Title Reveal

It’s all fun and games until someone is stuck wearing hoop skirts and playing bait for an assassin. 


I’m so excited you guys! Next Monday is the official release of the First Episode of The Hoopskirt Job. Can you believe it? You’re all like, “Yeah, we’ve been waiting for three months.” Yeah, yeah,  know. But if you rush a miracle you get a rotten miracle (Miracle Max was so wise).

Many thanks to my patrons, who’ve supported me as I wrote and brainstormed like a really stormy storm mage.

See you Monday!

In the works…

Hey Everyone!

I’m so excited to say that I’ve officially put words down in the next adventure! I’ve also got a couple other projects underway–a character list and a map.

I love maps, but they are not easy! You might not believe this but I have, actually, had a map this whole time which I’ve been referencing. But, I’ve never scanned it and frankly it’s huge. But the time has come to bring it to the digital world so you can see what I’m seeing. This also entails some work to make it pretty.

Stay tuned!

**Also, check out this totally cool Zare hoodie, I’m sure I need one**z blue spatter hoodie

Special thanks to my Patrons, who support the rebellion.

(Get first-looks and the inside track on other behind the scenes info by becoming a Patron.)

100 – The Road Ahead

At dusk, we laid the King of Dalyn to rest in an over grown walled garden beside the ruined house. The knights had slowly gathered stone rubble on their patrols throughout the day, and now we all helped raise a cairn over Tarr Kegan’s body. We had nothing to bury with him to indicate rank or honor besides the thin circlet he’d worn in the ballroom. We had no flowers. No tapestries. Not even a sword we could spare. Just broken stone. Hess watched us work from nearby, Tarryn in her arms and Naran clutching her skirt. The other four children clustered around her, watching solemnly as the cairn rose higher. I wondered if any of them had met the man assumed their sire. The man whose generosity and craftiness had backfired on them and torn them from their mothers. Would they hate him if they did understand?

Rock after misshapen rock passed from one calloused hand to another until Tarr’s form was entirely protected by the shattered pieces of Rhydderhall. Nothing but starlight and the glow from the rising moon illuminated Trinh as he climbed up our little mound and set a white piece of marble at the pinnacle. The marble was part of a carved frieze, but all that remained was a ship with three masts riding a wave. Trinh stepped back down and stood facing the cairn, his hands hanging at his sides. For a moment, I could almost see his thoughts: They swirled around him, condemning ghosts crushing him with the enormity of his defeat. It was as if he finally believed, for the first time, that his family had died six years ago and his beloved had not been seen or heard from since. He finally believed, and it would tear him apart.

Hesperide approached the cairn and sank to her knees, putting one hand on the stones. Naran, still at her side, did the same, bowing his little head. Her presence calmed the chaos radiating from Trinh with a leaden blanket of sorrow.

No one said anything.

After several long moments, Trinh put his hand on Hess’s shoulder. She looked up at him, then accepted his help up. Time to mourn was another thing we didn’t have to give Tarr.

We had miles to go tonight, to get as far as we could in different directions and fade into trade routes from different cities. Eventually, we’d all flee west. West, to bright Magadar. To lick our wounds, and to hide Tarr’s heirs. And for my brothers and me, to find our court.

Trinh led Hess back into the ruin where our carefully portioned packs and supplies waited. The rest followed one by one; knights, children, and my brothers each laying a hand on the cairn in farewell before filing back into the desolate villa. I heard one knight mutter, “May the immortal Breath bear you swiftly to Eloi in paradise.” Traditional words.

When it was only Quill and I left in the walled garden. I approached the cairn, stopping at the base and staring at it while I fingered my gold pendant with the sailing ships. How could this cold white pile of rocks contain the red tipped hair and burning blue eyes of that mad, brave, king?

