The King’s Daughter: Of the Arbour teaser

“They are callin’ ye Cain the Mad.

“Elin o’ the City has been reinstated on your throne, and she helped oversee the appointment o’ new counts for the Wastes and Lowlands. Knowin’ she is sittin’ where ye should be makes me sick, but I have no say; most o’ the Nation doesn’t even know I exist. Ye were mad, apparently; ye only wanted power.

“Ye were given a king’s burial. Elin and her confidantes wanted to throw ye into the river, but the man who killed ye insisted that ye be taken care of in the way that was fit. It was small, and Mother wasn’t there, but I held Gideon while that man spoke. I came that mornin’; I missed seein’ ye before ye were taken from me, but I was there for your funeral. The man—Sage—was the only one there who wasn’t loyal to ye, but he was the only one who spoke. It was lovely, what he said. I don’t remember all o’ it, but I know it made me weep for ye.

“I did as ye told me; I’ve secured a place in a wealthy family from Hailstone. I will be cared for. But he will never be my father. I love ye.”

The summer day was unusually cold; the sun was blotted out the sun and shrouded the world in grey. The grass beneath her rustled and whispered as cool mountain winds danced through the cemetery; it hopped over headstones and crypts, and gently lifted her hair from her shoulders as if the spirit of her father was listening, and he walked up behind her with the wind and began playing with her hair.

She smiled and touched her shoulder, wishing she could feel the warm, strong hand of her father resting there. Her heart had broken when she heard her father had been killed; but standing in the cemetery as his killer said soft, heartfelt words, and watching the beautiful casket lower into the ground, had filled her with a sense of purpose.

Something squawked behind her, and she knew she was no longer alone.

Smiling, she reached out and gently rested her palm on the cool stone marker above the grave. Later, the man had promised, he would get a statue, as all the men buried in the hall of kings did. “I’ll stay strong for ye, Father. I’ll do everythin’ ye wanted.”

“Are ye about done?”

Wiping her dry eyes, she climbed to her feet and shook the loose grass from her long skirts. Behind her stood her mother, cloaked and hooded, with her sharp green eyes glaring at her daughter. A small body was cradled in her arms, fast asleep. The contempt her mother showed her meant nothing; she had the love of her brother and one final request from her father.

“I am.” She tilted her head up, chin high, and strode across the cemetery. Once she joined her mother on the gravel path, they began walking back toward the castle. “Where is Maude?”

Her mother stiffened and her lip curled. “She is in the City. She believes ye went for a walk.”

“Good.” They continued in silence until they reached the courtyard of the castle. Her mother would be stealing away with the help of old loyalists, and she would be joining her adoptive mother and father—the man she claimed, in Hailstone, was her true father, and she was his natural child from an affair.

They paused, uncomfortable in the cold and silence. “I’m sorry, Mother. I’ll write to ye.”

She scoffed and adjusted the weight of the child in her arms. With a grumble and sigh, he woke. “Don’t bother.”

The derision stung, but she didn’t let it show on her face. Instead, she reached out and lightly touched her brother’s small nose. “I shall miss ye greatly, Gideon.”

His eyes fixed on her, and his mouth curled into a sleepy smile. “Jain,” he said softly.

She smiled and kissed his forehead. Without another word, the girl turned and strode toward the City of Kings, where northern general Shal and his wife Maude waited; and with a pang in her heart, she left behind her mother and brother, and her father’s grave—her crumbled royal family—and walked into a life of deceit.



And thus begins Of the Kingdoms, my third novel of the Nation.

Death is the Last Enemy: Of the Arbour teaser

Though he wondered why Cain wasn’t just finishing him off early, Sage backed away and took the moment to assess the damage. It wasn’t a deep cut, and thankfully it hit his left arm; he could still fight.

Cain tilted his head. “Is this really what ye want, Sage?”

“You have to pay for what you’ve done, Cain. Not just for kidnapping Flynn—but for killing Keelin and by that nearly destroying one of the strongest women I know.”

