16-Knives at Night


We were already running when a sentry shouted the alarm. More torches followed the first and the carriage started to smoke and burn. I drew my knives and saw blades flashing in Quill’s hands as we charged—barefoot—back toward the camp. Men ran toward the burning carriage, themselves just silhouettes against the dying campfires.

“It’s a distraction!” I panted.

“Make sure Druskin has the Countess!” commanded Quill, “Then we hunt!”

I nodded, increasing speed as Quill peeled off to my right to circle around the outside of the camp. Shouting increased and one of the figures running past the fire dropped to the ground with a cry. Arrows from the darkness. Given the general lack of trees, our ambushers must have crawled in through the tall grasses, and driven off the horses so they couldn’t be pursued. Then they torched a carriage to turn all eyes there…I ignored everyone as I cleared the circle of carriages and ran across the flattened grass to the tents. Off duty guards were stumbling out of their bedrolls unarmored and with swords in their hands. They were drawn immediately toward the commotion at the burning carriage. No one paid me any mind. The flap to the Countess’s tent was loose and I hesitated only a second before diving in, knives out.

It was dark except for the brazier.

I crept forward; my bare feet soundless on the woven rugs. The Countess stirred in her nest of cushions; alive. Good. I scanned the shadows of the tent as I approached.


Shifting my knives into the same hand, I dropped to my knees beside her and touched her shoulder. “Grofnu,” I said, “Wake up.”

The Countess jolted, eyes flying open, and fixing on something over my shoulder.

I spun, to see a figure charging from the tent entrance sword raised. I just had time to shift my knives into both hands and rise to meet him. He’d expected no resistance and died in two strokes, his eyes were wide in shock as his sword fell from his grasp and he crumbled to the ground. The Countess shrieked. I pushed his body away from her bed, ignoring the slick of blood on my hands and clothes. Black hair and eyes, olive skin, and the square jaw of the Wuhn. I don’t know why I’d expected anything else. He wore leather armor, but it wasn’t anything special, and not the same quality or color as the Countess’s retinue. I glanced at the Countess, she was pale, clutching her nightgown around her throat, eyes fixed on the dead man. “Do you know him?” I asked.

She shook her head.

She looked like she was going to be sick.

I grabbed the bowl off the folding table and offered it to her. Her gaze shifted from the body to the bowl—only to fixate on the bloody trail my fingers left on the rim. She seized the bowl and turned away, retching. I rolled my lips together and tried to block out the sound. I’d seen enough death to be hardened…I would never understand why vomit was still a problem. Focusing on the shouting outside, I turned to face the entrance and wait for the next attacker. The Countess was still gasping when the tent flap flew open and Druskin burst in. He was shirtless, and the sword in his hand was bloodied. His eyes were wild as he saw the body, my blades, and then the Countess behind me—alive.

“Grofnu!” he cried, barely making it to her bedside before dropping to his knees. “Are you hurt, grofnu?” he almost reached for her, but his hands were nearly as dirty as mine.

“I’m fine,” she managed, voice croaking.

Galo ran in, her face white and clothes completely disheveled. “Grofnu!” she covered her mouth with one hand as she beheld all the blood, but she kept coming, clutching her jacket closed with the other hand. The Countess reached for her and she dropped onto the cushions, wrapping both arms around the Countess.

“Stay with her,” I ordered starting toward the tent flap, “I’m going hunting.”

Druskin looked up at me, a faint glitter in his eye at my tone, but he nodded. “Find them all,” his tone was the unyielding ice of winter.


There were more bodies at the tent entrance, evidently Druskin had arrived in time to keep me from fighting more. The one carriage was well and truly burning, and I could see other fights and casualties in its glow. I glimpsed the leanyodi emerging from our tent as I made for edge the camp, slipping outside the circle of carriages to where darkness awaited. I crouched, letting my eyes adjust and wiping Shiharr and Azzad on the grass.

Slowly, the hills resolved into a deeper black than the sky and I began to move forward, head cocked to listen. From the camp I could still here the roar of the fire, shouting, and the clash of steel as the guards dealt with the intruders.

It had only been a minute or two since the stream raised the alarm. The most efficient retreat would have to be over the bluff, where they could disappear from view on the other side far more quickly than if they first crossed the road. I slowed as I neared the top of the bluff, not wanting to a be silhouette against the night sky.


The sound came from my right, and I turned, just making out the pale hair of Eliah.


“Quill’s already started down, we can hear horses,” answered the hunter. “The Countess?”

“With Druskin,” I answered.

“Good, let’s move.”

“So bossy.”