I felt Quill stop beside me. The few hours we’d both been up had been busy dividing the supplies and the money from Tarr’s gifts between the four traveling groups. We’d talked just enough for me to learn that he had barely a scratch after last night’s battles, and that he and the doctor’s son were going with Hess and her children tonight. The children were divided among Trinh’s knights. The Galhirim would be entirely on our own for the first time in our lives. Strange to think we’d made it this far without experiencing that.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you we were staying to face the Huntsmen,” I said, eyes on the cairn, “I wanted to thank you for coming back for us.”

Quill nodded, “It’s what we do, come back for each other.”

I looked at him, then. The moon touched the angles of his face, and I found myself wanting to do the same as he gave me a small smile. I didn’t, but my answering smile felt like a promise. Even as I said, “You still owe me.”

He scoffed, “I don’t think the doctoring counts as many times as you think it does.” He plucked my sleeve right above my stiches. “And stop using your arm to block blades.”

My lips quirked. “I learned from the best.” I tugged his sleeve where he’d taken a sword in Gillenwater, so long ago.

His eyes sparked. Then he asked, “Which of you killed Khattmali?”

I drew a breath and let it out, “I did.”

A pause as satisfaction painted itself across every line of his face.

I continued, “She said she was the foremost of the Queen’s Huntsmen. That she had been rewarded the position in Dalyn to woo Tarr.”

“Huntsmen,” repeated Quill. “Ayglos mentioned them. Said they hunt without hounds.”

I thought of the golden woman who’d helped both Ayglos and I; who had undoubtedly been the one to keep Ayglos from being hit squarely in the spine when the Huntsmen first caught up with us. “I think they hunt,” I hesitated, “…by magic. And I don’t think we killed them all.”

Quill looked thoughtful. “I will find out more about them. Once Hess is safe.” He looked over his shoulder at the villa.

“You’re coming back?” I asked. No one had discussed coming back yet, and I feared he would say no. That he’d stay with Hess, wherever she holed up, and leave this fight for good. For me, the only road away from Dalyn curved right back to it.

Our eyes locked, the moon brightening his gaze with white fire. He was angry. I realized with some surprise that I’d never seen his anger before. Not like this. Quilleran Rhydderick was angry. Not at me, but at Narya Magnifique. Perhaps at himself, too. His voice was low, “We still have to be the ones to write the history.” To tell the real story of Tarr Kegan.

Something in me unfurled, like someone breathed on kindling at just the right moment to give life to fire, and I nodded. Then, crouching, I placed my hand on the stones. My fingers curling around a jagged edge as if I were holding Tarr’s hand. “We’re not done here,” I said half to Quill, half to the silent cairn and the man underneath. “We will be the ghosts who haunt the Nether Queen. The ones she could not catch. Could not kill. The light she could not smother.”


This is the end of The River Rebellion. Zare Caspian will return.

Special thanks to my Patrons, you help make the Legend possible!




We slipped through the dark, silent streets. Three shadows, soon joined by another, Trinh’s Hand, a quiet hulk of a man named Baldric. Our goal was in the food district, which was several long blocks away—longer because of the checkpoints we had to skirt around. Once or twice I looked up at the roofs and wondered if we might just be better off climbing up a building and jumping from one roof to the next. Most of the buildings were close enough to one another. Though, I supposed, such a path would carry us further out of our way. And…Baldric’s close-trimmed beard was gray. He might not be in favor of such endeavors.

The night air was crisp, and flurries of snow began to spiral down from the heavens; Catching light from mysterious places and passing it from one glittering flake to another.

Warehouses turned to row houses, then to buildings with awnings, some with large glass windows. In an alley that reeked so much I tried to hold my breath, Namal knocked on a narrow door. A pair of eyes appeared in the peephole, then disappeared. For a long moment, we waited in silence, listening to the snow. Then, there was a scrape, and a clink, and the door opened. A narrow man stepped back for us to enter. I recognized Shayn, the murderer, and nodded in greeting before following Namal.