Cain’s face twitched; so he knew of Siras’ reaction, then. Had she screamed when Keelin had died, or only noticed after the battle? Sage couldn’t remember. He only knew the rage.

“You broke the will of the people you say you rule. You crushed the counties until they bowed to you. You taxed the Arbour to death—the last free place in your empire. You murdered my grandfather.”

“In war?”

“He was the Master you mutilated. I understand why you did it. Vengeance is a powerful thing; especially when you’ve lost your whole family. But you brought this all upon yourself, Cain. If not me, somebody was going to eventually rise against you. I don’t want to fight you, but this is what must be done. It’s justice.”

“Very well.” Without another moment of hesitation, Cain shortened the distance between them and raised his sword. Given only a few seconds to react, Sage dropped his hand from his wound to his sword, gripping the hilt with both hands, and a moment later the steel clashed together. Cain growled softly and pushed his weight into the attack, knocking Sage back. He jumped forward, already prepared for another assault, and Sage just got his blade up in time to parry. His blade ran down the length of Cain’s claymore, and he pushed his weight forward, knocking the hilt from Cain’s hands and sending the sharp tip of his sword toward his body. Cain staggered back with a howl of pain, clutching his elbow close to his body as his sword clattered to the floor.

Sage didn’t waste a moment. While his adversary was scrambling to recover, reaching for his sword while trying to cradle his wounded arm, he brought his blade down in a devastating arc toward Cain’s undefended shoulders.

Cain snarled and rolled away. Sage’s attack didn’t miss entirely, and instead just barely struck the smooth mound of one shoulder. Though he landed on his wounded arm, Cain gave no notice of pain save for a grimace, and he clambered to his feet and scooped up his claymore in one smooth motion.

Sage moved to the right, scoping out any other obvious weaknesses he could take advantage of. With opposite elbow and shoulder wounded, Cain would have a difficult time moving his monstrous sword with ease, and he would have to compensate for two handicaps he had never encountered before—at least as far as Sage was aware—but he was still a capable fighter.

After all, he was fighting for his kingdom and his life.

The realization of this dawned in his eyes as they flicked over the blood staining his shirt. Sage had seen apathy in his gaze only minutes before, as if Cain had resigned himself to his fate. Both were quickly fading into purpose and ferocity.

As unsure as the fight had begun, the entire mood of the room altered around them, and each man was reminded what was at stake.

Keelin, shot down while protecting children. Flynn, alone and afraid. The Arbour, boarded up and decaying.

The anger that fueled him during the Siege was creeping back.

A roar escaped his lungs and he propelled himself at Cain as the man was still trying to figure out how to hold his sword. At the last second, he tossed the grip in his palms and slammed the flat side of his broadsword into Cain’s chest. He tumbled onto his back with a strangled cry; a thin strip of blood emerged on the front of his shirt from the force of the folded, double-edged steel.

Cain scrabbled backwards, gasping as he put weight on his wounded elbow. He screeched and rolled aside as Sage brought the sword done once more. It clanged and sparks flew as it missed its target and hit the stone floor. Sage whirled around and lunged once more at Cain, just as the king clambered to his feet and regained his balance. He brought up his claymore in time to block the attack, and the two swords smashed together, screeching and echoing off the massive stone walls.

They remained locked together, pushing against each other’s weight, each wishing his enemy would cave first.

Muscles straining against Cain’s strength, Sage grunted and felt his boots scraping on the floor. With a gasp, he let his muscles completely relax, and he dropped to the ground at Cain’s feet. Cain squawked, startled at the sudden disappearance of his foe, and tripped over Sage on his way to the ground.

He landed with a crunch; Sage whirled around and leaped to his feet, hating the throbbing pain in his weak leg, and watched with wide-eyed disgust as Cain rolled onto his back, hands clutching his face. Smashed from landing on the floor face-first, his nose was likely broken, and Sage was almost certain he spotted a small white tooth in the puddle of blood nearby.