We moved quickly, crouching lower until we were crawling through the grass over the ridge and down the other side. We could just see the horses, heads high as they marked our approach. There was a figure moving among them. I stood up. “Quill, you didn’t leave any for us!”

The figure stopped, “There was only one, what was I supposed to do?”

I walked forward, Eliah coming behind me. “Did you kill him?”

“No,” Quill lifted a rope and waved it, “Help me tie him up and carry him back to camp.”

“Oh sure,” Eliah grumbled, “We get to help you carry things.”

I lingered with the horses while Eliah helped Quill tie up an unconscious man. I stroked the animals, making introductions and scratching under their manes while I looked over their tack. The gear was reasonably well made, but nothing special. Just like the armor.

“Zephra, are you going to play with the horses all night?” Quill said.

I paused my collecting of reins, “I’m the proud new owner of—I don’t know, twenty?—Angari horses. If you ask nicely maybe I’ll let you use one to carry your prisoner.”

“I don’t think they’ll let you keep them,” said Eliah.

“That didn’t sound particularly nice,” I replied.

“Don’t provoke her, Eliah,” grunted Quill. “Help me lift this man.”


Special thank you to my Patrons, I am so grateful for your support! Thanks for coming on this journey with me.

Share Zare with your friends and we will be a merry company.



Trinh is one of my favorite heroes to paint, and one of the hardest to write. Enjoyed pushing myself with the watercolors, also.


Sounds of a door opening and closing, then of Bel moving around and muttering to himself. Lightning coursed through me as I realized he might, at any moment, decide to come check on me. I spun, looking around the bedroom for anything useful. There was a small table by the sofa. A sideboard held a selection of wine and liquor against one wall. There was a fireplace with a nearly dead fire.  Spying the dressing room door, I headed for it. Maybe all the dressing rooms had secret passageways. The room was dark, and Bel’s clothes hung in neat rows, his collection nowhere near as large as the king’s. The room was much smaller, also, and it didn’t take long to tap on the walls and pry at moldings with no results. Swearing softly, I reentered the bedroom.

This was complicated. I didn’t want to go with that handsome snake. I wasn’t worried about my relationship with the king, except that was the main excuse for our being in the palace. Apparently, failing at turning Analie against the king, Khattmali was trying to turn the king against Analie. She must be in a terrible rush to be taking such bold, drastic measures. I returned to the couch and lay down. I rubbed my temples to ease the ache that lingered, and contemplated my next move. By the time the door to the bedroom opened, letting in a widening spray of light, I had a plan. I dropped my hands, closed my eyes, and lay still. Bel’s shadow crossed the light and as he drew near I could hear his muttered stream of curses. Had he been swearing since Khattmali left?

I sensed him approach the couch, then felt him sit on the edge. I shifted, then moaned very softly.

“Analie?” he asked, sounding very concerned. His fingers brushed against my cheek. It was all I could do not to flinch. “Are you alright? Can you hear me?”

I fluttered my eyes, then brought my hands to my face, wincing as if the light hurt. I squinted at him through my fingers. His brown hair was mussed, as if he’d been running his hands through it, and he looked so blasted worried.

“What happened?” I asked, not having to fake the croak in my voice.

“The wine,” he explained, “It was drugged. I was so frightened you wouldn’t wake up. I brought you here to recover.”

“You drugged me?”

“No!” he recoiled in horror, “I don’t know who drugged you—a rival, maybe? One of my enemies, or one of yours.”

How close he skated to the truth.

He drew a hand over his face then blew his breath out. “I’m glad you’re alright.”

I let my hands curl under my chin. Defensive, but no longer covering my face. “I feel awful.”

“I’m sure you do. My physician said it was mafeisan—just a small amount, so not deadly, just knocks you out and makes you wake up with a hell of a hangover.”

“How would I have enemies? I don’t know anyone—hadn’t met anyone before today.”

Bel’s face twisted with…sadness? I hadn’t been expecting that look. “Unfortunately, that’s not how the court works.” He paused. “Are you feeling well enough to try sitting up?”

I nodded, and he took my arm, standing to support me as I shifted into a sitting position, then reseating himself next to me at an angle, so close his knees touched mine and he could look into my face. I looked down, pretending the world was spinning and wondering if he could smell the bile on my breath. Bel watched me for a few moments before reaching to a nearby side table to retrieve a glass of water. The tray with glasses and a pitcher hadn’t been there before, he must’ve brought it in with him. I allowed myself a quick sniff of the water before drinking it. It was fresh, clear—not poisoned—and it soothed my bile scorched throat.

“You’re staying with the king?”