Namal led the way down a cramped hall to an even more cramped stair. The smell of pipe smoke, sweat and alcohol reached us only a step before the lilt of a fiddle and the sound of voices. I struggled not to cough as smoke tickled my nose and filled my lungs. The next moment we reached the cellar, which had been converted into a proper tavern. Tables and chairs filled most of the room, and people filled most of the chairs. A tall counter shielded the room from the kitchen which had been set up around the iron stove which normally heated the building above. Between the stove and the number of people, the room was unbearably hot—especially bundled as we were. Most of the people were half undressed, like field hands on an unexpectedly brutal summer day. Namal had already shucked his cloak and unbuttoned his collar. I scrambled to follow suite before I suffocated. This was why we had forgone armor tonight.

A few men and women were dancing in a corner as far from the heat of kitchen as they could get. The fiddler played a jaunty tune—but quietly. Indeed, the whole scene should have been louder—a room full of people drinking, eating, and dancing…but everything was hushed. People talked and laughed in the hushed tones of a library. The cloaks of the revelers lined the room and soaked up the low sounds before they could get far. No patrols would stumble on this place because they heard noise, for sure.

Domjoa, the master thief, swaggered out of the crowd to meet us. “My lords, milday,” he bowed, that smooth, rakish smile on his lips as he kissed my hand. Even sweaty, with his sleeves rolled up and his hair ruffled as if he’d been dancing, Domjoa was handsome. “This way, I’ve got a table for us.”

Trinh and Baldric had also shed their winter cloaks and we all followed Domjoa to the table furthest from the kitchen, positioned against the wall. We were scarcely seated before a young woman delivered two fistfuls of tankards to the table, smiling at Domjoa, who winked at her when he thanked her. Domjoa passed the tankards around. Ale wasn’t my favorite, but it was a cold drink in a hot room. I sat back from the table, sinking into the shadows with my tankard to watch and listen. I was between Namal and Baldric and would be easily overlooked in the shadowy corner.

The lamps lining the room and hanging from a handful of simple chandeliers were hardly enough to pierce the smoke hazed room. It was too hot for hoods, but the underground tavern wasn’t interested in us. Even so, we had each shifted our chairs slightly to angle our backs to wall. Trinh sprawled comfortably, one hand fingering the tankard on the table while the other elbow hooked over the back of the chair. His manner so similar to Tarr’s. Baldric, the gray bearded hulk, hunkered down over his tankard as if it could provide relief from the heat. I thought it disguised his size a little, too. Namal and Domjoa sat nearest the door, both relaxed and angled to watch the room with amused disinterest. I wondered when Namal had mastered this character who oozed lazy charm.

Trinh looked to Namal. “Is she coming?”

My brother nodded, “She said she would.”

“She’s coming,” said Domjoa.

As if in response, a thickset woman entered the dim, hazy room. She already had her cloak over her arm, and she waved the smoke out of her face with a frown.

“Here she is!” Domjoa was already on his feet weaving through the crowd to meet the woman. I watched her approach with interest. She wore plain clothes, dark, but faded, and the cloak over her arm was lined with fur. She was plump, gray haired, and already sweating—and I felt she ought to be a kind cook, beloved of children, instead of the owner of one of the finest theaters in Dalyn with a face lined by heartache.

Domjoa greeted her respectfully, not even gaining a smile in response before leading her to the table. A hard woman indeed, to be unwarmed by Domjoa’s greeting. The woman sat down without waiting for introduction, and immediately claimed one of the tankards. She swept critical eyes over Trinh, Baldric, Namal, and then me in the shadows.

“So, you’re them?” she asked, taking a swallow from the tankard. Sweat beading on her brow.

Namal recovered first, “Mistress Cadenera?”

“I think I expected someone older,” she replied. “Though, I’m not sure why. It’s not as if your ambitions are especially wise.  Stories favor the young and reckless.”

My brother chose to ignore the comment, “Mistress Cadenera, you run the theater which is providing entertainment for the King’s ball, is that correct?”

Mistress Cadenera lifted her chin, “One of them.”

