There has been unrest among the people for over six hundred years. No one recalls what started the fighting, few recall the proper order of events. Everyone feels the effects of the unrest. Short lived queens and weak magic mean that any newcomer is viewed as a rival, that warriors must defend queens they can barely stand in order to protect the common people.
Aren knew when she begged to go that being finished at the palace was dangerous. Every lady is finished at court, no matter her rank or the worth of her title, and it was the opportunity to escape that Aren had been waiting for. Her plan was simple, keep her head down until her eighteenth birthday and then quietly slip away.
Av had spent almost a decade protecting Em, who he knows isn’t good for his family or the people. But she’s the only one who can hold the throne, a landscape magic which has become absolutely necessary for life to continue. Without a queen sitting the throne the land would fail and the common folk would suffer. With Em on the throne at least, a majority of the people live regular lives.
Despite her best attempts, Aren finds herself in Av’s sights after she takes ill. The warrior’s response to her is an instinctive reaction Aren hadn’t counted on. Aren knows little about warriors, less about magic, and absolutely nothing about the throne.
She should have planned better.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I've dabbled in this world for decades, never quite finishing any story I started in it. With the Seat of Magic series, which begins with Trouble, I was determined to actually complete a story. I finished the novel and began almost immediately writing the second.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters typically just come to me. The same could be said of this book. Typically what I struggle with are character names. In the original plot, Aren doesn't have a name until the second book when her parents arrive. That wouldn't do, so I gave her a placeholder name, which she then outright refused to allow me to change.
“What happened?” Av asked, concerned because the use of the title meant actual trouble, the type that could appear within moments of Em getting word.
“She's bringing Mar to court,” Jer said, holding up a hand to stop Av. “No, don't you dare. I am not angry because Em is bringing her, but because I have begged, pleaded, and done things I severely regret, trying to get Mar to court only to be told no at every turn. You waltz in, bat your eyelashes and suddenly Em thinks bringing a bastard to court is the best idea she's ever heard.”
“Em has said no to you because it is her bastard in question, and you have made it clear that you would raise Mar as your own no matter her mother's commands to you,” Av said carefully, keeping his tone calm and low. “Em doesn't want you raising her child, Jer. It is her black mark and I think she might actually be ashamed of what she's done, which is marvellous because it proves she might actually have a heart.”
“She had Mar while we were mated, there is still a possibility—”
“The definition of a bastard is a child conceived while either mother or father is mated to another,” Av snarled. “And as long as Em lives you will have no say in that girl's life. Mar is Em's bastard, not your bastard. It is Em who dishonoured her blood, and you, by having an affair.”
“Em treats Mar like a black mark.”
“Which is what Mar is.”
“The girl has no life, Av. Em treats Mar as if it is her mark to bear, which is not the definition of a bastard,” Jer snapped back.
“And that is why I went to Em and explained to her that Mar would be eighteen in the fall, and that Em would no doubt want to mate Mar to a lord far from the palace,” Av said calmly. “These lords want ladies who are finished at court, not doughty country trollops who have never attended a social function. Mar is being brought to court to be finished off and you, dear brother, will stay away from her least Em and her whores decide to pay closer attention to you, or to her.”
“I don't like it,” Jer said.
“Em can't live forever—ten years is a long time to sit the throne,” Av said. “No one else has lasted that long in, what, two centuries?”
“I can only hope,” Jer muttered.
“Your mating period is almost up,” Av said, pointing out the fact with a raised finger, then flicked another finger up. “And despite what you say, when it is Em's time you will weep and whine and snivel and go on about how you miss her so much. Just like you did after your year of mating when Em, heavy with child, left you.”
“Fine,” was the growled response. “You haven't dropped the lady, have you?”
Av turned to Jer slowly, then back to the yard. “No, she's been here as long as most of the others, but I never learned her name. Yesterday she was definitely ill, but she still managed to keep up during training. I wanted to push her harder today.”
“Why not send one of the ladies looking for the missing one?” Jer asked.
“I didn't realize she was missing until the ladies were leaving and I counted off the pairs,” Av said, motioning to the gate. “Makes me wonder how many other days she's missed and I've not noticed.”