Cain snarled something unintelligible and climbed to his feet. With blood streaming down his front, his eyes bloodshot and brows furrowed in rage, he looked every bit the warrior he was born to be. His ancestors would be proud.

You let her die: Of the Arbour teaser

The hilt of his sword slipped from his bloody and sweaty grip, and he let it clatter to the floor without a second thought. They were gone. Many teachers and students had been killed, but the Arbour was still theirs; it was a bittersweet victory, if it could even be considered such.

Chest heaving, head spinning, soaked in carnage—he was ready to collapse where he stood.

But something did that for him.

With a heavy thud he was knocked back into the wall and pinned there by two claw-like hands. They were solid iron over his arms, trapping him without a hope of escape.

“You let her die!”

The screech resounded in his ears. Tears burned in his eyes and he blinked them back to see Siras snarling and glaring at him, her face twisted with passionate despair. She looked every bit the warrior she was with tousled hair and bloodstained garments, but the illusion was marred by the tears silently streaking her face and turning the spatters of blood watery—and the hollow deadness of her eyes. There was nothing left of her former self in her gaze. The fire and spirit was gone, and left a void in its wake.

“I didn’t—”

“You let her die!” she shrieked again. Her voice cracked, and she uttered a pitiful sob. Tears soaked her face, catching briefly in her scars before running in little bloody rivulets to her chin. “You’re in contact with the gods! You’re the one who can see the future! Why couldn’t you see this? Why couldn’t you protect her?” She gave a small, unintentional roar and tightened her grip on his arms, but only her hold was strong; she was visibly trembling. Sage could only stare at her, his own tears falling freely.

“Siras, what are you doing?”

She screamed and moved as if to head-butt him, or stab him, or otherwise horribly maim him. But she didn’t, and instead moved closer, so her breath was hot on his face and he could practically feel her frenetic heartbeat. “You could have given us more time!”

Sage finally found his voice. “How?” he asked, his voice little more than a sad squeak. “How could I possibly do anything?”

Siras gasped and bit her lip, holding back another sob. “You said you’d ask,” she whispered, barely audible through her anguish. “You never asked. If you’d just done what you promised, He would’ve given us more time.”

A weight of dread fell into the pit of Sage’s stomach.

The foyer was eerily silent around them, and the only sound was her desperate attempts to keep from openly weeping in front of everyone.

“Siras, I—”

“We’re sinners, Sage,” she choked. “We would have never been let into Paradise. But if we were blessed by a priestess… with holy matrimony… He could have forgiven us.” She sobbed again and pressed her forehead into his shoulder. Sage stared hopelessly over her, at the horrified faces of the survivors. “If our souls were saved, she’d be alive.”

Wishing someone would rescue him from her tormented wrath, Sage rolled his stiff shoulders and she lifted her head, eyes bloodshot and dull. “I forgot, Siras,” he whispered. “I never meant to. I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry?” she repeated bleakly. “You’re sorry? Keelin’s dead! She died protecting your children! She’s gone and she’s never coming back, and I’ll never see her again!” She released one arm long enough to slam her fist into the wall beside his head. “I hate you!” she shrieked, pressed so close that their noses nearly touched and her tears soaked his face.

He opened his mouth, desperate to plea for forgiveness and to explain how he forgot his promise to ask Briar to marry them, but before he could utter a sound she punched both fists into the wall and gave a horrible banshee shriek that made his hair stand on end and spider legs crawl up his spine. It was a primal sound, the embodiment of her misery, and the devastating pain of it lanced his heart.

The scream echoed off the walls. With one last guttural sob, Siras released him and collapsed into a miserable pile on the floor. As soon as he was freed, Sage skipped to the side to avoid being fallen on, and gave Siras a desperate stare. She was trembling as she hugged herself, and huge tears fell silently down her cheeks.

He was saved from having to give an awkward apology when Kymbry seemed to materialize out of nowhere and gently helped her to her feet. Siras leaned on her, shaking and clinging to her clothes for support, and together they hobbled away, leaving the bloodstained foyer in tense silence.

