Attack

We were standing in the trees when two black guards came upon our small camp site. Elodie, who a few minutes before had seemed like simply a perky country girl jumped, quickly dodging a blow from the first guard. She swung her sword back at him and sliced his legs.

The second guard was engaged with The General and The Count, which seemed unfair, and almost certainly was. They fought like lightening, that was until the guard manage to land a blow on the General. Although it didn’t take long for the Count to then behead the guard.

“It’s safe,” he called out and we ran to them. “Martin, are you alright?”

“I will be,” the general stood up. He didn’t look alright.

“You’re bleeding,” Elodie said softly. “We have to get you back to camp.”

“Are they?” I swallowed, staring at the sprawled bodies of the guards.

“Dead?” Elodie said. I nodded. “As close to it as they get. They aren’t alive to begin with so whether than can be dead or not, well, it’s a question of semantics really.” I blinked at her again. “She doesn’t know.”

“No,” The General said, “she does not.”

“They’re shadows,” I said. “They were once men, but they aren’t any more. They’re shadows, now, they serve Queen Amina.” The Count and General looked at my father. “He didn’t tell me anything, I,” I swallowed, “about a year ago I had a dream, where Brayton pledged himself to Amina. I never told anyone, it was too frightening.”

“I have to get to Pantona,” Caleb said and shook his head, “I have to talk to Anselm about it. We suspected, but,” he inhaled. “He actually pledged himself to Queen Amina?” I nodded.

“You can’t go to Pantona now,” Father shook his head. “You’re supposed to be at Brightcoast.”

“Gods,” The Count muttered. “Fine.”

“I don’t mean to break this up,” Elodie was kneeling, hovering her hands over The General’s side. “But he is losing a lot of blood, if we ride hard we can get to the camp by nightfall.”

“Is he alright to ride?” Papa asked.

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” the general grumbled and we got onto our horses. I winced and we all started riding through the woods again, moving too fast for conversation. We arrived at a large encampment, I exhaled.

“It’s beautiful,” I said softly.

“Aye, it is,” Elodie smiled. “Busy place, full of folk who want to help your cousin rise to her proper place.”

“Why did you join the resistance?” I asked. She smiled.

“There wasn’t really any other place for me to go,” she shrugged, “my parents owned a tavern in Dorin, but they refused to pay the local merchant family, The Dumanis protection money. It was burned to the ground, and they died.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. She nodded.

“Lady Athena found me making my way south and brought me here,” she explained. “She feels responsible, as Carland Dumanis is her grandfather. Lord Brayton isn’t the only evil in Cammadan, Lady Marina, and if Princess Annalise returns I expect much justice to be done in her name.”

“You know Lady Athena and Sir Tristan then?” I whispered. Elodie nodded. “Their grandfather had your parents killed?”

“They don’t like to talk about it much,” Elodie shrugged, “but aye, their mother’s father.” I was quiet as we rode into the camp itself.

I used to go to the market, in Dovetail and the camp reminded me of that. People shouting to one another, children laughing and playing, the kind of busy organized chaos that is deeply comforting in a lot of ways.

“Marina,” Papa said, as we reached a large purple tent. “This is us.” I nodded to him and then to Elodie who smiled.

“I hope to see you soon, My Lady,” she said. She handed me a leather pouch. “For your discomfort. Rub it on your sore muscles, it will help.”

“Thank you, Mistress Elodie,” I said, dismounting and entering the tent. There was a small couch and I flopped on it. Papa smiled. “I like her.”

“I thought you might,” he said. “I know none of this is easy for you.” I nodded. That was an understatement, but at least he was admitting it.

“Papa,” I asked softly. He looked at me. “Count Caleb mentioned, after we talked about the Shadows that he needed to go to Pantona to speak with someone.”

“Mastero Anselm,” he said. I frowned. There were no more Masteros, Brayton had them killed because they wouldn’t recognize him as king. “He went into hiding with Anton and Marie, and he’s supervised Annalise’s magical education.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “I feel like there’s so much I don’t know.” I leaned back against the chair.

“It hurt me to keep secrets from you,” he said softly, “truly, my darling.” I nodded again. “You kept secrets too it seems.”

“I know,” I whispered, “but it was terrifying.”

Something New

I haven’t written lately, because I hate riding in the open countryside. I was surprised when Papa said we weren’t taking a coach, though I’m not sure why. He said we’d move faster this way and also because we sent our coach to Brightcoast to throw off Brayton.

This all makes sense, but it does not make a week on horseback any more fun. We’re a days ride away from the camp now. Papa, me, and Count Caleb. We’ve met up with General Martin now as well, and another royal guard named Elodie Wills.

“You aren’t used to this,” Elodie said as we settled in to eat. I nodded. “It’s better at camp, I promise, nothing like the palace, I’m sure, but better than this.”

“Why are we doing this?” I asked. She smiled.

“Camp’s place is secret,” she shrugged, and pulled out a cloth to clean her sword, “we had to make sure you weren’t followed.” I nodded. “Are you really a psychic? We have healer magicians at camp, I can heal a little, but nothing like that. No high magic.” I blinked at her. She was speaking so quickly.

I was so used to court life, I hadn’t thought about the distinction between high and low magic in a long time. Not since Sister Mara, who’d come to Cammadan with my aunt and father from their homeland Phania, had taught me when I was very small. She’d always said it was a petty distinction, usually used to make the work of women and uneducated folk seem unimportant.

