And now, as promised, the first seven pages or so of Morgan’s continuing adventures.
The Get of Royal Bloodshed
Sequel to An Heir to Thorns and Steel
Coming in Fall 2014
For the first twenty-six years of my life I had been a cripple, forever battling nausea, weakness, seizures and constant pain, a war that consumed my every waking moment and all the moments it contrived to steal from my sleep. For twenty-six years, I had been a prisoner in my own body, facing a life of increasing disability, losing friends, a chance at love and the meager pleasures of school and learning. For twenty-six years I had suffered and believed it to be my lot for the remainder of my miserable life.
In one day, a sorcerer had undone it all and given me a supple, beautiful, working body, and all I could think, over and over, was that it had not been worth the cost.
I heard the approaching footsteps despite the lightness of their tread, and then Kelu said, “It’s been a week. Are you done moping yet?”
The wind off the sea combed my hair back from my face, the one I still wasn’t accustomed to touching. It was not so much that the differences were vast, though even cosmetically the alterations were significant–it was that nothing hurt when I touched it anymore. That alone was enough to make me feel as if I had been anchored in a stranger’s flesh. “Kelu…”
“Your elves are restless,” Kelu said. I did not have to turn to imagine her with her slim furred arms crossed over her flat chest and her ears flattened against her skull. I’d seen her angry often enough. “The other genets are draped in mourning all over your cabin… even the drake is depressed. You could afford to be dramatic when you were dying alone in your student flat. You don’t have that luxury anymore, Prince.”
“And what would you have me do?” I asked, unable to quantify the feelings her litany of sins had pricked forth in me.
“You’re the smart one,” she said. “You’ve read all these history books. Do whatever it is leaders do when their soldiers are drooping.”
“Water them?” I asked. “Like wilting flowers.”
I could almost hear her scowl. “Are you mocking me?”
“No,” I said, and managed a laugh. “No. Myself, maybe.” I twisted around to look at her, turning my back on the sea. “But I’m not ready for any of this. I want to go back. I want to get him back.”
Kelu’s arms were indeed folded over her chest. Her expression was even stormier than I’d imagined, lips pulled back along her thin muzzle to expose her teeth. “Don’t even think it,” she said. “You’re not getting him back. He’s gone, Morgan.”
“There must be a way–”
“Going to your wreck of a human library and finding out how to be a real prince of the elves, maybe,” Kelu said. “But turning this ship around and going after him? What are you going to do? Knock on the sorcerer’s door and ask him nicely?”
“The dice might favor me,” I said wryly.
“Or he might kill the king just to see what you’d do,” Kelu said. “You can’t even get the ship to turn around, he magicked it so hard. It’s ridiculous, it’s stupid. We have to move forward, not back.”
“My brother,” I whispered.
“Has lived long enough without your help,” Kelu said. “All you can do to help him now is go do what you do best.”
“Get into messes?” I asked.
She sighed, exasperated. “No. Read books, take notes and make sense of it.”
“The fate of the world rests on my ability to do scholarly research,” I said. “Fancy that.”
“Lucky for us you’re good at it,” Kelu said. “If the fate of the world had rested on your ability to use a sword, we’d be in trouble.”
Twenty-six years of bodily weakness had not acquainted me very well with what few martial arts remained relevant to a university student. It was why Kemses e Sadar, the only elven noble who had pledged himself to my brother the king, had assigned a contingent of elven guards to accompany us on our errand back home: six men and their commander, called Last.
I had not thought to ask him why the name, even. That bothered me. Kelu was right: the voyage home was all of six weeks, and I’d lost one to guilt and despair. I had five left to find my bearings in this new body… to learn my guards’ names and faces… to plan the expedition to Vigil’s athenaeum.
I had a notion about how to begin.
“Last,” I said, “Teach me the use of this staff. Please.”
The captain of my guard rose, glanced at the weapon in my hands. “Your Grace,” he said. “It can’t wait until we make landfall? Finding footing on the deck of a ship is challenging.”
“Then if I learn here, I should find it easy on solid ground, yes?” I said. “Please. I know nothing of weaponry. I would be honored to become your pupil.”
He studied me, no doubt wondering if I had finally dispensed with brooding. He seemed a capable man: pragmatic, stern, just the sort I associated with my vassal Kemses. Like most of the elves, beautiful, not in a merely human fashion, but almost as if illuminated on the surface of the world with precious gems ground into the ink of his body. He had remarkable coloring: a bronze shimmer limning his supple skin at all the creases and hair like brown and gold agate. And he moved as if poured from pose to pose, a complete harmony with wind and air and ground.
My birthright: to be so limber, so attuned to the world. Would that I knew how to claim it, but I was still used to being human, and in pain. Thus my request.
“Very well,” he said at last, and nodded toward the deck. “If my prince would oblige.”
We walked onto it together.
“May I?” he asked.
I handed the staff to him with an ambivalence. I had killed a man with it–no, that sounds too clean, and no elf dies so easily–I had destroyed a man with it, and the memories clinging to the incised iron surface made my skin cold. But it was also the staff that my vassal had given me… and the staff that my king and I had used to pledge ourselves to one another. We were bound, the staff and I… in dark memory and bright both. It felt strange to see it in another’s hands, but Last’s were respectful.
“Blooded,” he said. “You can feel it.”
“Really?” I asked, startled.
He nodded. “A man’s weapon becomes his own the more he uses it. That one is well on its way to becoming yours.”
I smiled wryly. “Aren’t princes usually armed with swords?”
“Sometimes. The prince who guards the King-Reclusive wields a weapon: typically a sword, but anything will do.”
