Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Spoils of Allsveil by S.N. McKibben ❤️ Book Tour & Gift Card Giveaway ❤️ (Fantasy Romance)



Murder. Marriage. Forgiveness. The kingdom of Allsveil is the chessboard, and the royals are the pieces.

Two noble families meet in a whirlwind of battle, conquest, hate, and passion.

When a neighboring army conquers her home, Princess Alexia is forced to marry her father’s murderer, Darrin, the new king's young prince. While Alexia grapples with revenge and flirtation, finding her own strength in the process, the new king, Goththor, seeks forgiveness from his queen and from himself. Two generations learn that the game of chess is nothing compared to the game of love and forgiveness...

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Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!



I remember the night in which I was having such a great time at the Magic Castle in Malibu UNTIL an usher dragged me down from the crowd to sit next to the magician.

I am not a public speaker. I'm a writer. I don't want a crowd of eyes on me! I tend to babble when more than four pairs of eyes face my direction. I lose my mind. All those people staring at me!

Well, I was so flustered that I babbled AT the audience. They were laughing at my oh so uncomfortable squirming and that just made me babble more. Then, this sexy AUSTRALIAN guy with his panty dropping accent sat in the magician's chair and blew my mind.

I was done. Cooked. Had no brain. Lower regions started taking over to the point where at the end of the show I completely botched his ending act by telling him he was suppose to pick my card the first time.

Seriously! How was I suppose to handle my Glossophobia AND the HOT AUSTRALIAN beside me? AND MY BOYFRIEND WAS IN THE AUDIENCE. Kill me. (He thought it was funny)

However! The hot magician took my picture and incorporated a magic trick within the whole process so I got this awesome Polaroid of one of the most embarrassing nights of my life.




1 - Alexia
Months of fighting, and finally it had come to this—an evacuation. The City of Allsveil defending against The Empire of Dreshall. The Horse against The Hawk. My father, King Fieron Tyilasuir, fighting King Aiden Goththor at the gates of our regal castle. All because two men couldn’t see eye to eye about a small city being under one banner.
At that moment, I’d never wanted anything more than to be a son for my father. Especially while I stood in the high tower evacuating the servants, wet nurses, and maids. But I was not a boy or a man. I was my father’s doted-on princess. A girl allowed to swing a sword with my father’s permission because he was the monarch.
My mother had a sword of her own and used it in defense of my unladylike desire to hold more than a misericorde. Her blade was not tempered in metal, but its steel cut and the ring of her tongue drove deep. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. I’m personally aware that my mother’s word is mightier than a frail quill from a duck’s arse.
Mother kept sneaking glances out the windows. I could tell that, like me, she wanted nothing more than to be down there, wielding a sword against invaders beside our king.
Horrors I’d been told about in stories lay on our courtyard battlefield. Arrows stuck out from the chests and sides of our men as thorns to a rose. Not one man died with feathers in his back. Brave warriors, all of them, who knew they would never see past this day and did not turn away from protecting us.
Mother’s dark eyes expressed more fire than a hearth flame when she said, “Get them all out.” Worry tainted her expression even through her unwrinkled skin and hair pulled back in a severely tight bun. My mother, the queen, never out of place, never out of sorts, remained that way even in dire situations.
“Come, Emvery.” I offered my maid a hand and stepped patiently while the woman, who tended me since birth, waddled down the stairs one step at a time. “We’re under attack. You have to move faster.”
My mother drilled that sword of flesh with tone and timing. “Alexia, respect those who’ve protected you from rain and wind down to their bosom.”
“It’s all right, milady.” Emvery’s plump hand patted my arm. She always defended me—even against a queen.
“I’m sorry.” I took my maid’s arm firmly. She had a tendency to fall and was careful going down stairs. “But the castle gate is failing. We must hurry.”
Near the bottom of the stairs, Mother spoke to the guards assisting our escape. “Are we the last?”
The two queen’s guards, Clay and Heinsley, looked at each other.
“I asked you a question, gentlemen.”
“No, my lady,” Heinsley answered. “Samalia refused to leave her quarters.”
Mother huffed and spun on her heel, stomping back inside the tower.
Emvery held me tight, or I would’ve followed.
“My lady!” Heinsley leapt and caught Mother’s arm. “We must leave.”
The queen of Allsveil ripped out of her guard’s grasp. “Do not touch me, Heinsley. I will not overlook your inappropriateness again.”
Clay grabbed both my mother’s arms from behind. “I’m sorry, my lady, king’s orders.”
“Emvery, go!” I left my maid’s side and rushed back up the stairs.
Mother elbowed her guards while I passed them to get my Nanna, Samalia. A stubborn old nanny wasn’t going to be my martyr.
“Heinsley! The girl!” Clay said.
“You will address her as princess, or Princess Alexia!” My mother even now concerned herself with propriety. My practice in skirmishing with castle guards quickened my feet but while I could take three steps at a time, Heinsley, with his long legs, could take five or six even in his heavy armor.