“My associates and I need to get into the ballroom on that day,” Trinh’s blue eyes caught the lamplight, his expression measured and sure, “Perhaps you could help us?”

The Mistress decided to drink half her ale in one swallow before answering. “What are you going to do there?”

71-Lamp in the Night


The warehouse smelled like fish and fresh water. Huge empty crates sat in rows awaiting the morning’s catch, though no catch had come for weeks. I was perched on top of a desolate crate, swathed in a fur lined cloak, watching shadowy figures arrive by ones and twos, and listening to the siren call of the river.  Most of Dalyn’s fishermen had been nymphs, and they had been everyone’s first thought when the Nether Queen’s order had come. Most had fled, and those who hadn’t were caught or in hiding. Winter deadened the blow to the economy, and the king had seized and consolidated many of the icehouses and their contents. Time would fill the demand for more fishermen, but for now everyone was too frightened to go near the wharves, with their checkpoints and patrols, if they didn’t have to.

Namal stood in front of me, also cloaked and hooded, arms crossed, a dark looming figure against the small lantern on the floor. Under the cloaks, we were in our black leather armor—Tarr had commissioned an entire new set for me with chain link sewn inside. When I’d protested the weight, he’d given me a withering look and made a comment about only pretending to be a vengeful ghost. I’d worn the armor a couple hours a day for the past three days in an effort to get used to it. I still felt like I tired quickly, and I was more than happy to sit behind Namal and watch people arrive. These were the people he’d spent the last two months talking to. The people who helped him get people out of the city. Mostly men, and mostly dock workers of various social strata. There were a few people from other trades, and at least one or two very fine cloaks in the mix.

My eyes wandered over to Domjoa, the black-haired thief who had persuaded me to take some criminals in my jailbreak. He was standing nearby, silent and cloaked. He was clean-shaven now, and had lost the pallor of prison. I guessed he was in his thirties, and must have been a successful thief, because under that cloak were clothes just as fine at the King’s. According to Namal, Domjoa helped them choose a warehouse, and had generally been quite helpful when it came to finding places to hide or stage. He had, after all, found a safehouse for us the very first night, outside of which I’d collapsed in a heap. He’d bowed and kissed my hand when I arrived with Namal, “Your Highness, it’s good to see you out and about.”

“It’s good to be out,” I replied, meaning it. “I trust you have been well, and well behaved.”

He’d smiled, looking positively dashing, and bowed again. “Of course, your Highness.”

I wondered how many people he’d robbed since I’d released him. But I thought it was significant that neither Domjoa, nor Moonie the horse thief, Haystack the vandal, nor Shayn the murderer, had fled. Namal grumbled that he wished they had. But they were with the rest of my men—the ones from Gillenwater who owed me their lives—stationed around the perimeter of the warehouse, keeping watch. They were a comfort, ironically, considering that just a couple months ago we’d been trying to kill them. But Namal and I had come alone from the palace, and it felt strange to be out without Quill or Jemin nearby.

Trinh arrived, slipping in to my right and lingering in the darkness with a couple of his men. According to Tarr, eight knights had awoken with Trinh, and none of them had aged since the day Shyr Valla disappeared. I’d never seen them before, and tried to get a good look at them without openly staring. They stayed too far from the sad pool of lantern light for me to learn anything interesting.

Another shadow moved into the circle of lamplight with the grace of a dancer. I jumped off the crate and turned quite a few heads as I bounded into the arms of Ayglos.

Ayglos grunted at the impact, but laughed softly as he wrapped his arms around me. “Hey, Little Zare.”

Armor doesn’t make for the warmest hug, but I didn’t care. I grinned. I hadn’t seen Ayglos—or the rest of the family—since coming into the city. I was happier than I could have imagined to have my accomplice brother back for a couple hours. Ayglos held me at arm’s length and we inspected one another. He looked good, dressed in black armor exactly like Namal’s, with the albatross emblazoned across the chest. His muscles were hard, and the armor was not pristine. He had been busy, spiriting Nadine around the surrounding towns to do small good deeds in the night and spread the rumor of the ghostly armored girl who might be Nelia of Legend. Or who might be an heir of Galhara. . “You look good,” I said.