I glanced at him. “You know the legends.”
His gaze was shuttered. “We are not human, my prince, for such things to have already passed into legend.”
I kept forgetting the elven immortality… little wonder, having been raised human. My own body now was imperishable: nearly literally. I would have to be rent limb from limb and burnt to fully die. Such was the power of the enchantment that imprisoned the elves.
“So, then,” I murmured. “A prince with a staff.”
“If it will be your weapon, then let us teach you it,” Last said. “It will not be easy.”
“I do not need your kindness,” I said, “but your knowledge.” A hesitation, then I finished. “Your patience also, if you will.”
A flicker of a smile curved those thin lips. He handed the staff back to me. “Let us begin.”
“A good start,” Kelu said with a yawn as Almond peeled the sweat-streaked clothes off my aching body. I could have done it myself–in my previous body, merely dressing was often a hardship–but it pleased Almond to help me and I hated to deny her such small pleasures. The lives of the genets were ugly enough.
“That’s all?” I asked. “I let my own guard captain run me ragged in front of God and all his elves and most of the humans crewing the ship besides, and it’s a good beginning?”
Kelu flipped her ears back. “It’s very clever to bond with your guard on matters that they understand,” she said. “But what exactly are you planning to kill once we get to wherever it is we’re going?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “That would be why I’m training.”
“I thought this place we’re going was a library,” Kelu said.
“It is,” I said, using a wet towel to wipe the worst of the sweat off. It hadn’t rained lately enough to justify the use of the ship’s water stores for a bath, but both genets and elves had such keen senses that I feared to offend them. “But they named it Vigil, Kelu. Vigil against what?”
“Demons,” Almond whispered, setting the clothes in the wash-bin.
We both glanced at her. Kelu shrugged. “Or dragons. Or sorcerers. Who knows? But you haven’t heard of any demons, dragons or wizards attacking lately, have you? I imagine that’s the kind of thing that would attract attention, even among humans too witless to notice every other kind of magic.”
“No,” I admitted, leaning back. “You mean to ask me what my plan is, then.”
“It would be good to have one,” she agreed, “since ‘go to the library and find the grimoire that will undo the elven enchantment and free my power’ is lacking in detail.”
I glanced at her, my smile crooked. “You had noted.”
“Well, yes,” Kelu said. “I did make this trip nine times, remember? Amoret said ‘go to the human lands and find the lost prince’ but she wasn’t all that interested in detail either. So guess who got to figure it all out before we ran out of food, got caught by humans, or ended up lost in the wilderness between cities? Your mainland’s a lot bigger than the archipelago.”
I sat on my cot, resting my hands on my knees and frowning. Almond perched behind me and started brushing my hair—unnecessarily, since I’d found that elven hair didn’t seem to knot or tangle—but it soothed her to do it, so I made no comment. “We’ll have to head for Evertrue.”
“Why?” Kelu asked, folding her arms. “Why not go straight to the library?”
“Because the athenaeum is thick with professors and scientists and archeologists,” I said, “all eager to excavate the ruins. These are learned people with some knowledge of history and even of magic and elves… if we appear in their midst, we will cause something of a sensation.” I thought of one of my last discussions with my brother before Sidithin had appeared to spirit him away. “I don’t want any more people to know about the elves than necessary to accomplish this. Not while we’re still a nation divided.”
“I thought the humans on the mainland had forgotten us,” Almond said softly from behind me.
“They have,” I said. “Most of them. But they have a prejudice against monarchies, and they have no context for the sudden discovery of an entire nation of aliens, and they have more than enough legends that have prepared them to hate the notion of magic and kings.” I shook my head. “No, I can’t take the chance, not yet.”
“So,” Kelu said, “since you don’t want to be discovered, you’re going to head straight into the capital.”
“We did,” Almond murmured.
“We posed as animals to people who were expecting to see animals,” Kelu said. “There’s no disguising them.”
She was right, sadly. Even smeared with mud and gore, an elf shone like something rarified and lovely. I had cause to know. “I need help getting into Vigil,” I said. “And… I need to tell my family…” I faltered. I hadn’t known I was adopted until very recently. “I need to tell them, and my friends that I’m fine. I vanished for several months with only a note to keep them from fretting. I owe them an explanation.”
“And you miss them,” Almond whispered.
“And I miss them,” I murmured, feeling the exhaustion of those months in my shoulders, in my back… in my perfection. I had fled Evertrue in the hopes of finding a magician who could cure what I’d thought was a wasting disease, or, failing that, to die someplace far from those who would be forced to watch my decline. Not in my wildest imaginings did I believe I would return an entirely different species, not just restored to health but transformed into… well.
I had no idea how they would take it. But Almond was right. I missed them.
“So,” Kelu said. “We’re going to get to Far Horizon, pick up some horses for the rest of the elves, ride to Evertrue—cross-country, to avoid being seen, and cloaked, I hope—and sneak into the capital by night. And hopefully find someplace we can hide eight elves, four genets and a riding drake.”
“Yes,” I said firmly.
“All right,” Kelu said. “I guess it’s a start.”
“I’m glad it meets with your approval,” I said, dryly.
She chuffed a laugh, surprising me. “I wanted you to turn the archipelago upside down, and so far you’re doing a good job. I guess if you want to turn the human nation upside down in the process, that’s fine too.”
“God,” I muttered. “I hope not.”
And of course, he does go back to Evertrue, and is reunited with his friends from the beginning of Book 1. And then? We ride on to Vigil, to begin unraveling the mystery….
This book is already 40 pages long! And it’s up next as soon as I finish up with the Wingless sequel this month. I hope you enjoyed the sneak peak. :)