Hands scooped me up by my waist. “No, Heinsley! We can’t leave her here!”
“We can and we will.” The guard’s rough voice rushed in my ear.
We struggled down the stairs. Heinsley squeezed my arms together while he leaned against the wall. I kicked and hit all the right places to tumble us both, despite the stupidity of falling down a stairwell. I was too angry. Too fevered in my desperation to get to my Nanna. We could not leave her to these plunderous savages.
Heinsley took my blows without so much as a grunt. My attempts became an embarrassment and after the eighth strike, I stopped. I didn’t want to hurt him or me. He was only trying to save us.
Clay held Mother fast by the shoulders, his back to the open escape. He was the brawny type that filled an entire doorway. If he stood in the archway, Mother wouldn’t be able to get around him. Not even if she crawled. Which, no matter the dire consequences, could I ever see the queen of Allsveil doing.
“Good.” Clay’s relieved face swept over me and Heinsley. “Let’s get out of here.”
Clay took hold of Mother’s wrists and turned around, engulfing the open door. A buzzing, the sound of a thousand whistles, then screams echoed off outside the tower walls. Clay stumbled back. My mother scrambled away just in time before Clay fell flat on his back. If it wasn’t for Clay’s size, we’d all have arrows in our bodies. Twenty or more bolts stuck out of Clay’s chest, stomach, and legs.
“Oh bloody hell!” Heinsley let go of me and leapt down the stairs.
My legs wobbled and I leaned against the wall. Heinsley pulled Clay all the way in and slammed the door. Thuds pelted the thick oak door.
“Clay?” Mother knelt to the man who’d saved her life and took hold of his hand.
Clay lifted his head. “Go, my lady.”
Dread shot through my stomach. The pain Clay must be in. Not only that, but in pain and knowing he was going to die. I leaned forward to force myself out of my locked position. “Nanna can help!” I turned and ran up the stairs.
“By God, Alexia, duck under the windows!”
Tears threatened behind my eyes, knowing but hoping that wouldn’t be the last warning Clay ever gave me.
The thousand whistles of death came again and I dropped and shielded my head. Glass tinkled. Arrows broke through and clattered against stone.
I ran up the tower of stairs until the next window. I didn’t hear whistling, but I ducked under the sill anyway. Five flights of stairs and endless windows later, I reached the top of the tower and into the sixth-floor corridor. Rooms were on the right, while the left wall displayed sculptures, paintings, glassware, and artisan creations of our people. There was no time to save most of the precious items. Only my Nanna and my people were more valuable than the items of culture. Empty corridors greeted me as I raced down the hall.
“Nanna!” My breath labored. I barged in to her room, not bothering to knock. “Nanna!”
No answer. I went to her bedchamber and there, in bed, surrounded by all her scrolls, sat Nanna Samalia. The wrinkly old woman nestled a book the size of a small tabletop between her knees.
“Nanna.” At my wits’ end, I crossed the room.
“And I’ll repeat myself.” Nanna’s jowls shook. “I’m too old to run around. Leave me.”
When I was younger, her scowl, chin whiskers, and wrinkles could scare me into behaving. Now that I was older, I searched beyond her gruff manner. I saw a woman born from a life that cut and made people wise to the ways of the world or devoured them whole. Nanna told me the truth, when so many slathered butterscotch or jam over the rubbish of innocence.
“You will run or I will carry you.”
Nanna pinched her face into a scowl. “I told Clay to carry you and the queen out.”
“Clay is dead.”
Her face never changed. Almost as if she expected as much.
Ringing of metal and shouts brought my attention to the window. I peeked through, careful not to be spotted by the enemy. Shadows cast down on the courtyard. Arrows flew. But not even their arrows could reach up to the top of Nanna’s tower. A hole in the twelve-foot-thick front wall looked like a screaming mouth with angry ants pouring out. The portcullis was breached.
“Nanna, we have to leave, now.”
The old woman flung her comforter and turned to get out of bed. “Damn guards can’t even get you the hell’s breath out.”
My attention went back to my father’s men. Every one of those brave souls was trying to stave off the attackers to enable us to escape. To fail them and be captured would not honor their deaths. Beautiful steeds of white, bay, and chestnut charged into an onslaught of enemy soldiers. We had spirit, but they had numbers. The clanging of swords reached my ears, the sound making me shake from anticipation. And then I saw him, my father, in his plate armor. I could tell it was him even from this height. No one could spot the riveted armor, the subtle grandeur, the meticulous detail in the gorget, breastplate, and vambrace, and say it didn’t belong to a king. And that king was at the front of the lines, protecting us.
“No!” He should be protected! What was he doing meeting the battle head-on? But father in battle was magnificent. No one escaped his flank. Soldier after soldier fell under his mace and sword. Hope grappled with fear, but my elation at seeing Father at his finest was a boon. Clay would not die in vain.