“So do you,” he rapped his knuckles on my pauldrons. “New armor?”

Namal intervened, clasping Ayglos’s arm in greeting before motioning us back to the spot behind the lantern. Now was not the time to catch up. We settled in place flanking him, leaning against the empty crates. I wondered if Namal had told Ayglos about my injuries or not. They had seen each other at least once since the jail break.

Namal stayed in the light of the lantern and addressed the small crowd grouped in its penumbra. “Friends, thank you for coming tonight. I’ve gathered you because we all share a common interest in protecting the innocent, and the future of Dalyn.” He paused, “I wanted to tell you about an opportunity which is before us: The Nether Queen will be coming to Dalyn for the Midwinter Ball.”

Silence stretched a few heartbeats too long before one of the men coughed. “What?”

Air released, another said, “She’s coming to crush us.”

“We’ll hide.”

Namal held up a hand to stop the fear from mounting. “She has undoubtedly decided that it’s time for a show of force, to remind Dalyn why she is Queen.”

“What kind of show of force?” someone asked.

“She’ll wipe us off the earth like she did to Shyr Valla.”

“Stop,” Namal’s voice was sharp, and powerful. I was glad it was not directed at me. “If she intended to wipe Dalyn off the map, she would have six years ago. She needs this city. This is an opportunity. For us. She will be more vulnerable on this journey than she is in her palace. She will leave her stronghold at Hirhel and travel through the mountains to the river,” Namal continued, “then she will board a barge and come straight to our shores. We have an opportunity to take the head off the snake and see what becomes of her empire.”

“Fat lot of good it will do to be rid of the High Queen when we still have her lackey, King Nymph’s Bane,” grunted one of the dock men. “What’s to save us from him?”

I cringed.

“He will be no trouble,” Trinh stepped into the light of the lantern, tossing back his hood, causing the gathered to gasp and recoil. He’d not been to any of these meetings of Namal’s, though a few of those present had heard Namal speak of the returned prince. Trinh, grim faced, with burning blue eyes and broad shoulders, filled the space with his presence. And looked so much like his brother.

For a moment, I feared they would mistake him for Tarr and tear him to pieces.

If they could, that is.

I needn’t have worried.

“By Fornern…Trinh Kegan!” said a gray-haired man with nicer clothing.

“How is this possible?” demanded another, a dock worker.

“You died!”

“Where have you been?”

“Is this a trick?”

“No trick,” growled Trinh. “I was laid low, but now I have returned and I will take back my city.”

Laid low was certainly one way of putting it. Simpler than explaining the truth. Less frightening, too.

“Prince Namal told me you were alive,” said the gray-haired man. “I did not really believe him—though perhaps I should have, since he also should not be alive.”

“The Queen’s conquest is not as thorough as she would have you believe,” said Namal dryly.

“Narya Magnifique is a tyrant and an oath-breaker,” Trinh’s voice filled the room. “She has long waged war for her own ends, seeking to conquer all eight cities and set herself up as empress over all of Daiesen Bay. And I opposed her.” He began to pace slowly around the lantern, his burning gaze sweeping over the faces, “Her taxes are severe, her brutality unacceptable, her armies a plague. Entire cities turned to rubble or enslaved, an entire race hunted without provocation. She seizes their riches for herself.” He paused, his chest heaved, his face filled with intensity. “There is blood in the Cathedral Square. And it’s spreading. Her influence corrupts everything that is good. Neighbor turns in neighbor for coin. Betrayal is the only thing to be trusted. Orphans are made, maidens are kidnapped, young men are beaten. Children are forced to watch their own parents killed. Slaughtered in profane rituals to whatever demon she worships.”

