Another New Year

Well 2018, i’m not sure what to say about you.  From a writing standpoint, there wasn’t much happening.  The lack of content on the blog is testament to that, which to all readers, I sincerely apologize.

I survived my first year back at University, however, and that’s probably the best thing I can say about my writing.  I learned a lot about essays.  And more importantly, I learned I still don’t like essays.  Good thing my aspirations are to be a novelist!

I did make some progress on my work in progress Across Jaspen Bay.  The story took a bit of  different direction, one that I think improves the entire story. The addition of an incoherent pirate with a warning really grounded the story and gave it a centre.  If this thing ever makes it into the real world, I hope you will agree.

I’ve also added a new Short Story to the website here, I hope you will take a look.  It was an adaptation assignment for one of my classes last semester that earned me a 95%.  I highly recommend checking out the medieval lais (poem) by Marie de France entitled “Lanval” for some context.  My short story is an adaptation of it.

Link to a translation of Marie de France Lanval: http://users.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/Marie/lanval.pdf

 

Until next time

A.

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February Blahs

I think the term is actually January Blues, but I’ve never been one to stay inside the box.  Is anyone else out there done with winter?  Yeah.  It’s funny though, because as far as winters go, this one hasn’t been horrendous.  We are in the middle of our third thaw of 2018.  THIRD.  Yes, Mother Nature doesn’t like staying in the box either.  She is going to push and challenge what we think we know.  It’s a love-hate relationship with humanity, for sure.

As a good Canadian, weather is not just a conversation starter, though it appears I’ve used it as one here.  Weather, to many Canadians, is everything.  It changes at the drop of a hat, brings extreme fluctuations (often in a short amount of time), and affects the livelihood of so many of us.  For myself, the short story I wrote a couple years back, Suck it up, Honey, while a gross exaggeration, is a snapshot of winter in my world.

We live in a 200 year old stone farm house.  Back then, people didn’t insulate the walls.  Since then, the ground – and therefore the house – has shifted a fair bit.  This means drafts.  Lots and lots of drafts.  Which also means, if we used our furnace (which we don’t), we would be spending a small fortune to heat the outside.  The insulation that was added in the roof is old, as are the windows and doors.  Being an estate, major renovations require approval of all executors.  So our little family does what we can with what we have, where we are.  We burn wood in our little fireplace insert, and have space heaters in the essential rooms.

On days like today, when we are three days into a thaw, I can appreciate this simple life.  I can appreciate even more what times were like 200 years ago even if the house was brand new at the time.   I can look at the life values my children are learning, doing their part around the farm for the survival of the group, and feel good about the character they are building.  A flip through the international news feed shows me that teaching my kids to value hard work for the greater good isn’t as awful as they like to complain it is.

Their friends sit in their fancy suburban houses with every gadget and game; get over-scheduled with activities and tutors and lessons; and have the nanny/housekeeper pick up after them and provide them with everything they need and want, and I think about the kinds of adults this generation will become.  I am okay with my kids feeling like they have it hard.

They each have a couple of activities that dominate a good portion of my week but leave them with ample ‘down time’, and they have a TV and a PS4 (no wi-fi though.  The horror!), and toys and books… and sheep, and chickens, and 100 acres of adventure!

But in February, it’s hard to be enthused.  Mind you my oldest enjoys snowboarding.  In fact, he’s at Mont Tremblant right now.  Poor, hard-done-by kids.  The rest of us, however, are in a bit of the winter doldrums.  We can feel spring is trying to come, we can smell it in the air, and see it in these thaws… but it’s not here yet.  And that’s very, blah.  The grey overcast days don’t help, either.

Perhaps we will tap our maple trees this weekend.  Keeping relatively busy is usually the best remedy for the blahs.  Not that I personally have much spare time.

 

This blog didn’t go the direction I had intended, which is sometimes the way with many things, and often the way with me.  I was going to introduce the newest short story I’ve posted, but got wrapped up in winter and weather and the ways of the world.

But it’s there, in the menu, if you’d like to read it.  Perhaps one day I will find myself looking out the window at the willow tree swaying in the breeze, contemplating the “thing” that makes an author famous, instead of contemplating the fireplace, and if it’s too soon to add another log.

 

Until next time!

Back to School

Welcome to 2018.

My New Year started out with chaos.  Only a few days into January, I was accepted to an English program at the University closest to my farm.  Needless to say, I was ecstatic.  I had applied back in October, and was unsure if I would get in.

But there was a catch.  Classes started in four days.  I kicked it into high gear and got myself registered, attended a new-student orientation, applied for financial-aid, and showed up to my first class with nothing but my Day-Timer.

And life has been chaos ever since.   Not only do I need to navigate the waters of post-secondary education after fifteen years away, but I had to learn to juggle this new addition to an already chaotic life as a wife, mom, and “farmer”.

Let’s be honest.  I haven’t figured out the balance yet.

But, I have been writing.  Something that fell apart at the end of 2017 when real life started to drown me, and I’ve been so happy to get behind the keyboard again.

I have two English classes, and one History class.  Enough to be considered full-time for my financial aid, but part-time for the University.  Oh well, what can ya do?

But as I start to get grades back in my English classes, I am encouraged.  Maybe I’m not a horrible writer after all.

So, from time to time, I will share some of the assignments I’ve done that I’m especially am proud of.

First up is the short story, The Box in the Corner.  You can find it in the main menu.

Cheers,

Anya

The end of 2017

This year has certainly been a ride.  As usual, I wish i’d had a reality TV crew following me around; it would have made hilarious entertainment.

For those of you who tuned it to read my chapter-a-week back in the summer and fall, THANK YOU.  You’re support has been appreciated, and I was happy to share my novel.  I’m sure you’ve noticed I discontinued the posts, but that the story wasn’t over.  With any luck, the published version will be out one day for you to read in it’s entirety.  I have left chapters 1-4 up as a preview of the novel, should any potential agents or publishers stumble upon this site.

Until then, I will perhaps replace the chapters with some short stories, and in the New Year I hope to put a little more effort into blogging in earnest.

To everyone who celebrates the season in whatever capacity, happy holidays.  To those who don’t, happy winter.

Stay warm!

 

BRAND NEW Chapter Three

Things in the Rousselle household have been a little hectic getting into a new summer routine.  Between kids and ponies and sheep and soccer and cows and bees and 4H, it’s all been a little overwhelming.

However, even with all the chaos going on in real life, I still managed to write a brand new chapter three!  I had always been unhappy with the pace of this novel at the beginning.  I loved the action-packed first chapter, but struggled to keep the momentum going while introducing the readers to Elora castle and the royal family of Valedonia.  In fact, chapters 2-4 were a large part of why I shelved this project so many times.

I will never know what made Sephine slap me with this missing chapter, but I’m really glad she did.  Once the concept came to me, I had the whole thing written in about an hour and was left wondering why I hadn’t thought of it before.

I spent the rest of the week editing.

And editing.