A man, in a suit of armor equal in quality to Father’s, fought against the tide, headed straight for my king. Some men avoided the two. The other king was certainly bound and determined to reach father. Desire to be there, to protect the one man I truly loved fueled my frustration at being born a girl. I should be down there, fighting with him. The two equals met and my father gave the man no soft touch, no breath to hold, no shield to hide behind. I recognized the emblem across the opponent’s breastplate. A white hawk with a gold eye. The emblem of Dreshall. For his salt, the other man took the blows and delivered his own. But the aggressor overreached and left his right side open. Father swung his mace and knocked the man down.
“Yes!” I hopped in my excitement.
The bird’s golden eye faced the sky and my father maneuvered his sword to punch a hole through the metal. A cry as high-pitched as an eagle’s ripped through the air. I covered my ears and watched a blond man bound from the aggressor’s ranks like a gazelle. Father looked up, and the bloody tip of a sword broke through his back plate. My eyes saw, but I refused to believe.
Father dropped his sword and I staggered back. The king of Allsveil sailed backwards and the window that let me see the battlefield now seemed too high to reach. My vision tunneled. My breaths came with excruciating clarity. My palms hit the floor. My neck could no longer hold my head. The long braid of my hair curled in a perfect circle under me.
Cool hands touched my cheeks. The wrinkled face of a woman who scared most men looked into mine. Her pitiless glare softened. Nanna, whose life’s ravages destroyed her youth but not her wisdom, was there to comfort me. But her face faded, and all I could see was my father tumbling down and the blood on his back.
Soldiers came inside Nanna Samalia’s room. Mother was there. Heinsley disappeared into what seemed a sea of men entering the bedroom. I watched with numb precision Heinsley’s extraordinary footwork as he battled to protect us. Our man, the queen’s guard, was both beautiful and deadly while protecting us. But Heinsley’s life’s work, keeping the queen safe, wasn’t enough. Seconds later, he too fell. My death was coming and I welcomed it. For the rest of my days I would not forget the blood on the sword and my father’s descent.
I stood for our turn. Mother stood in front of us, hands clasped in greeting as if accepting one of her subjects for conference. The men, solemn and wary, kept an eye on her, but their swords remained low. One man dipped his head and approached.
“I’m not here to hurt you.” He sheathed his sword. “I’m looking for hierarchy.”
Mother’s posture remained straight, her chin held high. “You’ve found the queen of Allsveil.” She held her hand, exposing the ring with our house emblem, a red rearing horse.
The soldier dipped his head. “I am Paul Cartell, King Goththor’s military commander. In the name of my Liege King Aiden Goththor of Dreshall, I ask for your submission.”
“Submission can only be given by my husband.”
She didn’t know Father was dead.
Sir Cartell’s face turned stone hard. “I’m sorry, but your king has been dispatched. The fighting continues despite the loss. Please tell your man-at-arms to submit and we can avoid any more useless deaths.”
Mother swayed but I could do nothing to help her. I leaned upon Nanna, my life ending before my eyes. Sir Cartell reached to steady her, but thought better and remained where he was. My noble queen stood her ground. “If I agree...you’ll not go after the survivors.”
“Agreed. Do you yield?”
“Stop fighting and we’ll yield.” Mother slipped off the ring in clumsy diminution of status and handed it to Sir Cartell. “Show them this.”
Sir Cartell turned to a man in front of the line and handed him our family ring. “Get word to our liege.”
The man took my heirloom in hand, nodded, and pushed through the other soldiers. A voice from the hall echoed through the corridor and into Nanna’s apartments. “Paul? Have you found anyone yet? This place is as deserted as a friggin’ desert.”
Paul winced. “Excuse me.” He turned and the men behind him stepped in line, making a human corridor and letting Paul walk past. Though his voice was hushed, even I could hear Paul admonish whomever he was talking to. “Darrin, women and children are present, watch your mouth.”
Sir Cartell and my mother had propriety in common. Said women and children had just seen a man killed. Why would cursing matter? Then again, why would a queen preoccupy herself with formalities while fleeing from enemies? But mother drilled politeness in me and everyone around her. Much like Paul.
A blond man, just beyond his gawky years, strode with confidence and bloody clothes through the corridor of soldiers. My haze of loss cleared. Revenge burned off the rest of my murky reflexes. I bolted from Nanna’s grip and lunged for Heinsley’s sword. The grip of the steel handle burned cold. Its weight was unfamiliar, but I was no stranger to this type of weapon. Heinsley’s sword wobbled heavily as I lifted the massive blade.
Dreshall’s soldiers were slow to raise their swords against my newfound weapon, laughing at my challenge. I didn’t care for those men. My sole mission was to kill the man who took my father from me. The blond man raised his weapon and a slight smile brightened his face. A mischievous twinkle in his eye scalded me more than a thousand suns. He pushed one guard out of the way and barked an order to “stay back” before metal hit metal and I swung, not as an angry youth who takes up arms in spite, but as the warrior I’d wanted to be.
“Alexia!” Mother screamed. But the name slipped past. The other men faded to gray.
My father’s killer barked words, but I heard nothing. My breath, slow and deep. My strength, hard and flowing. My skill poured from my soul. I was going to kill this man. His smile infuriated me. But it didn’t affect my footwork, or my strikes. He deflected blow after blow, but the art of battle guided my actions. I would not lose.