“I well,” I said softly, “I have Dreams sometimes, and then things happen.” She nodded. “I suppose it’s high magic, but I’ve never thought of it as such. It’s mostly useless and kind of a nuisance.” She smiled. “You can heal?”

“A bit,” Elodie said, “if you have any magic at all you could probably learn.” I looked at her.

“That sounds like a very good idea,” Papa said settling in with us. I looked at him. “It would give you something to do, rather than just wait. Sister Mara said you had gifts, Marina, this might be one of them.”

“I suppose so,” I said, but something felt warm in me, right. I did like the idea of healing and having something to do.

“Elodie,” General Martin shouted, she snapped to attention, holding her sword out. “Someone’s coming.” I stared wide eyed. “Les,” my father looked at him, “can you get Marina to safety?” He nodded. Count Caleb nodded at Him. “Your Grace.”

“General,” he said, grabbing an axe and swinging it. I swallowed and took my father’s hand, running into the trees.

Lord Brayton: King Of Shadows

I walked into the large throne room and held my breath and counted to ten. I don’t like being in here. The great throne sits behind the large chair that Brayton has had made for himself.

After the summer. After Annalise is seventeen he can probably claim the throne and crown. Flanked at both his sides are his black guards, not proper royal protectors, like Sir Tristan and Lady Athena, but tall, large terrifying men dressed all in black, walk with him everywhere.

Also in the room are a few courtiers. Mercy Williams’s father, Lord Carver, who is so far up Lord Brayton’s, well, a lady shouldn’t say where, but he’s one of them. And as a surprise, Count Caleb is here. He’s my father’s closest friend, and I know now more than ever that he’s on Annalise’s side, but it’s always been a little off putting how good he is at acting like he doesn’t care one way or the other.

“Ah,” Brayton smiles from the chair, I try not to shiver. “Lady Marina, so nice of you to join us.”

“I over slept, My Lord,” I said and sank into a low curtsey. “I hope I can be forgiven.” He laughed.

“Of course,” he said. “Your father has requested that the two of you be allowed to spend the summer at Brightcoast.”

“Yes,” I mumbled, I hated the way he was staring at me. It’s not as though I’m dense, he’s not the only man to look at me. But it’s the way he does, and that one Dream. The one of him with her that I find it terrifying. “If it’s alright.”

“I had many good days myself at Brightcoast,” he said. I nodded. “I’ve not thought it appropriate to move the court there in summer, not without our dear cousin.” I nodded.

“Of course,” I said softly, “I pray for the princess’s return each morning, as I know you do as well.” He nodded.

“You’ll be missed of course,” he said, “but of course I cannot deny you the right to know your home.”

“Thank you my lord,” I said softly, “if it pleases you, I’d like to keep packing.” He nodded and waved me away. I curtsied again and headed towards the door. I got outside and took a deep breath, pressing my back against the cool stone.

I was remembering the Dream. I’ve only had it once, and I never told anyone, not even my father. I was in a great hall, not the hall in Dovetail, it was even larger, and lit by candles, but the light they gave off was an eerie blue. Lord Brayton was kneeling before a throne, where a lady was seated. She was dressed entirely in black and her skin was ghostly pale. I knew her immediately, this was Amina, the Dark Lady, The Goddess of Hell.

“Rise, king of shadows,” she said, “rise and take the world above in my name.”

And then I woke up. It wasn’t long after that when Brayton began singling me out.

“You did well,” I opened my eyes to see Count Caleb standing in front of me.

“Thank you,” I said and we started walking. “I’m trying not to be afraid of him, but he’s so,” I shuddered. The Count laughed.

“Brayton has always been unsettling,” he said. “And you have more reason than most to be unsettled by him.” I looked at him. “He has hinted to your father that he’s going to ask for a betrothal.” I blinked at him. “He didn’t want to alarm you.”

“It would have,” I said. He nodded. “I won’t marry him.”

“No,” Caleb shook his head, “nor would anyone expect you to.” I looked at him. I noticed the way he looked at me for the first time.

“We look alike, don’t we?” I asked. He smiled. “An-Lisette, and I?” He nodded.

“It’s uncanny,” he said, “except for the eyes, of course. She has her father’s eyes, grey, like a storm. You look even more like Marie than she does, come to think of it.”

“My father says that too,” I said. He smiled. “What is she like?”

“You’ve Seen her, haven’t you?” He asked. I nodded. “But that isn’t the same is it? Your Aunt used to try to explain.” We were back at our rooms and in the parlor. “She’s bright, and funny. She talks too much. She can be impatient.” He was leaning back and smiling. He was thinking about his daughter, I realized. He’d raised my cousin since she was two years old.

“Can she fight?” I managed to whisper. He smiled and nodded.

“Better than any of Brayton’s black guards,” he said. “Better even than your Sir Tristan, I think.”

“He’s not my,” I blushed. He smiled and stood up, kissing me on the forehead.

“I won’t tell,” he said. “And you don’t have to marry Brayton.” I smiled.

“She can fight him?” I asked again. He looked seriously at me.

“Yes, Lady Marina,” he said, “if there is one thing that I’ve been sure of for a very long time, it is that Lisette is more than capable of fighting Brayton.”