And panicking that it was Monday and I still wasn’t happy with the nit-picky details.

So I edited once more, and here it is!

Click on ACROSS JASPEN BAY from the top menu.  I hope you enjoy!

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

~SEPHINE~

“Guess what our rebellious father has decided?” Gabe strolled into Sephine’s room without knocking. She was used to it and it rarely bothered her, but today she would rather have been left alone to get some sleep.  It was Gabe’s fault they’d stayed out so late anyway, why couldn’t he let her be?

It had been too hot for blankets when she got home earlier, so she’d simply fallen face first down on the top of her navy blue quilt.  She’d managed to get her boots off and finish detaching her skirt, but the tight black pants she wore under everything were made of a blend of silk and cotton brought from the southern provinces, and so comfortable she was happy to sleep in them.

Not moving from her spot on the bed, her voice was muffled. “It is really important?  Father makes a lot of rebellious decisions that aren’t worth waking me over.”

It was true.  Their father had been unlike any King before him.  Even before his time on the throne he’d managed to get the country banned from doing trade with all others on the continent, save for Fandora who supported them.  But despite that, it had almost been for the best.  It didn’t take long before the world forgot about Valedonia – except their sought after wine – and being mostly out of mind allowed the new King to reshape the country in a way that had never been done.  And it worked.  The country prospered despite the ban and he found new ways for the citizens to thrive.

But it didn’t change the fact that Sephine was tired now, and had only a few hours before the Royal family of Fandora arrived for her to catch up on a little sleep; if Gabe would just leave her alone.

“Yes.  It’s important.  Unless you want to wrath of both our parents coming down on you.”

That got her attention. She slid her face to one side to see Gabe standing at the end of her bed, arms crossed over his chest with the most peculiar expression.  He looked like he wanted to laugh at her, but there was something behind his eyes that told her he wished he could flop down beside her.

“What?”

“I’ll tell you when Edward gets here.”

Sephine groaned loud and long and returned her face down into the quilt.  Edward was intruding now too?  All she wanted was to go to sleep.  Was that too much to ask for?

She heard Edward shuffle in and the door click behind him.  Apparently it was.

“Gabe, I’m tired.  You can’t just pound on my door and disappear, and expect me to know that you’re not in your own room and over here instead.”

This time Gabe did laugh. “Sorry.  I figured you’d catch on… and here you are.  If you wanted to conserve energy, you could have just asked the guards.”

Sephine snorted.  Yeah right.  They rarely asked the guards for anything.  It was a pact they’d made years ago as children; not to set any kind of precedent for the guards to think they have anything the siblings would want.  It made it easier on their consciences when they ditched them.

“Just tell us what you want, Gabe.”  This time, Sephine managed to muster the energy to roll onto her back.  She gave Edward the slightest nod of greeting then closed her eyes.  A moment later, he thumped beside her on the bed, but she didn’t bother to open her eyes.  He smelled faintly of pine.  At least he’d had the energy to clean himself up a little.  She couldn’t imagine what she smelled like at the moment, but also didn’t have the energy to care.

“Father wants us all to meet the Fandorans at Port.”

“What!?” Edward and Sephine said in unison.

“Yup.  Carriages leave in less than two hours, so get your Tas faces on and be ready to play politics.”

Edward and Sephine both groaned.  “Why?” Edward whined.

There was a pause, which Sephine assumed was Gabe shrugging his shoulders, but she still hadn’t bothered to open her eyes.  She was awake enough she could imagine looking at the dark stream of fabric that tented above her head down to each of the posters on her bed.

“Don’t know.  Vivie told me about the carriages.”

“Maybe she was pranking us? I mean, it is something father would do – go against tradition – and all, but that’s really not overly rebellious if you ask me.”  The movement beside her told her Edward had sat up.  She was still hoping they’d leave and let her sleep, so didn’t follow suit.

“Vivie only pranks her tutors.  And the flavour of the month was standing at the door and didn’t deny it.  I doubt he would go along if it were a joke.”  They didn’t often bother to learn the names of Vivie’s tutors, she’d gone through so many of them.  When she thought about it, though, Sephine, Edward and Gabe had all gone through a fair number as children as well.  It was just too easy to get them to quit.  Such a sensitive bunch.  But she did have to admit, Vivie’s current tutor had been younger, the youngest she’d ever remembered, and while she couldn’t remember how long he’d been around, he had by far outlived any of the others.

“Yeah, you’re right.  She was probably telling the truth.  Okay, fine.  I’ll get ready.  You could have just told me that from the door though, instead of making me walk all the way over here.” Edward was so complacent.  Of the three of them, it was a good thing he was crown prince.  She and Gabe were never going to be as agreeable as him.

Sephine expected a snappy come-back from Gabe, but it didn’t come.  She dared to crack one eye and saw him standing by the balcony window, staring intently.  A small wave of panic washed over her.  Gabe was rarely serious about anything other than hunting or sailing.

“What in the name of…”  The alarm in Gabe’s voice was enough to get Sephine moving.  She was on her feet and beside Gabe at the window in seconds.  “See it?  Movement in the trees.  There!  …And over there!”

Gabe was right.  There was movement in the forest. Too far away to make out the shape, but seemed to be more than just casual wildlife.  Before the adrenaline that gave her a jump start had a chance to get her thinking straight, Gabe was out on the balcony and leapt over the edge.

A sharp glance at Edward who had been on his way to the door, and Sephine followed Gabe.  Edward would get a few trusted guards and follow their tracks.

By the time Sephine was swinging her legs over the banister of the balcony, Gabe was already down the terrace and prowling through the garden, a dagger in his left hand.

She hadn’t had time to put her boots back on before she’d gone over the balcony too, and her stocking feet slipped a few times on the terrace.  If she were a little bolder, she might jump the rest of the way down, but the gravel was unforgiving on unshod feet, and hers were always a little more sensitive.

As she scurried through the garden, she was thankful for the stockings, trying not to wince at every shard of rock that dug into her soles.  She’d taken off her scabbard before flopping on her bed, but had a small knife attached at her thigh that would have to do.

This was stupid.  They didn’t know what or who was out there, they were practically unarmed, and she only hoped Edward was getting back-up.  Gabe never thought things through.  She didn’t even know where he was other than the tracks his boots left in the gravel.

“Gabe!” she hissed.

At the north edge of the garden, she hesitated, standing at the edge of the Preston Woods.  On one hand, she could slip through the trees silently without her boots to crunch on everything, but on the other, it would be slow going while she watched her step.

Gabe hadn’t responded to her call, and as she scanned the forest, she didn’t see any of the mysterious movements again.  A quick glance up at the sky and she knew this was a fool’s errand.  They should have alerted the guards and gone to meet the carriages.  It wasn’t like this was some kind of large-scale attack on Elora.  That was an impossibility.  It was probably friends of Gabe, or at the worst, some petty thieves.  The guards should have been able to handle it, and she should have been ready to go to Port.  She scanned the forest again.

