An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.
Blood Ladders, Book 1
I woke cradled in the arms of an autumn sunset, an immanent radiance that warmed my body in every crease and cranny. Stunned, I lifted my eyes and found a harvest god bent over me, steadying my face with slim, small fingers and smiling, golden eyes half-shadowed by heavy auburn lashes. His gaze was solicitous and tender and I found myself transfixed.
“It was not necessary,” he said in a bass layered with love and humor, “to give me quite so much. But I thank you for it all the same.”
“You’re awake,” I said, my voice rough.
“So it would seem,” he said. His eyes lingered on my face far longer than would have been polite in anyone else but I could hardly condemn him for a sin I was myself committing. I could not look away from him. There had been no animating force in him in all the days I’d tended his body; nothing, nothing had hinted at this benevolence. At this… this staggering tranquility of spirit. “So you are kin,” he said, voice growing low with longing and wonder.
He lifted his free hand; by the glow off his skin I glimpsed the blood-stained edge of the pendant.
“Ah,” I said. And then wry, “Still legible despite the gore.”
“Not the name,” he said gently. He shifted his hand so the pendant slipped into his palm, chafed a thumb against its edge until it streaked red. As I watched the blood seeped into his skin. “There are truer pedigrees.”
I glanced at him, wide-eyed.
“I would know you even if you came to me nameless and near death,” he said, fingertips lighting on my cheek. “You are my brother.”
“And you are my king,” I whispered.
He smiled and gathered me against his chest, and I was too weak to object… had I even wanted to, which I was not altogether certain I was. But every fiber in me sparked cold and white and raw when I tried to move, and from that I knew I had had convulsions. “You have given too much,” he said against my hair… and then he flooded me with the warmth of harvest sunlight, rushing through my limbs and washing them to supple life. I gasped and twitched, but he poured it over me until he judged I had had enough and only then did he stop.
“There,” he said and kissed the crown of my head. “Better?”
“I… I can move,” I whispered, shocked. I flexed my fingers against his chest.
His smile was in his voice, but there was regret also. “I am afraid I cannot undo what was done to you. But I can give you enough to lighten the burden.”
“It is more than I expected,” I said, ignoring the pang of conscience–this was the man I expected to trade to the sorcerer for my freedom?–“And I thank you.”
He nodded, just the slightest inclination of his head, and withdrew so that he could look at me again. “Tell me your name,” he said with a smile.
“Morgan,” I said. “Morgan Locke of Ev–well. Raised in Evertrue. I suppose I am not of any human enclave after all.”
“Morgan Locke,” he said. “Evertrue on the mainland? You are far, far from home.”
“Ah, yes. I followed some genets here,” I said with half a smile. “You? I don’t know your name either.”
“Amhric,” he said.
“No blood-flag?” I asked.
He shook his head. His voice grew grave. “The king has no blood-flag… no, nor the prince either. We renounce those ties when the royal blood-gifts rise in us, lest we be tempted to give too much influence to a single family.”
“You’re really awake,” I said, still mazed and now more than a little drunk on the liquid warmth of my own body.
“Yes,” he said. “Which presents us with a small conundrum.”
I struggled to think past the fog in my head. “Because they will wonder why you’re so healthy when they have done nothing but abuse you.”
“Yes,” he said. “It will rouse suspicion.”
“That would vastly complicate my plans to abduct you,” I said.
“Is that why you’re here?” he asked.
“Why else?” I asked.
He hesitated, and while he collected his thoughts I drew myself apart and managed to sit across from him. My body allowed it… more than that, I felt a poise I’d rarely had in all my life. It was such a surprise that I spent perhaps more time than was usual for any normal man, simply settling there… feeling the fold of a knee, the cushion of the rug against my ankle, the pressure of the floor up through a spine gone pliant and forgiving. When I lifted my face I found him studying me with a compassion so naked my skin heated.
“It is hard for you, always,” he said.
“It’s not worth discussing,” I answered, not because I feared revealing weakness, but because I couldn’t bear for him to know. “You were saying?”
“It is no burden,” he said. “You needn’t hide it from me.”
“Did you drink my thoughts with my blood?” I asked, dismayed.
“No,” he said, and laughed. He reached out and pushed my blood-drenched hair from alongside my face. “It is plain to read.”
“I thought I was a little better at obfuscation,” I said. “I shall have to work at it if I am, indeed, a prince. It wouldn’t do to be so obvious to our enemies, would it?”
“No,” he said. “But I will never be your enemy.”
And I believed him. My fine education and well-honed skepticism fell before his demeanor like straw before a strong wind. I found it preposterous that I could trust him so immediately, so completely. Cross, I said, “Do you affect everyone this way?”
He said, “Well, you find me here due to the machinations of my betrothed, so…”
“You have a fiancée?” I asked, “And she put you here?”
“Ah,” he said. “Yes. It was not uncommon for the children of powerful blood-flags to be betrothed in the cradle… but when the king-gifts rose in me, I told my affianced that I had chosen the path of the King-Reclusive and so I could not wed her. She seemed sympathetic, but I should have distrusted her. She loved power too much.” He looked up at me. “She came to an accord with Suleris and when next she entertained me her house was full of my enemies, and here I am.”
“And what did she receive in return for this perfidy?” I asked, horrified.
“She declined to inform me,” he said. “Which is peculiar of her… looking back now I see that she had a tendency to linger on the fate of her rivals. Perhaps she could not bear to do so with me out of some distant remorse. It may be that she harbored some gentle feeling for me at the last–who can know? I hope she will forgive herself one day for the ills she has visited on others.”
“Forgive herself!” I exclaimed. “Is that all? She gave you over to the constant abuse of your enemies–and you don’t have to tell me what it feels like, what they do to you, I know how vile it is–and your only hope is that she eventually forgives herself for a remorse she probably isn’t even feeling?”
“I was never very good with justice,” he said with just a hint of rue. “That is why I chose the King-Reclusive path. To withdraw from society and see to the magical needs of the race in solitude is a role I am far more suited to.”
“Who runs the government if the king is playing hermit?” I asked.
“The prince. Of course.” He smiled at me, brows lifted. “That would be you, O my brother.”
Chester, I thought, would be delighted. I sighed and slipped my spectacles off my nose, reaching for the edge of my thin shift to clean them and discovering the fabric just as bloody as my hair, as the glass. “What a mess,” I said.
We meet the king at last. :)
My two favorite pictures of Amhric… *scrounges* Here:
Also, Morgan probably doesn’t remember it, but you might, that he had a lecture at the beginning of the book on the topic of priests in folklore. Maybe he should have paid more attention… then again, he probably didn’t realize how relevant it would be.