A force of nature slammed into my back and pinned my arms. Both my backstabbing assailant and I went down. “No!” I shouted. The tool of my vengeance clattered on the stone floor. We landed and I thrashed, wanting to resume my vendetta.
“Alexia, stop!” My mother’s voice shattered my cracked heart. “I gave my word. Stand down.”
“Let me go!” I wailed at Mother, the traitor to father’s memory.
“No! I will not lose you, too.”
I froze. Her loss of faith in my abilities, when she had fought for my right to take up arms, cut the flow to my reserve of energy. My father, my light in the dark, my rising sun, had slipped beyond the hills never to return. Never to see my wedding or hold his grandchild or meet the man I’d call my own. I cried for death. The murderer sat at the far end of the chamber smudging blood all over Nanna’s chair.
“I can see where the spirit of their people comes from.” He gripped his thigh. I’d struck him and hadn’t known. If I had my way, he’d be little pieces to feed pigs.
“Paul, warn the others. If the fairer sex fights like her, we’ll be crushed.” He flashed a smile my way. I scowled.
“Stay here. I’ll bring the barber surgeon.” Paul clasped the man’s shoulder and left.
No one spoke for a very long time. Swords pointed at me from every angle. Mother clutched me, but with my reserve depleted, there was nowhere I wanted to go. With little will to stand, Mother helped me up and we both leaned on each other for support.
Paul returned, and the men holding a seventeen-year-old girl and her mother at bay parted for Sir Cartell.
“Noblewoman...” Paul trailed off, asking for a name.
“Aighta Tyilasuir.” Mother squeezed my arm and we separated.
Cartell raised his eyebrows and proceeded to slaughter my family name. “Noblewoman Talliassher.”
I huffed. “Tyilasuir, Tie-la-ser, Tyilasuir.”
Cartell dipped his head to me. “Tylasure.”
“Close enough.” I crossed my arms. Across the room Darrin the orphan-maker, for I was sure Mother would be killed before me, chuckled. I hated him for it.
“Yeah, Paul, get it right. Tyilasuir.”
My hate bloomed to a full loathing of everything Darrin. He’d been able to say my name flawlessly the first time. That only fueled my desire for vengeance.
Paul bowed to Darrin and gave an ungracious smile. “As you say, my prince.”
That wiped Darrin’s smile clean off with an extra dose of soap-root. Paul, my newly endeared enemy, turned back to us. “Lady Aighta Tylasir, may I present Prince Darrin Goththor, heir to the White Hawk, son of Aiden Goththor.”
Mother pulled me close and gripped my arm so tight my fingers tingled. If she hadn’t let go so quickly I might have lost my arm from lack of blood. “This is Princess Alexia Tyilasuir. King Fieron Tyilasuir’s only daughter.”
Paul’s eyes flicked to Mother and he gave her a slight nod.
Darrin rose from the chair. He looked pained. Good. “Well, now that we know each other, your new lord and master awaits.”
Nanna stepped over to me, taking my other arm in a death grip. “Hopefully, the father is not as abrasive as the son.” Nanna’s tenacious rasp cut through our whispers. Mother glared at Nanna, but Nanna never shied away from a contest of will.
A line of soldiers escorted us out of Nanna’s rooms and into the hallway. Where before the halls were empty, now soldiers hulked about. They took no care as to what broke. The glass sculptures, the priceless art, the best of our people all became loot.
“What are they doing?” I said.
“Plundering.” Nanna scowled at one man shoving a glass chalice in a sack. He went for another item and I cringed at the sound of shattering glass muffled by burlap. That was one of the artisan glassblower’s finest gifts to Mother. I knew she loved it.
“Fool,” Nanna said under her breath.
Men roamed everywhere. No room was without soldiers grabbing anything and everything they could. My heart burned all the more.
We were escorted to the dining hall, where we had our meals most nights. It was the largest room in the castle because father wanted to…had wanted to…dine with servants and nobles alike, right alongside each other. Every man was a jewel, he said. Fascinated by the “colors” each person reflected, Father had wanted to know them all. He had wanted to soak in their knowledge, their creativeness. But even with my father’s geniality, I did not wonder why he could not get along with the sullen, stern, forbidding chunk of a man that now sat in my father’s chair. If I were on the battlefield with my king, this one would be dead. Cold gray eyes assessed Mother. I expected him to ask, “How much for the sow?”
I’d never met King Goththor, but this man was a king, no doubt—his air overconfident, comfortable with everyone looking to him. But he also looked devoid of any love. His eyes were hard. Much like the glaze of death I saw in soldiers’ eyes after battle. Straussler, our man-at-arms, warned me of men like this one. I didn’t believe one could be soulless. The king of Dreshall proved me wrong. His eyes skated away from Mother and I felt the stone in my belly lift.
Paul nodded. “Lady Aighta Tillyasuir of Allsveil, may I present to you—”
“Aiden Goththor,” my mother finished. “We’ve met.”