There it was!

She abandoned reason, drew her measly knife and darted into the woods after the movement.

It was a man.  Dressed in tree bark brown. She didn’t see any weapons on him, but by the time she could get close enough for a good look, he’d know she was there.   Her tight pants may have been black, but her shirt was an off-white cotton, which made her an easily spotted target.  She’d have to be careful.

The trees in Preston Woods had enormous thick trunks that were about as straight as nature would allow.  Their scaly leaves were soft enough not to scratch as she darted between the saplings to the next trunk that would conceal her.  On an average day, the scent of the cedar would bring her comfort and childhood memories of sneaking out, but today there was no time to reminisce.

Where was Gabe?  She didn’t dare call out to him again after he didn’t answer the first time. There were too many unknowns.  But as she darted to the next tree, hoping to tail the assailant in brown, she lost his trail.  The forest floor was hard to track unless the target was dragging for some reason.  The scaly-leaves of the trees that dropped each year made a soft, springy floor that gave to pressure and didn’t leave good prints.  Good for someone with sensitive feet and no boots, but difficult for tracking.

She relied on the direction of travel she’d gone thus far, and continued along for a few more trees.  How many people were out here?  What did they want?  And why now?  She tried to glance through the canopy at the sky again, but it was too dense to get a good idea of time.  It didn’t matter, really, she was sure they were almost out.  She wasn’t even dressed for Port yet, and her mother would be furious.

As she tiptoed quickly through the woods, a lump of brown was spotted up ahead.  She neared the lump and realized it was the man she’d been following, now crumpled on the ground.  A quick check of his pulse.  Alive, just unconscious.

Gabe.

Sephine, hopeful now she’d find her brother, continued in the same direction of travel to find six more unconscious men.  Six men was a lot to have bypassed the palace guards.  They must have come up the escarpment from the Carlisle road.  But that would have taken forever to work their way east through this terrain.  Sephine and her brothers had little faith in Valedonia’s Royal Guard when it came to following them around, but they weren’t incompetent.  In fact, they were pretty astute if she did say so herself.  So how did these men get here?

She stood and looked behind her, hoping Edward would be in her sights with guards soon enough.  When these men came to, they needed to be questioned.  And she and her brothers needed to get off this goose chase.  There was no sign of Edward, but her gut told her they were on their way.  They had to be.

When she turned back around to keep tracking Gabe she startled.  Staring at the chest of a large, burly, man that had the distinct features of a Fandoran, she wondered where he’d come from.  For the size of him, it was a little embarrassing he’d managed to sneak up on her.  She looked up, set on making eye contact with the ogre who was about to meet his match, but as quickly as she swung, he had a knife to her throat and she was spun around with her back pinned against him.  His free hand squeezed her wrist until her knife hit the ground.

How dare he man-handle her like that!  Despite being now unarmed, bootless and almost half the brute’s size, there was no way she was going to let him hold her hostage.  A small shift in her weight, a drop of her hip, and if she could just get that wrist free…

“Take your hands… off my sister.” The ogre spun around, Sephine still securely pinned to his body, and Gabe stood not fifteen feet away, crouched atop a boulder, his eyes like daggers.

The sight of her brother like that wasn’t something she’d seen in years, and it scared the granite out of her.   It was possible, in this moment, he didn’t have the restraint not to injure this oaf beyond what was necessary to free her.  She’d never been scared of Gabe’s abilities before, but the way his eyes seemed to lose all colour, nothing but black holes of death, she was afraid for the man still holding the knife to her throat.  He had no idea that if Gabe launched himself off that boulder, he’d be dead before the blade pierced her skin.

She had to get free before that happened.

“Ready for a rematch?” The man’s deep voice echoed through her body.  Not a good idea to taunt Gabe, especially when the tension in his arm told her he was a little nervous.  You’d better be.

“Let.  Her.  Go.”  The restraint behind Gabe’s statement and terrifying stillness made even Sephine’s heart race.  She had to get free.  Another small shift of her weight and she was one step closer to being able to make a move.

“I’m not here for you.  I’m not here for her.  Turn around and walk away.  Swear you’ll never speak of this and I’ll set her free.”  There was a distinct Fandoran accent from the ogre.  They had to detain him and find out what he and those men were doing lurking around the palace.  Where was Edward with those guards?

Another small shift of her hip and she was ready to spring.  Without her boots it would be a little tricky, but she could manage.  She stomped down hard on his toe with one heel, while taking her free hip and twisting her knee up into the oaf’s groin.  At the same time, her free wrist flew up and she dug her nails into the hand that held the knife on her.

Pain shot through her and clouded her vision momentarily, and she knew the knife had broken the skin, but as she twisted the man’s arm hard, there was only a small drip she felt on her neck.  A minor surface wound.  She would be fine.

Gabe had launched from his higher vantage point and missed Sephine by only a hair, toppling the Fandoran over.  She was loose, but she needed to get Gabe off before he did something he’d regret.

Grabbing his left arm she yanked her brother hard. “Gabe! Stop!”  She pried the dagger from him while he swung his right fist.  Again.  Again.  “Gabe! I’m okay.  Stop, Gabe.”  She had to get him to look at her.  She had to get him to refocus.  He pounded again on the Fandoran’s face. “Stop!”

The sound of clanking metal and thudding feet was what snapped Gabe out of whatever had taken him over.  The Fandoran, still lying flat on his back, the wind clearly knocked out of him, didn’t move.  Sephine and Gabe looked up to find Edward and four guards running up the hill towards them.

“Edward,” Sephine breathed.  It was about time.  A look back at her youngest brother and let out another breath.  Whatever had tipped him over the edge earlier was gone and a few blinks later, a grin spread across his face.

“Took you long enough,” he said.  Gabe was back.  Thank goodness.

“Well, you know, I’m still pretty tired.  I figured we’d leave all the hard work to you.  Just come in and clean up the mess.  That’s enough for me today.  Are there any more?” Edward had no idea Gabe was on the verge of murder.

“Six in total, but you’ll want to get a team out here to check the rest.”  Sephine nodded at Moreau, one of the younger guards, and someone Gabe had come to let follow him from time to time.  The guard flew back down the hill to the castle, while the siblings and the three remaining guards shackled the unconscious intruders.

When they were back in the garden with their pile of intruders, Sephine looked up.  “Oh no!”  They were going to be so late for the carriages.

“We have to go.  We have to go, now!” She barked at her brothers.

Edward nodded, but Gabe turned to one of the Valedonian guards.  “These men didn’t take to kindly to a game of Tas they lost to me earlier.  Toss them in a cell to sober up, then remind them that a game is a game, and they probably shouldn’t be seen in any taverns around here for the next little while if they are going to be sore losers.”  His voice was light, but Sephine knew the meaning behind it.  If Gabe saw them again, he would likely provoke another fight, and her brothers and she were usually careful not to instigate violence.  They certainly wouldn’t shy away if someone else started it, but despite their dislike of being treated as royalty, they did represent the leaders of the country.  None of them had any intent to shame their father with petty revenge.