Suddenly he wasn’t talking about recent events anymore. I felt my heart pounding, drawn by his passion. His terrible, thrumming passion.

He continued, reining himself in. “The Queen won’t bring a full army to the Midwinter Ball, compared to Hirhel, she will be unprotected. This is our chance to end her reign. With your help, the cities will be free again.”

Nightrage Rising

A friend of mine just released book two in his series, The Unseen Chronicles. It’s another delightful fantasy adventure, aimed at younger readers than Zare, but the quality of story the whole family will enjoy.

Zare is 17 in her current story, and Essie’s more like 13 in hers, but I imagine they’d get along handsomely.

Alright, here are the details:

Nightrage Rising will release this next Saturday, on December 9th. During this Christmas season the Amazon Kindle e-book will be available for .99 and will be free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. The paperback should be available that same day. Here’s the direct link: http://amzn.to/2AsFwIa
Nightrage Rising is a street-level fantasy-adventure novel with a healthy splash of Nancy Drewish mystery—mixed with a dollop of wit and snark. It is a fast paced, first-person, present-tense story of a girl discovering self-worth, courage and friendship in the face of an unstable kingdom, magical inequality, and a dangerous, seductive cult. If you grab a copy off the shelf and flip to the back cover, here’s what you’ll find:
“Essie Brightsday is blind. But that hasn’t kept her from curses, dragons, or rock basilisks in the past. Now her family lives in the bustling capital of Plen, a far cry from their small farm tucked against the Valley of Fire. Little does she know that a secretive cult is growing in the city, guaranteeing this adventure will be just as eventful as the last…”

While Nightrage Rising is the sequel to A Hero’s Curse, it was written to stand on its own. If you missed the first book, don’t worry, you can still jump in, right now. (You can find out more about a A Hero’s Curse here www.psbroaddus.com/a-heros-curse/).
Also, head over to Facebook on Saturday, December 9th, for the launch party. There are always cool guests and giveways. I’ll be on at 4pm, come by!



The next time I woke up it was dark except for the fireplace and a lamp flickering on the wall. Tarr was gone. Ache still laced through my body when I tried to move, but overall I felt better than the first time I’d woken. Except I was very hungry. Possibly even ravenous. Carefully I pushed myself into a sitting position.

Movement by the couch caught my eye, I stopped. Quill.

He had been watching the fire, but heard the covers and swiveled. Seeing me, he rose and came to the bedside, his face earnest. “Your Highness, it’s good to see you awake.” He was dressed in the blue uniform of the royal guard, but the first several buttons were undone, declaring him off duty. He was not quite so rakish as the King always appeared, but the overall effect was startlingly disarming.

“Thank you for bringing me back,” I said. “Tarr—the King said you brought me back here.” As if I could have gotten back another way.

He smiled. “How do you feel?”


His smile broadened a bit. “That’s good. I will send for food. Everyone else is at dinner, keeping up appearances and all that.” He turned and walked to a door I had never noticed and, opening it, he stepped out, leaving me alone. Before I could be surprised he’d left, he returned and closed the door again. “Food is on its way.”

“Thank you.”

He picked up the chair from the desk and carried it over to the side of the bed. “I guess we’re even, then.” He sat down.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, still feeling like all my energy committed to tasks one at a time.

“You have carried me through a city wounded, and now I have carried you.”

“Oh.” That was…deflating, somehow. As if it were just a score settled. Then I noticed the glint in his eye and growled at him.

The glint blossomed into another smile. “Glad to see you’re not entirely in a fog.”

“You are impossible.”

“So are you,” he leaned back. “Breaking out the King’s prisoners, any old prisoner you wanted. As if they all belonged to you.”

I rolled my eyes, I didn’t think he was really upset with me, but apparently my expansive jailbreak had caused some irritation all around. “What was I supposed to do, leave them behind?”



Quill sighed. “Because they were in prison and you didn’t know why they were there.” He lifted a finger, “Their word doesn’t count in this instance.”