Darrin strode up to his father, pushed a chair out with his foot, and fell into the seat. A tiny spark of life lit up in the king’s eyes when Darrin joined him.
“Your king is dead, and your people still fight,” King Goththor said. “Call in your men-at-arms.”
“I’ve given you my ring and my word, what more do you need?” Mother clasped her hands.
“Which Paul showed your commander,” King Goththor’s cold gaze remained on my mother. “He thought you were dead and fought all the more.” He’d said it more as a threat than fact. As if Mother had given them the ring to set a trap in motion.
Darrin leaned over and whispered in his father’s ear. King Goththor grunted and said, “We’ll find him.”
Straussler, head of the Black Knights, was still alive. He had to be. A Black Knight would not surrender. They would avenge. All eyes stared at Mother, who said nothing. The span of silence grew. King Goththor flicked a finger and a guard pulled Emvery through.
Leaning toward Mother, King Goththor said, “If you want your maid to live, tell them to stand down.”
I grabbed Mother’s hand. Emvery trembled, fear in her eyes, but she didn’t speak a word.
“Father,” Darrin leaned forward. “Hasn’t there been enough for one day?”
The words didn’t remove that cold, dead mask on King Goththor’s face. Instead he ignored his son and gave the signal, a raised thumb, to slit Emvery’s throat. The soldier holding Emvery flicked a knife from his palm and brought the sharp edge to Emvery’s neck.
“Wait!” I stepped forward. Emvery’s eyes popped out.
“Alexia,” Mother whispered. I ignored her. The gray, lifeless eyes of a king who no longer cared for much other than himself stared at me.
“Blow the horn four times,” I said.
“And you are?”
Paul cleared his throat. “Sire, may I present Princess Alexia Tyilsure.”
Darrin snorted. “Keep trying, Paul.”
King Goththor did not look amused with his son or his commander. “And what will happen if the horn is blown four times?”
“The people will know that we’ve yielded and they will retreat.”
The golden eye of the hawk on King Goththor’s breastplate flashed. He glanced at Paul. The man-at-arms bowed and walked behind the row of chairs at the long table to the end of the room. A large horn spanned the wide window. Its pipe tapered from the mouthpiece and was long as a man was tall. My spine went rigid. For an enemy, Paul seemed a decent man. It would be painful to watch him convulse and die when his lips touched metal.
An arm twirled me around, a sharp blade pressed upon my neck. Mother yelled but I couldn’t see her. “What aren’t you telling me?” King Goththor whispered in my ear. “Tell me now, or you and the maid die.”
“Poison, the mouthpiece is poisoned.” But only to those not immune to the drug. Father had bested an enemy by the same tactic.
“Paul, stop.” The king’s baritone boomed down the dining room. I staggered as the pressure around my neck relaxed abruptly. King Goththor sprawled back into my father’s throne and glared death at me. His eyes glinted dire threat if I defied him again. The soldiers around me echoed his expression, disdain painted across their features. I held my neck. Red, sticky fluid coated my fingers.
“Clever.” King Goththor smirked wickedly. His eyes found my mother. “You have another mouthpiece? Or is that even the method?”
Mother nodded. “Four blasts will halt the fighting.”
“You do it.” King Goththor stared at me. “If things go well, I’ll let your mother live.”
I could hear the lie. But it was my mother’s life. I looked to her. With a pause, and her reserve back in place, she nodded once. I paraded down the hall with my head lifted, past Paul and to the horn. The closer I came to the window, the more I could hear the shouts of men, the ringing of steel; our forces were still fighting. All for naught. I could only hope the invader on my father’s throne would keep to his word.
“Stop,” King Goththor said. “You don’t dally to your death, do you, child?”
I whirled around. “What does it matter to you?” Before anyone could stop me, I blew four times. Outside, the fighting slowed. The clatter of swords dropped on stone rang in the air. Goththor’s people called out, my people shouted in surrender. The stench of death that had surrounded us for months still lingered, but the battle was over. I turned around, walked back to my mother, and stood next to her.
“You’re still alive.” Darrin smiled. He had the kind of smile a girl could swoon over, but he would not win me.
“The Tyilasuir family is immune.” My prim voice did me proud.
“Or maybe it’s not poisoned,” Darrin said.
“Want to try it for yourself?”
Darrin waved a hand. “Oh no, you did a fine job. A surprise to see such a talented horn-blower.”
Soldiers around me laughed. Confused, I frowned and looked to Mother. She gave me a stern look that told me to say nothing. Still…I expected to die anyway. “I could teach you, although you might do better if you used your other end.”
Paul snorted but regained himself. Some of the soldiers snickered. Darrin flushed and frowned. Mother grabbed my arm. “That’s enough.”
It was slow in coming, but King Goththor started to cackle. “Fiery like my Bridgette, that one.”
The soldiers went silent. Paul gave me a very sad look—a look you’d give a favorite goose before the hatchet went down on its neck. Chills ran down my spine. I’d forgotten about the stories of King Goththor. For every laugh of his, another dies. Was he truly that mad?