“Seriously, Gabe, we’re really late.”  She tugged on his sleeve and he followed her back into the castle through a side door and up to their rooms.

“Why did you cover for those intruders?  I thought you were going to kill that one…” Sephine said as they jogged down the corridor behind Edward.

“Didn’t you recognize them?  Two or three of them were in Aberfoyle this morning.  The jerk who grabbed you was the one who started the brawl.”

Sephine didn’t remember.  She was out on the porch waiting for them when the fight broke out.  “So they really were here to get back at you for losing at Tas? Seems extreme.”

“Maybe.  I’m not sure.  But Father has enough to worry about right now with his visitors, he doesn’t need the stress of dealing with why some stealthy Fandorans were snooping around.”

“Do you think they’re connected to Fandora?”  They had reached their wing, and were about to dash into their respective rooms.  With one hand on the handle of his door she looked once more at Gabe.  Edward was already in his room.

“I don’t know.  But if some Valedonians caused a ruckus in Fandora the morning before I arrived, I wouldn’t like it if anyone treated me suspiciously.  It would be unfair for us to do the same, don’t you think?  Unless we have reason to connect them, these men are just drunken sore losers like all the rest.”

He gave her a half-hearted smile and swung his door closed behind him.  How Gabe managed to go from ready-to-kill, to treating individuals fairly, she’d never know.

But she didn’t have time to think about it now.  Their carriages would be waiting for them if they didn’t get out there soon, and with all that had gone on today, she really didn’t think she could handle lectures from her parents.  Instead, she touched the spot on her neck that had been cut.  The blood already started to dry.  No problem, she would just have to cover the cut for a couple of days, and no one would be the wiser.  If only the heat would subside.  It would be easier to justify covering her neck in cooler temperatures.

She’d figure something out.  She always did.

 

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author and/or publisher.

 

Copyright ©2017 Anya Rousselle All Rights Reserved.

Check out Chapter Two!

Better late than never?  Chapter two is now up and ready.  At the top of the page, click on the ACROSS JASPEN BAY tab, which will take you to both Chapter one and two of my debut novel.

I’m really excited to share this world and these amazing characters with you.  My current Work In Progress isn’t really a prequel, but does include two of the characters already introduced in AJB, set two years before the events of this novel.

Stay tuned…

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

~MALCOLM~

“Here you go, Princess.  Copy these words onto your page and try to match the script.  You can trace mine first if you need help.”  The youngest princess and her tutor sat at a wrought iron table in the south garden of Elora Castle.  Malcolm had laid some pages out, ready to begin their daily lesson.  “Each one of the words is a town in Valedonia.  Think back to our history lecture the other day.  What do you know about the names of all the towns?”

Though he may have been ready, she was clearly not.  She knelt on her chair and gazed out over the low stone wall beside them.  Malcolm followed the little princess’s gaze towards the harbour beyond.  The clear sky revealed only a wisp of a cloud in the distance, the sun reflected off the tiny waves like crystals. Rain would elude them once again.  If it weren’t for the humidity, everything would be dust.

The princess’s dog, Mosley, her constant companion, had curled up by the foot of her chair for a morning nap.   With his long black fur over his medium-build frame, he must have been hot.  But there was no way he’d venture far, so used the Princess’s shadow for shade.

Malcolm stood and absentmindedly peered over the wall at the shear drop that faced east over Breslau Harbour.  Never enthralled by heights, he rarely acknowledged the altitude of the castle.  Why did he bother to look now?  His vision blurred in waves at the sights below.  Enormous platforms had been carved out of the cliff in staggered terraces, with granite stairs connecting each.  The bustling village of Port Breslau lay below them, well beyond the lowest level, with tiny specks of movement like ants.  It may have been the height, but as his eyes settled on the greenhouse; the one that housed many of the imported fruits only a single level from he stood, his stomach churned.  It reminded him he’d skipped breakfast.  After script writing they would stop for a grapefruit on their way to the stables.

Returning to his student, he peered down at the princess’s blank pages.  She still gazed out into the harbour.  Her attention wasn’t on the village, however.  It didn’t seem to be on anything at all.  Why on earth hadn’t she started her script?  He supposed it was their last day before holiday from her studies.  Really, he should have anticipated there wouldn’t be much focus from her, but they had a full day of lessons and he was expected to make the most of it.

He tapped the parchment.  “Your Highness.  Let’s get going, please.  I asked you a question.”

The Princess sighed and barely looked his way.  “When our ancestors traveled from the Old World, they named each town in honor of a matching town from across the Impassable Ocean.”

Malcolm nodded in approval, though the little girl’s lack of enthusiasm wasn’t missed.  “Exactly.  Glad to know you’re still paying attention.  Now, let’s get started on the script, please.”

The tips of his fingers ran along the cool metal of the iron railing.  Attached to the four-foot stone wall, it stretched an enormous semi-circle around the top platform of the palace grounds, from the escarpment on the east, around the south of the castle, ending just before the lane at the west.

The princess still hadn’t moved.  “What are you thinking about, Vivie?” he asked.

“Going on a voyage with Gabe,” she replied.  Her round chin rest on her hands neatly folded over the top of the wall.  The chair she knelt on raised her enough to see over the flat grey stones.  “One day he will take me, Malcolm.  He promised.”   A hopeful glance revealed the same crystal blue eyes as her brother, with the same dark circle around the iris.

Only ten years old, Vivie was so much younger than her siblings.  Seven years spanned between her and Gabe, nine and ten and a half with Edward and Sephine.  Though she was optimistic, and took every opportunity to tell Malcolm they would one day include her in their wild adventures, the truth was, they rarely gave her any notice.

“One day, Vivie, but don’t get your hopes up.  You are still very young, and your brothers and sister would never want to put you in danger.  The predicaments they get themselves into are no laughing matter.  Now, please get started on that script writing.”  Tapping the parchment again wasn’t going to make the words appear any faster, but it might direct her attention to the pages, so he tapped anyway.

Malcolm turned his back to the harbour and leaned against the railing. The sun bore through his dark shirt as he nodded at two of the palace guards that passed.  It was supposed to be autumn for goodness sakes, yet a bead of sweat ran down his back.

The sound of the old castle doors creaking open startled him, though it shouldn’t have.  The queen breezed through the south entrance with four ladies-in-waiting.  In the corner of his vision, Vivie scrambled back to her script and managed to get some words on the page before her mother approached.  The little princess should have known the queen would show up at any moment; she checked in on them all the time.   Albeit sporadically, staying only a few moments, but she was determined to personally oversee that Vivie received proper training.  Not that she didn’t have faith in Malcolm as a tutor, but the first three children she’d written off a near-failures in etiquette, Vivie was her self-proclaimed “last hope” of a proper princess and she was set on constant check-ins.

She walked the tiled path, past flower beds, trees, and a few grassy patches.