“Didn’t one of them find the men a safe place to hide?”

“Yes,” he inclined his head, “For the moment, it seems they are honoring their vow to you. In fact,” the smile was back, “they were extremely distressed when you collapsed.  I think they were worried what I would do to them without you.”

I moaned, “I’m very embarrassed about collapsing.”


“I’m supposed to be this inspiring figure but made a stupid mistake and then fainted in the street before finishing the mission.”

Quill studied me.

I continued, “Then I slept for two days while everything went on without me.”

He folded his arms. “I believe,” he said at last, “they found your toughness while wounded inspiring.”

“I got tackled from behind again—caught by the cloak, then tackled.”

“Stop letting that happen.”

“It’s definitely not something I enjoy.”

“Don’t give up your back—” he leaned forward, “And perhaps we need to get you a cloak that tears off easily.”

“That wouldn’t have helped last night. We were wearing them for disguise.”

“Night before last,” Quill corrected and I grimaced.

There was a knock on the bedroom door, Quill rose and opened it, accepting a tray from a servant and closing it again. He returned to the bedside. I scooted to make room for the tray on top of the covers.

The smell of food made me even hungrier. It was some sort of chicken and vegetable soup, with generously buttered slabs of warm bread on the side. I barely remembered to bless it before starting in on the deliciousness. The soup curled into me, gently filling up the gaping emptiness inside—and much faster than I could have anticipated. “It’s very good,” I commented to Quill, then stopped. “Have you eaten?”

“I had lunch,” he shrugged.

I offered him some bread, “Please…eat something.”

“That’s not necessary,” he said, but accepted the bread. “I’ll eat in the mess hall later.”

I was skeptical but as soon as I was full I pushed the bowl toward Quill. “You can finish this, it must be better than what’s in the mess hall.”

Quill quirked an eyebrow, glancing from the soup to me. “Someone has been in the circus too long. I could have called for food for me, also.” But he picked up the bowl and sampled the soup. Still steaming, and by his look, still delicious.

“I suppose I have been away from this life a while,” I smoothed the blue coverlet over my legs. Between the siege, the circus, and the long days on the road, it had been a long while of seeing food as finite. In the palace of the victor’s pet, there was no need to share food, but I found satisfaction in it anyway. I settled back on the pillows. “What was your life like, before the fall?” It was something I had wanted to ask for weeks, and now—aching, tired, and full—I was finally able to ask.

Quill swallowed his soup, his brown eyes growing distant. “Life was good.”

I waited a moment as he took another spoonful of soup and then realized he thought he had answered the question and wasn’t going to say more. “But what was it like,” I asked again. “What did you do? How did you live?”

He looked at me. “I did what noblemen’s sons did. I learned etiquette, history, strategy, and combat. I served in the palace, but also had plenty of time to be a child climbing trees—and walls, and buildings,” he caught my eye and winked. “l was a very good climber.”

“Were you close to the royal family?”

“You mean, did I know the King well, before all this?”

“Either of them.” I waved a hand. I wasn’t just interested in Tarr.

“Trinh is much older than Tarr, though you wouldn’t know it now. He knew me only peripherally. He was often gone, because Shyr Valla and Hirhel were always fighting sporadically, and Dalyn, as you know, supported Shyr Valla in those conflicts.” Quill finished the soup and set the bowl down. “Tarr is only a year older than me. We were playmates, a few of us were, but we weren’t extremely close.” He shrugged. “The city wasn’t expecting Narya’s army, there was no flight of the women and children as there might have been. When my mother saw that the gates would fall before Dalyn’s army could return, she hid as many of us courtly children as she could get in an orphanage in the city. Clothed in rags so no one would give us a second look.” For the first time, sadness seeped into his posture, permeating even the air around him with weight. My chest tightened just looking at him. “In so doing she preserved the lines of several families, because by day’s end we were orphans in truth.”

