, Lord Hennings and Lord Anhalt,” Lady Alexia said. She saw the expression of shock on Katarina’s face and sighed. “Child, I know that this is a rude awakening, but it is… was, a good thing. Things are, uncertain right now, and growing more so. A betrothal could prevent bloodshed, could stabilize things somewhat.”

Katarina nodded. She’d heard some of the rumors and she knew her duty, yet she had hoped for greater freedom. For a brief moment, she wished she’d been born a boy, so that she could learn to fight, so that she’d have her father’s love and respect. So that she wouldn’t be some prize to be sold off to build a political alliance. “Very well.”

“Look,” her mother sighed, “You know that… your Father and I, our arranged marriage has not been the best example.” The two almost never spoke, Katarina knew. Though how much of that was due to the fact that her father was Starborn and so would still be youthful and young long after her mother died of old age was uncertain. Katarina had never heard them argue, yet there seemed some underlying bitterness that meant that they barely spoke in private.

Even so, they were publicly a team, a strong marriage. Though Katarina knew that her mother’s place of birth was something that many noblewomen held against her. Lady Alexia came from Marovingia, so she was seen as an outsider. Would Katarina face the same fate, she wondered? Would she go to some distant land in order to build an alliance?

Katarina gave her a nod. Her mother smiled slightly, “My dear, it will be alright, I promise you.” A distant look went over her face, “I will do everything I can to make certain that you and young Peter will be cared for, no matter what it might cost me.”

Katarina frowned at that in confusion. Her mother sighed at the expression on her face, “Katarina, we’ve wasted enough time. Your father is in his study. Go see him, accept whatever punishment, and do not further aggravate him. He has enough worries, now.”

Katarina left. Her footsteps carried her out of the children’s wing and down the lone access corridor that led to the Duke’s quarters. Her father’s two armsmen followed her, their faces somber. She paused outside the library door. The library had always been her favorite room in the keep, even before she found the hidden passages that connected to it. She used to spend hours of her childhood, seated in one of her father’s oversized chairs and reading the history books. She’d particularly liked the stories of the times when her father’s people, the Starborn, had arrived to Eoria. She was fascinated by the thoughts that other worlds awaited beyond her own and of the brave men and women who had shaped this world and had raised the banners of civilization and brought an end to the generations of war. The Starborn had established their Codes to prevent disease and outbreak, introduced concepts of crop rotation and fertilization, and and established their Laws which applied to all, noble and peasant alike. In the two thousand cycle reign of the Starborn High Kings, their civilization had spread across the Five Duchies and even to the distant continent of Aoriel. They had even, briefly, maintained outposts on Eoria’s twin world, Aoria.

If the High Kings still ruled, I’d be free to pursue my own dreams, Katarina thought bitterly. But then she buried that thought. The High Kings had been gone for almost a thousand cycles, brought down by betrayal and bloodshed on a scale that had nearly eradicated civilization entirely. She couldn’t call on their justice, they were dead and gone, so long ago that even their spirits were silent. Katarina took a deep breath and worked up the courage to pushed the library door open. The two armsmen took up positions outside. Inside she saw that the study door was partially open, and she heard raised voice from within. She recognized Lord Eliasz’s voice first. “…Baron Oltsztyn is willing to use that to his advantage. Particularly after you embarrassed him by releasing his bastard son from the Ducal Guard.”

“Can you blame me?” Duke Peter asked, his voice harsh. “Darkbit came to me and insisted that I give him my daughter’s hand, in exchange for his ‘services.’ He all but said it was a bribe to keep his mouth shut.”

Katarina felt a chill as she realized what that meant. Her stomach twisted with revulsion at the thought. Covle Darkbit wanted to marry me, she thought. All of the man’s odd smirks and arrogance took on a new light. No wonder her father had dismissed him.

“Still, it’s a good thing he’s estranged from Oltsztyn, otherwise he might try to make some deal with him,” Lord Eliasz said. “Worse, he might try to take this to Lord Estrel of Longhaven.”

“Doubtful,” Duke Peter said, his tone bitter. Katarina didn’t have to wonder at that. She had heard the rumors of how poorly mismanaged Longhaven was. Lord Estrel was her cousin, the eldest son of her grandfather’s youngest brother, and after Peter and herself, he was the next in line for the inheritance. “Estrel would love the opportunity, but he hasn’t the money to tempt Covle Darkbit. Besides that, don’t forget Lord Hector is his military commander, with orders to try and set things right with their defenses.”

“Hector?” Lord Elias asked. “Your bastard nephew?”

“The same,” her father said. “Though Estrel has him on a tight rein from what I hear. I just hope it’s enough to stabilize Longhaven. A cycle or two is all we need to fix some of this,” Duke Peter said, his voice tired. She moved closer to the door, though she gave a nervous glance over her shoulder at the library door. It would be… awkward to be caught eavesdropping on her father and his chief adviser, especially after the earlier events of the day. “You’ll have to punish Jarek,” he said, his voice sad. The change of topic confused her. With the discussion of politics she’d almost forgotten about her own misadventure.

“I know,” Lord Eliasz said. “I’m thinking I’ll send him back home. Ancestors know I need someone to look after things. My other boy… well you know, he’s not fit to rule. Jarek can get some experience looking after things and keep Rodik out of trouble, hopefully.”

“I thought it was good at first at how well they go along, but they’re both too demon-spawned eager to get into mischief,” her father said. “I can’t blame Jarek, not really. Katarina though…” Her father sighed. “Well, there’s nothing for it. She’s basically upset the entire betrothal discussion in one act. I’ll have to bend over backwards now, to get the concessions we’ll need… which might well give up more than we can afford. Thank the High Kings she wasn’t born a boy or she would be a disaster.”

Katarina felt tears well up in her eyes. She stumbled back from the door and went as far away from the study as she could go. She found herself at the back corner of the library, next to the thick history books which she’d so enjoyed. I’d be a disaster, would I? She looked at the books and her fingers traced the spines. She had disappointed her father, caused him pain, and she didn’t know if there would ever be a way to earn his trust back… she could see that now.

She wouldn’t bother, then. If he so hated her, if she was this disaster, then she would live life her way… and to hell with the consequences.

***

Blurb:

In Eoriel, the High Kings are legend: rulers who once stood against the darkness and ruled the world for two thousand turns of peace and prosperity. In the long turns since their fall during the Sundering, Eoriel’s civilization has faded. Dark men and darker beings have torn down and destroyed the old works. While some have held out against the grind of history, other places have been reduced to primitive tribes of savages, worshiping dark spirits and demons as their gods.

Yet a spark of hope remains. Some still believe in the old legends, some still fight to restore the old ways, and some will stand against the darkness, in an echo of the High Kings.

Echo of the High Kings will be released on 1 August 2014