“Good morning, Your Highness,” he greeted with a bow.

“Good morning, Malcolm.  How are you this hot day?”  She fanned herself with her hand.  One of her ladies-in-waiting immediately opened a parasol and held it over her head.   There was something comforting about her Brisburian accent.  It had been years since he’d last been in the country to the south, but every time the queen spoke, he smiled.

“Very well, Your Majesty, and yourself?”

Vivie quietly groaned and rolled her eyes at the cordial conversation between Malcolm and her mother.  While the queen fussed with her dress, straightening out the folds, he shot the princess a warning glare and she sheepishly returned to her parchments.  Why did she always test the rules?   It was such a battle to maintain etiquette, but he couldn’t let the queen down.

Mosley, who Malcolm had barely noticed greet the queen with a filthy stick in his mouth, now found a new spot of shade to curl up under, the stick by his feet, one eye on Vivie.  Queen Katarina had ignored him.

“I’m well, thank you,” she said.  He stepped over to the chair across from Vivie, and brought it back for her to sit.  “Oh, why thank you, Malcolm.  Such a gentleman.”  Queen Katarina gingerly perched on the edge of the chair.

Never comfortable with compliments no matter how slight, his eyes found their way to the ground, his cheeks hot.  All he could do was bow with gratitude.

“If only my older children had even a fraction of your grace, they would be much more respectable royals,” she said, more to herself than anyone else.  She made no attempt to conceal her distaste for her older children’s reckless behaviour, though the improperness of it made Malcolm more uncomfortable.  The queen’s four ladies awkwardly shifted their weight.  Obviously, they felt the same.

While all of the royal children had dark hair, fair skin and blue eyes, typical of noble Valedonian blood, the queen was so clearly Brisburian.  Her round, close set eyes and hair were a sun-kissed brown, only a few shades darker than her skin, though she rarely spent much time outdoors.  Such a familiar presence, he often attributed it to her charm.

“And how are you this morning, Genevieve?” the queen asked, turning to Vivie.

“I’m well, Mother.  I was just working on script writing,” Vivie replied in her most proper voice, holding up her messy page.

“That’s wonderful, My Dear.  Don’t forget to loop your capitals at the beginning.  Proper penmanship is imperative.”

Vivie looked down at the parchment with a frown.

“Princess Genevieve is doing very well, Your Highness.  She is ready to move up to the next levels when I return, and we are two months ahead of schedule,” Malcolm said, beaming.

“Oh that’s wonderful!”  The queen clapped her gloved hands together in front of her face.  She was a petite woman, quite small like Vivie and Sephine, which added to her illusion of youth.  The first signs of aging, however, had started to creep in on the corners of her eyes.  “You are doing so well with her, Malcolm, I don’t know how we ever survived before you.”

Malcolm blushed and looked at his boots.

“Well,” the queen continued, “King Reginald thought it might be a nice idea to have the family at Port Breslau when our guests arrive today.  You will need to end your studies earlier than we had discussed so Genevieve will have time to get ready.  I would have sent Angelique down to collect her shortly, but wanted to see what you were working on today.”

A hint of irritation was held in the queen’s voice at the mention of going to Port Breslau, though he was sure she’d tried to hide it behind the melodic tone.  Breaking typical protocol was not uncommon for the king though, so Malcolm didn’t give it another thought and agreed they would finish up.

“Thank you, Malcolm…  And if either of you happen to see Josephine, Edward or Gabriel, please let them know the carriages will be leaving in two hours. Their father expects them on time.”  Her tone was more frustrated now.  Vivie and Malcolm exchanged a glance.

“Of course, Your Highness, should we see them, we will be certain to let them know,” he replied.  A graceful swoop and the queen, with all her layers, was on her feet and moving.

“Thank you.  Now, if you will excuse me, I must find Mme. Hollaine to be sure the final preparations will be taken care of while we’re gone.”   Malcolm nodded and bowed once more, a smile from her mispronunciation of the House Madame.  From the top of his eyes, he watched the queen and her ladies breeze back across the garden and into the castle.

Typical of the queen to flit in and out like that.

Once the doors of the castle closed, Malcolm turned back to Vivie, who fidgeted with a loose thread on her dress.  “I guess your sister and brothers didn’t make it home again last night.”

“I wonder what they were up to,” Vivie mused, turning back to gaze over the east wall.  “Something amazing I would imagine.”

“You glamorize their antics, Vivie.  In any other country, your siblings’ behaviour would not be tolerated.  Your father does have unique values, and they are all so much like him in their own way, but other leaders don’t always see things the same way.  Your mother knows this too.  She has the best of intentions for all of you.  She knows what is expected of royalty outside of Valedonia and she tries to make sure you and your siblings are prepared.”  Malcolm brought the chair back to the table and sat down across from the princess.

“Sephine, Edward and Gabe travel all the time and they seem to get along just fine,” Vivie argued.  “In fact, whatever these new trade negotiations with Brisbury are, it has been mostly Sephine’s doing. Father wasn’t even going to consider it if she hadn’t insisted.  If she is so barbaric, as Mother likes to say she is, then how was she able to negotiate so well, and so soon after the exile has ended?”

“How do you know about Brisbury?” Malcolm asked.

“I hear things.  Gabe doesn’t always find me to be a useless little pest.  Occasionally he talks to me, and I pay attention.”

“Well, Vivie, you are a very smart young lady.”  He gathered the parchments together into a pile. There was no way they were going to get script writing finished today now.  “But I am sure the upbringing your mother has tried very hard to provide has played a large role in the success of the negotiations.  Leaders wouldn’t speak with anyone that lacked etiquette.  Our country has been isolated from the rest of the continent for a long time, they wouldn’t take kindly to ignorance.  As much as your sister and brothers would like to deny it, I think they know it deep down.”  At least he hoped they did.  They had no idea what life was like beyond Valedonian borders.  Not really.  Valedonia had been banned from doing trade with just about everyone, by their powerful neighbor to the south after the Continental War, and years before any of the children were born.  They grew up sheltered and safe.  The ban had only been lifted when King Gorge died a couple of years ago.  They were all clueless to the harsh realities of the world.

“Hmph.”  Arms crossed over Vivie’s chest, bottom lip protruded out.

The sounds of thundering hooves below them, however, had her peering over the wall again.  Back and forth between Malcolm and the lower platform, she didn’t seem to know where to focus.  The excitement in her eyes and huge smile across her face was contagious.

Mosley was up on his hind feet.  He could barely see over the wall, but his black fluffy tail wagged.  It hit Malcolm’s leg with a hard thump on each swipe as the older siblings raced into the stable yard looking dirty, sweaty and tattered.

Flips and flutters danced through Malcolm’s stomach watching Sephine hand her horse off to the stable boy.  The three siblings bounded up the zigzag steps to the south garden platform and flew past their younger sister at the table.  Sephine’s red ruffled skirt floated behind her, clipped to the back of her bodice.