“I’m sorry.” The words were inadequate. In a sea of ill fate, I felt untouched. I had lost everything but my family, and so I had lost nothing. How many in Galhara and Dalyn had the same story? My eyes smarted. “I’m so sorry.”

Quill met my gaze and dipped his chin, graceful acknowledgement, before continuing; “When Tarr was crowned, we older boys joined the guard under new names. Tarr, of course, knew who we really were and did not betray us to the queen’s agents.” Sadness pulsed off him again, “The King was in the same situation we were, except in many ways much worse. As captain, I have done my best to fill the King’s personal guard with men who serve the Dalyn, not Hirhel.”

“The King is lucky to have you,” I said.

“Yes, he is.” Hints of a smile played around Quill’s eyes.

Then I asked, “Were you always intending to rebel? Or did this start because of Trinh’s return?”

Quill set the soup bowl on the tray, and then moved the tray to a side table. “She took everything from us, left the greatest houses in ruin.” He said the words without malice. “The tribute she requires is too much, it is stripping the city resources just as surely as a leech. We have never thought of ourselves as serving her. We serve the Kegan line. Everything we do undermines her power. If only a little.”

I watched him appreciatively. I would have expected bitterness. Revenge, or maybe even defeat. But he sat, pensive in the glow of the fireplace, handsome and emitting only strength, sadness, and surety. “What would you be doing now if Dalyn hadn’t fallen?” I was apparently feeling very bold.

“Heavens, I have no idea.” He straightened, extinguishing the mourning that surrounded him. “Enough about me, your Highness. What was your life like before all this?”

“Oh,” I replied, “it was good.”

Quill arched a brow, amused.

Rewarded, I continued, “I don’t remember a time when Hirhel wasn’t warring. But generally, it didn’t really matter. It was frightening, but far away until I was fourteen or so and she started moving toward Galhara. I had school, of course, lots of school. Plenty of court functions, and regularly training with Remko and the guard…and I was teaching my horse, Aurum, to sit. He could already come when called, and rear on command…” I looked down at my hands and absently smoothed the coverlet again. “Nadine was starting to court the prince from Charpolia, Gebbert. He seemed nice, I think they would have been a good match. Father was after Namal to prioritize marriage, too, but Namal resisted for the very reason Father pressed—Hirhel’s rise had them both worried. It’s a good thing, I suppose, that Namal didn’t marry. Otherwise he might have had a wife and infant to get out of the palace when it fell.”

“How did you get out?” asked Quill, quietly.

I looked up, “The same way I got the girls out at Gillenwater.”

Understanding sparked in his eyes and spread across his features. “Of course. But,” his brow furrowed, “Shouldn’t the Nether Queen have known that was a possibility? Didn’t she know Zam the Great married Ayglara of Daisen?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “But Galhara sits atop a cliff, or it sat atop a cliff, and we didn’t have a cistern like Gillenwater’s. Just an underground river that leads to the bay in a fall. The way we left was difficult, even for half-nymphs.” Grueling, really. I shuddered. “We saved only fifty of our household.” My voice was small.

“Fifty!” exclaimed Quill. “All the stories say there were no survivors from the palace. None.”

“All the stories say she called fire upon us from hell, also.” I retorted.

He inclined his head. “Even so. She wiped Shyr Valla off the face of the earth. Before your father climbed up in that wagon, I had no reason to think there were any survivors. Much less fifty.”

Despite the topic, the memory of Quill arguing with Boitumelo in the doctor’s wagon made me smile. It seemed so long ago. “You took it in stride,” I said.

“Good news isn’t hard to take in stride,” he replied.

I smiled again. “I suppose.” I was feeling tired again, which hardly seemed fair since I hadn’t been up that long.

Quill studied me, and I could see in his eyes that he’d noticed my weariness. He leaned forward and handed me a small cup from the side table. “The doctor left this, to help with the pain. Drink, sleep, heal.”

“Please don’t leave me,” I said, surprised at how pathetic I sounded.

“I won’t,” he assured, his voice tender. “Don’t worry.”