Still chortling, King Goththor said, “Take them back to their rooms. Make sure they’re comfortable.”
At his command, we were escorted out of the room.
2 - Goththor
After a gods-be-damned morning it was a gods-be-damned night. In a place called Allsveil, there sure wasn’t any food around. Darrin, heaven bless him, sat at my right and blathered on about his mother enough to make me want to ask him if he harbored unnatural desires for her. But today was his day. He’d saved me from death at the hands of another king. How many fathers could say that about their sons? In his honor, I held my tongue.
Not soon enough, the doors opened and carts rolled in. The smell of savory duck wafted in with the platters. There didn’t look to be enough for me, Darrin, Paul, and my twenty guards.
“Where’s the mare and foal?” I demanded. Etiquette and manners had their place and after the months of travel and war, it was time to reestablish both. Aighta Tyilasuir was nothing like my Bridgette. Not now, and not when we were young. But I wondered what could have been if I’d never met Bridgette. I’d never regret Brie but...
The doors opened again and the erstwhile contender to Bridgette entered calm as a lazy wind on the plains. Aighta came forward carrying herself as a lady of her house should. Any layman would dismiss her quiet spirit as docile subservience. But I am not a layman. A king does not rule for long if he doesn’t understand the way of men and of ladies. Aighta came because the only power she had now was negotiation. Behind her trailed her daughter. Like her mother, she adorned black hair and dark eyes with olive skin. A lovely filly, but with as much fire and condescension as my wife. In my earlier years, I’d have found her challenging. The older I got, the more I enjoyed quiet strength.
“Ever the noble mare I remember.” Pointing to the chair of honor on my left, I said, “Sit.”
Aighta sat and her daughter followed. That filly would have the same manner as her mother eventually, but she was still a spirited one. Lady Tyilasuir sat with the grace of a queen. Nothing unruffled. Everything in its place.
“So nice to have us for our last meal.” The filly spoke.
Yes, quite the spirit. “You feel as if you have nothing to lose, my pubescent mite, but you’re wrong,” I said. Quaint. The little filly was going to argue, but her mother turned and I was sure her daughter received the Aighta stare. Even I was shamed by Aighta’s scolding in times past.
“You’re here by my will and we have terms to discuss,” I said.
Aighta turned to me. Such a cruelty to see soft eyes weighted with the responsibility of a kingdom. The outside world knew only of her grace…but I knew all of Aighta. A crafty one with words, she’d use everything she had to protect her own. A trait to admire and a weakness to exploit.
“Under the terms of surrender, I am your prisoner. What do you propose?” Her eyes touched the glacier that once had been my heart.
“Lady Aighta—”
She cut my words off with a raised hand and closed eyes. The familiarity of calling her by her first name came so easy, I’d forgotten we were no longer friends. I would not be fooled again by her acquiescence. She held the fire of revenge steady. But I knew her motivation was keeping her heir safe.
“I no longer know you, King Goththor.” Aighta’s words seared me when I’d thought Bridgette had frozen my core.
Because I was unable to convince my queen of Dreshall that I was not a ruthless bastard, and was not leading wars to stay away from her, she’d become frigid. I’d followed my love into the ice water of querulousness. I stabbed the meat before me, my food receiving the brunt of my frustration, and shoved a chunk of duck in my mouth before I could utter, “No, but you’re going to know me better than before.”
“Father,” Darrin cast a worried eye over me. “You need to wait till the food is tested. They have poison.”
I waved a hand and grunted at my men waiting. “Eat. Eat.” I occupied my dead enemy’s home, sat at his table. I wasn’t going to wait the extra time to see if the tasters died. It’d been ten minutes already. The gods-be-damned food was getting cold. Aighta ate only what was necessary not to seem rude.
“Your horn signal stopped the fighting but didn’t bring the builders back.” Despite Aighta’s comment about not knowing me, she would understand my intent.
“I have no command over them to come back,” Aighta said.
I chewed and swallowed. “Your people have shown great loyalty to you and your family. If you asked they would come.”
“In Allsveil, the monarchy doesn’t rule over its people. I have no power to bring them back.”
For Aighta, this was a matter of pride. She would not betray her people—nor would her people betray her. That said, I could use such loyalty. Plenty of people betrayed their own for survival, but I’d yet to meet any mother who could betray one person above all others—their child. I sneered at the filly sitting in front of her untouched plate, blatant in her defiance.
“Lady Alexia Tyilasuir, are you afraid your meal is poisoned?” I stabbed at the carcass of a bird in front of me. Without a word, the filly picked up her fork and pushed her food around. Food going to waste was as bad as a life going to waste. “If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.” I reached over Aighta for her daughter’s plate.
Aighta smacked my arm. A woman’s idea of a physical reprimand was not strong enough to halt my reach and I secured the food to my side of the table.
“Rude brute!” Aighta said. “Brie has taught you nothing of manners.”