“Hi, Vivie,” said Edward as he hurried into the castle.

“Hey, Viv,” Gabe said with a pat on Vivie’s head.  Mosley, who had met him with the stick in his mouth, nearly tripped him.   Gabe grabbed the stick and played tug with it as he walked.

“Hello, Vivie,” came the softer voice of Sephine.  As she too, passed and rushed through the garden doors, Malcolm couldn’t help but stare.  The way she walked, her confident stride, her voice as she greeted Vivie… he took everything in.  When the guards closed the doors of the castle, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.  Dirt, sweat, and a hint of Aberfoyle’s best ale; but he could still find her jasmine and lily scent.

He knew he must have had, what Vivie referred to as, his ‘dreamy look’, because he was interrupted by a fit of giggles.

“You are soooo in love with Sephine, Malcolm.  Why don’t you just talk to her?” she said between laughs.

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Princess,” he retorted.  “Besides, your sister doesn’t even know I exist.”

“Sure she does.  You’re The Tutor!”  The giggles were now clearly out of her control.

Sephine had never spoken directly to Malcolm, nor ever even seemed to acknowledge his existence.  As an employee of the castle it was generally expected, but he still wished just once, she would notice him.  She conversed with other palace workers after all… and he’d been noticing her for years.

“Oh, never mind.  Let’s call it a day shall we?  It’s time for you to get ready.  Come on Mosley.  You’ll need to get ready too.”  Mosley gnawed on the stick Gabe had thrown before entering the castle, but looked at Malcolm enthusiastically.  He jumped to his feet, leaving the stick in the grass under the tree.

Malcolm escorted Vivie and Mosley back into the castle.   Met with a cool, dry breeze as they entered, he stopped momentarily at the door to bathe in the comfort.

“Another of Gabe’s amazing inventions,” Vivie beamed as they started down the corridor.

On almost a daily basis, Vivie would marvel to Malcolm at the things Gabe had invented.  This one in particular, the cool, circulated air, was mentioned every time they stepped inside.

“There are vents you know, deep in the ground,” she said.

The ingenious system Gabe had devised to keep a steady temperature inside the castle was discussed many times, but he let the little princess tell him anyway.  He had to admit, Gabe was quite brilliant.  The air gave the entire castle much needed relief from the heat.  It made the summer a little more bearable.  In the winter, he would use the same vents to heat the castle.  Each room still needed a fireplace, but the vents took the edge off.

After she finished, they walked through the castle in silence.  The marble hallway clicked with each of Vivie’s dainty steps.

“Malcolm!  We forgot to tell them about the carriages!”

“You are absolutely right, Princess.  We will swing by their wing and tell them right now.  That was excellent of you to remember.”  Malcolm smiled at Vivie, though he was nervous at the prospect of another encounter with Sephine.
The two detoured around to the older siblings’ wing of the castle.  Luckily, Vivie had preference to stop at Gabe’s room first.  His knuckles rasped the solid door.   They stood for a moment looking at each other.  Malcolm shrugged his shoulders and was about to knock again when the door flung open.  There stood Gabe, his trousers on but not done up, shirt in hand, and his black, wet hair still strewn across his head.

“Oh!  Vivie.  Sorry, come on in.  Hey, Malcolm.”  Gabe nodded at the tutor and fumbled with the button on his pants as he walked back into his room.  “I was just going to have a quick nap before the King of Fandora arrives.”

How embarrassing, standing there in the hallway with Gabe in such state.  Vivie had obviously seen him in disarray before; she didn’t seem fazed by his unfinished appearance.

“What’s new, little sis’?”

“Mother was looking for you earlier,” she said as she stepped inside his room.  Malcolm remained in the doorway.

“She was?  Oh.  So I guess she knows we were out again last night then.  What did you tell her?”

“Nothing.  She just said that if I saw you, or Sephine and Edward, I should tell you that Father has decided we are all going to go into Port Breslau today to meet the ships.”  Vivie folded her arms in a matter-of-fact manner, looking smug.  Even from the doorway, Malcolm could tell she was proud to have information that Gabe didn’t.

“All of us?” Gabe looked at his sister with a furrowed brow before slipping a dark blue shirt over his head. “Why?  That’s ridiculous.”

“I don’t know.  That’s all she said.  I don’t think she liked the idea, but she didn’t come out and say so,” Vivie replied.  “So, where were you last night anyway?  On a grand adventure?  Exploring?  Hunting fantastic creatures?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Viv.  Nothing exciting last night.  We just lost track of time playing Tas in Aberfoyle,” Gabe said.   On the end of his bed, he looked around mindlessly, then grabbed one of his boots and attempted to polish it.

“You know, we have people for that, Gabe,” Vivie said.

A proper princess in training. Malcolm smiled.

“I got it.  I can’t stand people waiting on me,” Gabe replied, barely looking up.  “I’ll tell Sephine and Edward about Port Breslau.  You should probably go and get ready yourself.  I have no exciting stories for you today, Viv, sorry.  What time are the carriages leaving?”

“Two hours.  A little less now,” Vivie said, arms dropped to her sides, her enthusiasm gone.

“Ohhhhh, that’s going to cut my nap pretty short.”  Gabe groaned and looked at the ceiling.

Vivie turned and shuffled back to Malcolm just outside the door.  His sympathetic hand met her shoulder and he gave it a comforting squeeze.  One last hopeful turn to her brother, Gabe sent a half-hearted smile and picked up his other shoe.  Malcolm closed the door and the two of them walked back down the corridor.

Once Vivie was in the hands of Angelique, her spunky little maid, Malcolm wished her a good holiday and excused himself.  On his way out of the castle, he passed the hall leading back to the older children’s wing of the castle.  He paused for a moment, catching the jasmine and lily aroma.  A churning in his stomach twisted into knots.  It was probably because he was hungry.  Yes, that had to be it.  He was going to stop by the greenhouse for a grapefruit.  Perhaps it was the anticipation of his own adventure. His ship wasn’t leaving until much later, but with unexpected time on his hands now, it meant more time to fret.

“Stop being such a worry-wart,” he muttered under his breath.  “That’s what they always tell you.”

With a shake of his head, he left the scent of jasmine and lily and started towards the stairs.

 

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author and/or publisher.

 

Copyright ©2017 Anya Rousselle All Rights Reserved.

Chapter One is Out!

Back in 2013, I participated in NaNoWriMo (if you don’t know what that is, I highly recommend you check it out.  Nanowrimo.org) and drafted my first full length novel.  Over the last four years, i’ve edited, beta tested, queried, shelved, edited, shelved, edited, etc and learned a significant amount of my writing knowledge from the journey this novel has taken me on.

AJB is near and dear to my heart, but doesn’t fit the confines of what Agents and Publishers want to see from a first time author.  I’ve got other Works in Progress, but this novel keeps coming back to me as “the one that started it all” (quote: Walt Disney on Snow White).

After much soul searching, I’ve decided to release one chapter each week of AJB on my website.  You can find it on the page with the same title.