I nodded again, lacing my fingers around the cup.

“I’ll take you back there as soon as you feel you can walk.”

Eyes wide, I stared at him. “Thank you,” the words came out a whisper.  This was his way of convincing Analie to stay with him? But, then again, as I looked at his handsome, concerned, face, I did feel a part of me warming to him. Desiring him, even. Bastard.

He turned away and poured himself some water. When he turned back he asked, “Do you love the king, Analie?”

“I do.” I blushed.

“Why?” he asked, his voice sharper than I expected.

I looked up at him, surprised.

He shook his head, as if he regretted his tone. “I’m sorry…I can easily see why the King wants you. But why would a kind girl like you be taken in by a cruel, womanizing profligate like him?”

With great effort I swallowed my incredulous retort. Inside, I chanted love makes you stupid, and said meekly, “He said he loves me.”

Chuffing out a bitter laugh, Bel stood up abruptly and crossed to the sideboard to pour himself something stronger than water. I watched him, fascinated. The best lies are mostly true, and I didn’t think this bitterness was faked.

“Analie, I know you don’t want to hear this, and I know you might not believe me, but I have to tell you: You’re sweet and beautiful, and the smartest thing the king ever did was enthrall you. But he doesn’t know how to love. He’s mad, vicious, and petty.  He will make you think you are the center of the world, and you will be,” Bel stopped and tossed back his drink. “Until he’s done with you, and then you’re nothing.”

I just watched, wide-eyed.

“He’s king, and he takes whomever he pleases to his bed. He should be courting a woman of rank and nobility, not seducing her.”

By the time he turned to face me again I had tears glistening in my eyes. “Is that why you’re angry?” I whispered, choking on the words, “Because I’m not noble?”

It took a split second for him to trace his mistake, and he hurried back to the couch, contrite. He sat beside me and took my hands; I scooted away and sniffed loudly. “No, Analie, no…” he moaned, “That’s not it at all.”

I stood up quickly, the world only tilted a little, “I’ve been in this palace for months and not one soul made any attempt to be my friend except the king.” I started pacing erratically through the room. “No one wanted to be my friend, or talk to me, or anything like that. I was nothing to everyone—” I paused and glared at Bel, “Except him.”

Bel looked at me helplessly. “I’m sorry.”

“And now you tell me that he doesn’t really care for me?” I moved behind the couch, pacing between the couch and the bed so Bel had to swivel to watch me. “Why should I believe you? Who are you? Why do you care?”

“A few years ago, he took an interest in my sister.”

Oh dear.

“I’d never seen her so happy…but then, just like that it was over,” Bel snapped his fingers. “For him, anyway. She cried for months.”

I stopped pacing. “I’m sorry.” It didn’t even matter if he was lying. There was almost certainly a girl with that story, even if she wasn’t his sister.

Bel turned away, facing front. “It’s not your fault.”

I came up to the back of the couch, hesitated, then leaned down and slipped my arms around Bel. I smoothed my hands down his muscular chest before wrapping my arms across his front and putting my head on his shoulder. He relaxed into my touch, and I felt just a twinge of guilt as I kissed his cheek so he wouldn’t notice my arms shift toward his throat. “I’m sorry, Bel. It’s just…I’m so confused. He’s been so kind. But now you tell me these things about him, and I just don’t know what to think. I thought he loved me.” I kept whispering in his ear, and if Bel ever noticed my tightening arms on his neck, he didn’t move. He didn’t move till he sagged slightly and I released the pressure on his neck. He slumped over. Quickly, I pressed my fingers to his neck, and was relieved that he was still alive.

I didn’t have much time.

Moving round to the front of the couch I struggled to reposition Bel so he was laid out on the couch, head on a pillow, as if he’d chosen to take a nap.

I found a writing set in the sitting room, and left a hastily scrawled note tucked under his hand. Then, straightening my skirts and taking a deep breath, I walked out of his chambers.

All the Watercolor


I went a little crazy the other night. You can tell the dress was the culmination of the evening’s practice. By far the best use of light and dark. Also another chapter in me torturing mixed media paper and forcing it to carry watercolors (which, its not REALLY meant for…hence wrinkles).


In the Badlands Job, Zare meets a kiroen, a unicorn, named Rosh. Long story short: she now owes Rosh a favor.


I found a picture of a mounted archer and decided to practice with the intense ink sticks–big unwieldy things–forcing myself to rely on bigger, sweeping strokes of vivid color. After I accidentally dumped out my–carefully arranged and color coded–case and having to painstakingly find each stick’s proper home, I got to work.

It was good practice for me. Didn’t come out too awful, either.