“Or how often she was here, but was so unremarkable that you assumed you had seven,” Jer said. “Some of the ladies from the coast regions seem like that. They come in, keep their heads down and do their time, then return home without even trying to mate any of the lords. Em's trying to catch them, but they're so good at it that Em doesn't notice them unless they step into the throne room.”
“Ranks?” Av asked Jer.
“No,” Jer said shaking his head. “Commoners all of them. Ranks can't hide from the one who sits the throne.”
“All right, I managed to pick a lady from the coastal area who has no servants and is ill. The coast tends to be hearty, they don't take ill often,” Av said as the wind picked up, bringing the smell of decomposition with it. “There is one thing the coast takes ill with just as often as the rest of us.”
“What's that?” Jer asked, sniffing the wind. “Isn't it late in the year for that stench?”
“Exactly,” Av said. “Everything is wet, water came up through the ground and was even running across it. It's not hard for consumption to spread.”
“Consumption?” Jer said. “We haven't had a case in a decade, Av. Father and Mother made certain all the mines were filled in, consumption couldn't possibly travel this far down the mountain.”
“Maybe they missed one that only spreads in years which are more wet than others,” Av countered. “It doesn't change the fact that we, you and I, need to watch everyone on palace grounds this time of year for signs of consumption. In case a mine was missed, in case the spring floods reveal a vein of the stuff down lower.”
“Signs of consumption,” Jer said, “are watched for by everyone. There have been no reports.”
“Of a coastal lady, those you just told me are capable of hiding themselves, having reddened cheeks, fever, muscle weakness, and exhaustion?” Av asked, stepping off his porch. “If she has no servants, she's a ward of the throne, and she's been here for two months. The steward should know who she is.”
“What does she look like? Maybe I've been introduced to her?”
Blue, that was all Av thought. A shade of blue that was dark and entirely blue, as well as solid. Colours that dark were difficult to recreate at court because paints simply could not catch the vibrancy, dyes could not colour a swatch of cloth that colour. The art of creating dyes was one that had been lost during the darkest years of a generation past.
“I don't know what she looks like,” Av grumbled. “She comes to me like every other lady does. Hair back, but her training clothing is more worn than most and doesn't fit her. Soft voice, yes, I remember her voice was so soft that I had to strain to hear it.”
“That's not a lot to go on; would you even recognize her if you saw her again?” Jer asked.
“Of course,” Av said.
Jer looked thoughtful as he came down off the porch, hesitating on each step. “You can't recall her name, what she looks like, where she comes from, or how tall she is but you remember her clothing?”
“Yes,” Av said, realizing how odd that was.
“What about her breasts?”
“She had a pair,” Av responded.
Jer scowled. “If you remember clothing, do you remember her court dress? Have you seen her at court?”
Blue—the colour flooded Av's senses. He blinked rapidly to clear the image and looked at Jer, wincing as he offered up. “Blue?”
“Dark blue, conservative cut,” Jer said, motioning to his chest to mark off where it ended, “has full sleeves in the older style. An ivory colour piece for the,” he motioned down the front, “what do women even call that? Why is it even there?”
“It frames the breasts,” Av said, motioning. “You ever notice that before? The lighter colour frames the breasts and the darker colour sort of melts everything else into the background.”
Both were quiet for a moment, considering.
“I know that dress, I've seen it and noticed it, but only because the ladies mutter in jealousy,” Jer said. “It's made of an older fabric converted into a newer dress but they want that colour. Em's commissioned a dark purple dress because the dye masters said that it would be very difficult and extremely expensive.”
“Blue isn't a coastal colour,” Av said.
“No.” Jer shook his head, a frown creasing his brow. “Blue is the colour of the vineyard.”
“There is more than one vineyard,” Av said.
“No, the one that used to provide wine for the ceremonies at the palace, the mating ceremony of the queen, and the coronation, the funeral. But they don't have a daughter, especially one old enough to attend court,” Jer said. “The lord just inherited about eight years ago. Any children of the new lord would only be, what, ten, maybe?”
“Let's skip the questioning and go ask the steward,” Av said. “Surely he has a list of all the wards. The time she's spent at court should narrow it down to a handful. Only twenty have come to court in the past two months.”
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