I hope you like it,

Anya

 

ACROSS JASPEN BAY

PART ONE

Welcome to Valedonia

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CHAPTER ONE

~GABE~

Edward and Gabe had played cards all night.  That in itself was not out of the ordinary, but Gabe was bored.  When he was bored, he became restless.  And being restless was never good while sitting at a card table full of strangers.

It was time to have some fun.

Dawn’s grey light crept through the taverns perfectly polished windows revealing a suffocating haze within the room.  By the time the sun fully rose, the place would be an oven.  Gabe didn’t particularly care, but the other men, visibly uncomfortable with the heat, pulled and fanned their cotton shirts away from their chests in a poor attempt to circulate the air.  Their sticky, sweaty aromas were relentless as they reached to add their cards to the centre of the table in turn.  The sweltering summer had long worn out its welcome.  Poor buggers.

One of the sweaty card players took the last trick of the round and Gabe peered over the cards at his older brother.  His brother’s fingers ran through his black hair and pinched the base of his neck; his tell on boredom.  Why had they stayed so long?   Sure, the men each insisted they could win everything back with one more game, but the strangers around the table had already lost most of the rounds, and their money.  A quick glance at each of them wiping sweat from their scruffy russet faces, brows furrowed, concentrating so intently on their hand was a good reminder why he was still there… he had a reputation to uphold.

He cleared his throat and gave Edward a mischievous smile.  “Do you feel a draft?”

Edward’s thin, black, raised eyebrow returned his glance as he collected another trick.  When the corner of his mouth pulled up and his sapphire eyes, much darker than Gabe’s own, shined with amusement, Gabe knew his brother was thinking the same thing.   “You’re right. I think I do feel a bit of a chill.”

Gabe turned in his sticky leather chair and glanced across the room at the bar.  “Barkeep, would you be so kind, as to close the window?  My brother and I feel a breeze.”  The snicker that escaped was quiet enough he didn’t think anyone had caught it.

But the pub owner, a portly old man with tight copper curls, who attentively wiped down the oak and brass bar, knew the brothers were up to their usual tricks.  Beads of sweat glistened on his brow, reflecting the low burning lanterns while a slow shake of his head, not a pause from his task, nor an eye at the boys, told Gabe he hadn’t been taken seriously.

“Close that window, and I’ll throw you through it,” warned one of the card players.  The burly man sitting across from Edward had a thick Fandoran accent that clipped the end of each word and annunciated each letter, which grated on Gabe’s overtired nerves.  His dark hair was cropped short, accentuating his round face.  Stout and barrel-chested, his deep purple cotton shirt was too dark for this heat as evident by the sweat stains showing through.

“You’d never get that far.”  Gabe rested his elbows on the table and flexed his well-defined arms through the rolled up sleeves of his light cotton shirt. This oaf wouldn’t dare challenge him, would he?  He’d expect as much from some of the locals, but this man probably moved as slow as he spoke.

“Would you like to find out?”

Most would have backed off by the hollow intensity of the man’s stare.  The oaf was large and looked like his patience with losing was wearing thin.  For Gabe, however, it was an invitation to push a little further.  This might be more fun than he’d thought.

Their waitress approached the table with another stein of ale for each as they moved to the bidding round.  “Don’t let Gabe get to you, Fergus.  He’s just teasing,” she said, sliding the stein in front of him.

“Thank you, Eleanor,” he sang as she placed his pewter mug in front on him.  Her large chocolate brown eyes gave him a wink, and long, flowing blonde spirals bounced lightly as she floated back to the bar.  The smell of roses and honey lingered in the air, a welcome change to the combination of both dried and fresh sweat his nose had become almost blind to.  Gabe knew she had been relieved of her duties hours ago, and yet, here she still was.  Distracted by the waitress discarding the entrails of ale, he felt a glare on him.  With a shudder, he forced his attention back to the game.  The oaf’s name was Fergus.  Gabe had always been bad with names, and he likely wouldn’t remember this one either, but if these men were going to hang around Aberfoyle much longer, he should probably make an effort.

The scrawny young man beside Fergus looked at his cards and quietly placed them face down on the table.  He was out. Gabe didn’t need to see the cards to know it was nothing more than a low pair and some off-suit face cards.  The discards were his tell.  Respectable, but the boy lacked the confidence to put up much more than the little stack in front of him.  The other two men would fold next round if they were smart, which would leave Edward, Fergus and himself.  Edward’s hand couldn’t beat him, but Edward never folded.  Fergus on the other hand…  He’d been a harder one to figure out, and his hand was likely good.

Gabe briefly glanced at Edward and his mindless fingers tapped on the smooth, freshly lacquered table.  His brother didn’t take his eyes from his cards, but sighed before adding his coins to the pile to stay in but not up the bids.  He wanted Gabe to lay out.  It was probably smart, but the way Fergus stared at him, he wanted to let the pile swell.  Besides, he wasn’t often one to make the practical decisions anyway.

While he contemplated what might be in his opponents hand, a petite young woman stormed into the pub.  Her long, black hair fluttered behind as she sped over to the boys’ table.

“Edward.  Gabe.  Let’s wrap this up.  You’ve been at it all night and now the sun is rising!”

The boys cocked an eyebrow at each other before turning to her expectant face.  A sly smile emerged from the corner of Gabe’s mouth. “The lady says to hurry up.”

“Well… we wouldn’t want to get on her bad side, would we?”  His brother’s grin matched his own.

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Won’t be the last time.”

“Just hurry up!” she said throwing her arms in the air.  Her dark blue eyes, so much like Edward’s, bore into Gabe.  She meant for him to hurry up and win.  On her heels she spun, hitting his face with the tips of her hair.  She huffed back out, leaving the boys laughing at their table.

“Sephine’s right though.  We have commitments later today and I’d rather not start out with a lecture from Mother,” said Edward.

“We’ll have time for a catnap first?  I’ll never make it through all the nonsense without one.” Gabe sighed and looked at his cards.  He assessed the pile of coins on the table and checked back to his cards.  To keep his bets in, he topped up the pile, but decided for the sake of time, he’d better lay out.  “Alright, then.  I guess I’ll have to win and be done with it.  I don’t have time to educate you gentlemen any longer.  The novelty has long worn off.  That…” he laid his cards on the table with a grin, “…is how it’s done”.

“You cheated!” Fergus bolted to his feet.

“No my friend, I did not.  You were simply outplayed.”

“I know you cheated!  That… that waitress… she helped you!  I saw the looks she gave you.  You cheated and I want my money back!”  Fergus’s eyes darted around the room.  Sweat poured down the sides of his face.

“Oh, come on now, I didn’t cheat. You were an easy opponent.  The waitress was just being flirtatious.  You shouldn’t have offered your money to lose if you weren’t prepared to part with it.  You could have folded.”  He stood and gathered the coins into a purple drawstring bag.  As he turned toward the door, Fergus appeared in front of him seemingly out of nowhere.  For a man of his stature, his speed caught Gabe off guard and hadn’t expected to be staring at the pointed end of a dagger.  “Whoa, now.  I was just having a little fun.  No need to get cranky, Friend.”