Time-old habits condensed the years between us. I was seventeen again, vying for the attention of two women. Memory made me smile. “I’m hungry,” I said. “And she’s not going to eat it.”
My smile disappeared as soon as it appeared. Our shared past would not mend our current arguments. The mood soured as the moment cantered by and my heart longed for removal of its burdens. One of those burdens was the pair next to me. How would I politically position myself so that Aighta and her daughter could live? My men and my people saw me as a ruthless bastard. The time had come to change that. Fear prevented wars, but tyranny caused rebellion. The balance of peace required a king to walk between severity and mercy in perfect amounts.
For the rest of the dinner I ate and thought. The people of Allsveil would not trust me, but if an alliance were struck the people might listen. I wanted to go home with the victory of new wealth and resources for Dreshall. This entire war had begun because Allsveil created a dam, restricting Dreshall’s only water source. We tore the dam down, they rebuilt it, until finally they built the dam inside their walls and no amount of negotiation satisfied either party. But gaining this city had cost its own fortitude. The walls and buildings needed repairs. Allsveil was prosperous and it needed to remain that way. So many goods and advancements originated here that it was clear the people had an advantage. Allsveil’s failure to repel me lay in the people’s neglect of the arts of war and their overreliance on their nearly impenetrable city wall. Yet they forged the strongest metal I’d seen. They mined the largest jewels in the land. Their ingenuity in new applications of old ideas far surpassed any other city.
Allsveil possessed something, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly. Only the blind would overlook the people and their drive for profitability. I wanted an alliance, not war. I could not pass up the opportunity to make that alliance permanent. Washing down the remnants of duck in my throat with lager, I intended to find out what that “something” was and turned to Aighta. “Your people are steadfast, down to the lowest peasant.”
“We have no peasants here.” The filly spoke. “Everyone has a detail even if they don’t choose one.”
My eyes met the daughter’s and I held the gaze. “These are my terms. I want a guaranteed alliance between Allsveil and Dreshall.” I glanced back at Aighta. “I want access to your goods—your trade, water, lumber, cloth, new advancements. Your engineers will teach mine how to build a gods-be-damned wall like the one that held my forces at bay for over three months. Your people will repair the city. You will give free access to anyone from Dreshall.”
Silence. I waited. My patience was met with more silence. I leaned back in my chair.
“What guarantee do you propose?” Aighta held her stomach.
Those deep-set eyes looked past me and on to Darrin. My son was a fine specimen of a man.
Strong. Proven in battle. Intelligent. Perhaps not as ambitious as I’d like, but I never felt he was aching for my crown. I could think of no more amiable a companion to weather the storm from a filly such as Aighta’s daughter. “A pact between my son and your daughter,” I said.
Darrin choked on his lager. Aighta closed her eyes as if the blow could be thwarted by the refusal of reality. The filly sat bolt upright. “In no way will I bond with that…”
“Hush!” Aighta stood and faced her daughter. The filly’s young face, but mature expression, twisted in malice and pain. Her calculating eyes warned me this might not be the best course to take. I glanced over at my son and wondered if he anticipated my actions. He caught my eye and with a solemn determined nod, he’d said he agreed with me but wasn’t happy about it.
“I will make the pact with your son.” Aighta turned to me.
“Mother!” The filly turned harpy. “Don’t marry that murderous trash—”
Aighta turned and slapped her daughter. The filly fell into her chair. Aighta was a wise woman to reprimand her daughter swiftly and effectively. If she hadn’t, the task would be left to me and my punishments were not as…polite. Aighta turned back and the chill of the winter’s night crept down my spine.
“I will marry your son,” Aighta said.
“No.” My denial couldn’t come out fast enough.
“Alexia is too young.”
“No.” I found her excuse invalid and my own response disturbing but final. The filly was young, but coming of age. Darrin could control the filly but Aighta was a different type of manipulator. The filly sat with her arms crossed and stared at the wall.
“And if we refuse?” Aighta said.
“Then I’ll burn this city to ash. Maps will show a hole of desolation. History books won’t even mention the city’s name.”
The queen of Allsveil was no fool. She expected as much, or looked like she had, but her daughter hadn’t quite thought it through. The filly’s eyes grew wide. I’d hit a sore wound with that statement.
“We’ll discuss the terms.” I raised my voice louder, “Everyone else out.” Metal clanged and leather squeaked as my soldiers rose to obey my command. Paul, Darrin, Aighta, and the filly remained.
“Paul, Darrin, please escort Lady Alexia Tyilasuir to her room.”
My man-at-arms rose from his seat but my son and the filly remained seated.
“Father, I’d like to help with the discussions.”
I leaned to my right. “You should take this time to talk to your betrothed and organize your own trivia.”
Darrin sat to this dinner as a carefree boy and now stood as a man of duty. My heart wept to witness the death of his spontaneity. What Brie had done to me over a course of years, I’d done to my own son in an evening. I sat alone with my thoughts and Aighta when the three left. I needed all my wits to fight against her will. She knew how to affect me and would try to sway my decisions in her favor.
“Do you think they will forgive us?” I said.