Is it Death?: Of the Arbour teaser

He expected a hesitation that never came. Even as the final word was still sliding from his tongue, the leader growled and lunged forward, his short sword held high over his head. Sage barely had time to register the attack; he shrieked and dropped instinctively, and saw the tip of the sword slice past him before it whirled around and came down.

It didn’t even hurt. He had always expected something so much worse.

A ragged gasp tore through his throat and everything seemed to stand still. The edges of his vision blurred, faded, and cleared up once more—and then the pain hit.

His side flared with agony and heat and his hand instantly went to grip the wound. Blood soaked his fingers and spread through his shirt. The blade was gone, but it still felt as though the hot metal was slicing cleanly through his flesh, tearing it.

Somewhere far above him, a man laughed.

“So this is a mighty and powerful Child of the Arbour? I can’t say I’m very impressed. You go down like a stuck pig. Easy enough.”

“Stop dawdling!” another voice shouted. “Just get him onto a horse and tie up that cut. We can bring him back to the Dunes alive like this.”

Something grabbed his shoulders, and Sage yelped and rolled to the side, digging his heels into the dirt to escape not only the bounty hunter trying to hoist him up, but the pain shooting through his body. It crawled through his skin, his nerves, pulsing out through the blood that poured freely from the wound in his side.

He was going to die. He knew it, somehow. Heard somewhere—from Siras? She was a dispenser of useful knowledge—he heard that abdomen wounds could either be nothing but a minor nuisance or a slow, painful way to die.

He tried to squirm away once more, but another pair of hands trapped his ankles together and he was sprawled helplessly between two of the bounty hunters. Rocks and dirt scraped and tore but he was unable to resist as he was lifted and half-carried, half-dragged by his captors.

“Here, put him here. There’s enough room on this horse,” one man grunted. The dagger slipped uselessly from Sage’s hand and thudded to the ground; he managed to blink away the fog glazing his vision, and he saw it half-buried in the grass, right in front of a hoof. Then he was shoved forward, sprawled on his stomach on the back of a horse.

As soon as they started to tie his hands together behind his back, he fought back nausea and the lure of unconsciousness and yanked away his right hand. The bounty hunters shouted to each other, but before they could grab him, Sage slithered off the back of the horse and landed with a thump that stole what little breath he had.

Woozy, he gasped and stared above him, having no energy for anything else. Blood—his blood—slowly oozed from the dark flanks of the horse standing above him. He cursed under his breath and started to crawl away, scooting across the grass and dirt on his back.

One of the men lunged at him, a cloth for binding or gagging clenched tightly in his fist. Not exactly keen on discovering the actual purpose of the cloth, Sage flung up his legs in the air, successfully cracking the hunter’s jaw with his boot. With a crunch and a screech, the man tumbled backwards, giving Sage a chance to flee.

Tightly clutching his wound with one hand, Sage shuffled onto his side and hauled himself onto his knees. Blood dribbled through his fingers and his head was light and his sight blurred—was this what it was like to die? A cough rattled his lungs as he laboriously climbed to his feet. If this was it, he just hoped it would be over soon. It was horrible.

Just as his fingers left the ground and he was starting to straighten out and run—either to flee for help or to crawl somewhere and die alone—something hard and heavy slammed into the small of his back and sent him sprawling into the dirt.

Spasms of pain wracked his body: a steady, bloody throb in his side; an ancient ache in his leg, where the two old injuries had never quite healed; the sharp stabs and dull pulses where rocks ground into his tender flesh and bone.

A fist took a thick wad of fabric from the front of his shirt and hoisted him partway off the ground. Mottled green eyes glared down at him. “Do you ever stop?” the man growled, shaking his fist so Sage’s head rolled uselessly on his neck. “It’s no wonder so many people want you dead!”

Sage opened his mouth, ready to respond, when something collided with his cheek and pain clouded his mind. Lids fluttering, he tried to open his eyes, but another hit came—then another, and another.

He inhaled sharply, feeling like he was swallowing glass, then one final hit came and he went numb.