“Fergus, I wouldn’t,” the younger man said.  His voice was timid, but trying to avoid confrontation.  Too late for that, Pal.

“I didn’t ask for your opinion, Wilson!”

“Now, now, Sir, let’s not be a poor sport about this.”  Edward rose too and stood beside Gabe.  Both almost six feet tall, the men could have been twins, save for Gabe’s lighter eyes and thicker jaw, and Edward’s slightly leaner stature.

“You don’t want to start another game you will lose, do you?”  Gabe gave a chuckle and attempted to go around Fergus.

“I said, you cheated…and I want, my money back.”  Fergus’s dagger was now inches from Gabe’s throat and the brother’s smiles faded.  From various tables around the room, the small group of onlookers slowly stood and gathered behind Fergus.   One by one they drew their swords.  Gabe should have known.  Too many unfamiliar faces, Fergus’s frantic looks; he was making sure his men would back him up.

“Now, listen,” the barkeep warned, “this is a peaceful establishment.  I don’t tolerate fighting.  You out-of-towners are welcome here, but not if you’re going to cause trouble.”

“Our new friend, Fergus, is just a little tired, and the ales have gone to his head.  He and his friends were just leaving,” Gabe said, locked in stare.  He remembered the sweaty man’s name.  One point, Gabe, he thought.

“You would think, barkeep, that a fine establishment such as this would not tolerate cheaters either.”

“Gabe’s not a cheater,” Edward said.  “He’s the best Tas player in Valedonia.  You never stood a chance.”

Two points, Gabe.

“I know he cheated!”  There was a new edge to Fergus’s voice, one that was shaky.  Gabe calmly sized up his opponent.  Eyes wide and frantic, legs shaking… his ability to reason clearly wavered.  Fergus wasn’t going to be talked down at all.

It had been a slow night for Gabe excitement-wise, might as well liven things up.  He glanced over to smile at Edward, who rolled his eyes, and the brothers drew their swords.

 

~SEPHINE~

Sephine waited outside with the horses, pacing across the worn tavern porch.  Her brothers had exhausted what little patience she had left.  They should have been out by now.  She’d given Gabe her most intense glare.  Maybe he wasn’t going to win after all.  Could that be his insistence in seeing the hand through?  Was he trying to get them to fold?

Gabe usually pulled the winning hand, though she could never figure out how.  On the rare occasion he didn’t, he’d still talk his opponents into folding.  Except Edward, of course.  Everyone knew Edward never folded.

The sounds of clashing metal rang through her ears as she rounded for another pass.  The men and metal grew louder.  Those boys had found trouble… again.

She cursed under her breath and darted across the walk.  In one smooth swoop, she leapt onto the hitching post and grabbed her sword off the satchel of her horse.  Though she was petite, no more than five feet tall, there wasn’t a fragile bone in her body.

She ran into the pub and dove to avoid a thrown dagger.  It whizzed by her ear before it thud into the door frame behind her.  That was closer than she’d like.  This whole kerfuffle had to be Gabe’s doing.  He’d either won and the others didn’t like it, or he lost and wasn’t taking it well.  Either way, a quick glance told her they were outnumbered.

With one step, she deftly unclipped the skirt of her dress from its bodice; something she’d often rigged in her clothing.  The second step, she spun her skirt out to reveal tight black pants underneath.  By the third, she’d hooked the skirt snug behind her back.  In her rugged, form fitting boots, she stepped onto the nearest chair.  Her next step was in the middle of the table.  The empty scabbard revealed around her waist brushed her thigh as she launched off the other side.

The older, heavy-set man looming up behind Edward broke her fall nicely.  Lying on the worn floor, she was face to face with his foul ale breath.  A knee to the groin and he doubled over, giving her the momentum to leap to her feet.  Her sword hilt connected with his jaw and the man went limp.

“Thanks, Sis’,” Edward said with a launch of his dagger.  It flew over her shoulder and pierced the hand of another man, not as thick as the first, who had just about throttled her.  She hadn’t heard him approach, despite his size.  How could she have missed someone that heavy?

“No… Thank you,” she returned, feeling somewhat inadequate.  A knock with her elbow, sword still in hand, dropped him beside the foul-breathed man.   More pleased with herself now, she removed the dagger and lobbed it back over to Edward.  A satisfied sigh escaped her.  “So, did he lose then?” she asked.

Edward, who had just sat his unconscious opponent down in a nearby chair gave her a mischievous smile.  “Of course not.  But he couldn’t just win quietly, either.”

She swung around, metal on metal, as another man attacked from the side.  This is hardly amusing, Edward.  It was typical Gabe.  She’d give him a good lecture later, but for now, it would have to wait.  Another man hit the floor.

Gabe, who stood by the table, mere feet from where he’d sat before, had a tidy pile of half a dozen dazed or unconscious men beside him.  The men were large and skilled, she noticed as she and Edward took on another.  It irked her that Gabe seemed to have no trouble, while she swung with all her might.  Even Edward appeared to struggle.  Sweat trickled down her back and she was out of breath. Oh, how she hated sweating!  Her cheeks were hot and her body tense.  If she or Edward got hurt because Gabe couldn’t keep his mouth shut, again, so help him she would…

“Why… Can’t you just, play… Nice!”  She parried and swung back at another large man, but her accusations were directed at her youngest brother.

Stars clouded her vision and her sword hit the floor.  The ogre had got a strike in with his fist.  That was it!  Her blood boiled, but she was unsteady on her feet.  She just needed a second to recover and he’d be toast!  He’d wish he’d never woken up this morning.  But she didn’t have a second; he was coming in again.

Bracing for the impact, Sephine cringed and turned.  Through the snow that dotted her vision, she saw Gabe leap over the table and three chairs, at her side before the next wallop.  A punch connected with the man’s jaw, followed by an elbow to the gut and the large man doubled over.  With regained balance and a bursting temper, Sephine landed her knee to his face.

“Have you no manners?  Did your mother not teach you how to treat a lady?” she bellowed.  The man looked up with unfocused eyes.  Her fist met his temple and he slumped to the floor.

“Lady?  Since when did you become a lady?”  Gabe laughed.  He didn’t need to catch his breath; he’d barely broke a sweat.  How infuriating that this was child’s play for him.  His eyes sparkled with excitement, but was the ear to ear grin from his insult, or the adrenaline of the fight?

“No one asked you, Gabe!”

She glanced around the room to survey their situation.  Her brothers waited for her cue, but it was obvious this brief moment was their opportunity to exit.  As they ran towards the door, she noticed Gabe toss his purple bag of winnings to John, who had just peered out from behind the bar.

“A round of ales for these gentlemen when they wake up, and a token for your inconvenience… compliments of the palace!”

 

 

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