Aighta turned to me and smiled, a sign she was aware of my disarming technique. Her smile worked on me. I wasn’t sure if my tactic worked on her.
“The glassmakers here have perfected their craft to the point that they will create cracks in the glass but the shape remains whole,” she said. “I think you’ve perfected such a craft within people.”
My heart chilled. “I learned from the best, Aighta.” I smiled and reached for the cameo around her neck, gently touching her skin. As I palmed the necklace, she didn’t move nor did her body react to my soft seduction. Feigning examination of the broach, I watched her. Her submissiveness soothed my beast. Fieron had been a lucky man. Even if he was a hard-headed non-negotiator. I hoped Aighta would see reason. She pulled back and I let the jewelry slip from my fingers. Ah, not so subservient.
“I am in mourning for my husband. Our custom is solemn contemplation and chastity.”
Her protest amused me. I was a king and she was a spoil of war. “I’ll take what I like.” And right then, I wanted her on hands and knees.
“How is Bridgette?”
My wife’s name was cold water in my face. I knew why she’d asked. The question made my jaw clench.
Aighta turned to the fire. “She was always so beautiful.”
“Strength has its beauty as well.”
“Yes, she always had a strong will.”
“Strong will is not the same as quiet strength.” I took a hold of her chin and made her look into my eyes. To my surprise, she did not shy away.
Aighta bore a dark glance and said, “Yes. And it takes a quiet mind to recognize it.”
I frowned. The statement burned. She’d said, in fewer words, that I noticed too late and having chosen Brie, I’d made my bed. I grabbed her waist and threw her on the table. Pinning her wrists to the wood I slid in between her legs.
Aighta did not scream, did not fight. Instead her eyes drew in all the heat of the room. She said, “You should wait for your wife.”
“It’s not about sex,” I said, reaching for my blade. “It’s about control.”
“You don’t have that either.” A wall of apathy filled her eyes. “For such a smart man, you haven’t a clue. You want to know why my people still fight you?”
Her comment had me pulling back.
“We taught them how to fly without ever leaving the ground.”
Aighta had always been strange but had she lost her mind?
“Bridgette never taught you to fly.” Her statement seemed to make her realize something I didn’t.
She unnerved me. I narrowed my eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“She never taught you to fly,” she repeated—like women had the power to do such an incredible feat.
“Tell me what the hell you’re talking about, woman, or you’re not going to live through tonight.” I stepped away from her, fearing her madness was a disease.
Aighta straightened. “Is Bridgette happy?”
“What?” Enraged, I wanted to hit something, hurt someone. This woman was a witch. She stirred my focus in a soup of distress.
She compressed her lips and spoke slowly, “Is your wife, Bridgette, the one you promised health and prosperity to, happy?”
I glared at Aighta. She was not sick or mad. She was a master at word games. I had to tread carefully. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Her face dropped in disappointment. “The answer is no, I take it. Why?”
If I could have physically thrown my words at her they would have been fists. “Why what?”
“Why is she unhappy?” Aighta asked me again.
“I don’t...” But flashes of memory stopped me. I knew why. Aighta’s dark eyes remained indifferent, while I recalled my indiscretions. A lesser man might see the former queen of Allsveil accepting of her fate, but I knew better. This was the Aighta that could take hold of your mind and twist. If I cried mercy she would win. If you waited for her pity, you’d wait your entire life.
Aighta turned and walked towards the king’s chair. She stopped and bowed her head. “The last time Fieron told me he loved me was this morning. I never tired of hearing it.”
She threw a very pointed look my way. I glowered back. Bringing her hands to her temples she said, “And when was the last time you told Bridgette you loved her?”
I scoffed. “What does that have to do with flying?”
“Everything.”
I sunk in the chair behind me. “Go.” I waved a hand. “You exhaust me.”
“No.” Aighta faced me. “You wanted to know how to fly, but...” She tilted her chin. “Resistance will make it harder to learn how.”
“Paul!” I scrubbed my face with a war-roughened hand. My man entered and bowed. “Take Lady Aighta to her room.”
Paul bowed and waited for Aighta, but my childhood-friend-turned-enemy didn’t move. “It should be me who bonds with your son.”
“No. It will be her and that is my final offer.”
“My daughter—”
“Paul!” I rose from my chair. “Escort Lady Tyilasuir out now!”
My man-at-arms understood that if he didn’t take care of this situation, there would be blood. Before he could grab her, Aighta whirled around. “Don’t touch me,” she said. The train of her skirts floated behind her. She could run, but I would see her again. Sooner than she might think.






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Slave to a 100 lbs. GSD (German Shepard) and a computer she calls "Dave", you'll often see her riding a 19 hand Shire nicknamed "Gunny" to the local coffee shop near the Santa Monica mountains.
Stephanie reads for the love of words, and writes fiction about Dark Hearts and Heroes revolving around social taboos. When ever asked, she'll reply her whole life can be seen through a comic strip ~ sometimes twisted, sometimes funny but always beautiful and its title is adventure. Come play!



      

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