17-Change of Plans

The fighting was over when we walked into camp, but they were still quelling the fire. Quill and Eliah entered the orange light with the horses and their unconscious captive. I slipped into camp from the other direction. The leanyodi knew I wasn’t one of them, but the guards and servants might not. Should not, if at all possible. My claim to the horses would just have to go unmade.

I went straight to the leanyodi tent, which was empty, and stripped off my bloodstained and stream-soaked clothes. As soon as I found a fresh pair of breeches and a shirt I went back out, leaving Shiharr and Azzad, my best knives, on my bed hidden under my soiled clothes. Outside, a tight cluster of servants and leanyodi stood between the tents and the campfires. Guards were moving the dead to the edge of the camp, and I saw a few people tending wounded by one of the fires. Druskin and Quill were standing over three bound and kneeling prisoners.

Druskin had found a shirt for his chest, but his sword was still naked and in his hand. He thrummed the rage. Quill stood beside him; arms crossed, feet apart, a rock in a stormy sea.

I slipped up the edge of the group, still barefoot because my boots and socks were on the stream bank. Mercifully, almost everyone in the crowd was half-dressed or clutching a robe. I didn’t stand out.

As I got closer, I could hear Druskin snarling, “You traitorous, sniveling worms. How dare you raise a hand against your liege lady!”

“She’s whoring—” the man didn’t get to finish the sentence. Druskin backhanded him so hard he fell to the ground.

“I would be within my right to kill you right here.” It was the Countess’s voice.

The men flinched as Druskin raised his sword. I flinched, too. Everyone turned to stare at the Countess, who had donned long black robe over her nightgown. Her long black hair was hanging loose down her back and her face was pale in the firelight, but every trace of her earlier trauma was gone. Galo was at her elbow, looking imperious and unimpressed.

The prisoners shifted, I could just a sliver of fear niggling into the hate and disgust on their faces.

“Who sent you?” asked the Countess.

“No one sent us,” said the man in the middle, “We are Wuhn. We are defending the honor of our clan.”

“She is the honor of your clan,” barked Druskin, sword still high.

“You whore us to our enemies!”

“You disgrace Angareth with your treachery,” replied the Countess coolly.

“It was his idea,” one of the men jerked his chin at the man in the middle.

The man’s lip curled. “Coward.”

The Countess lifted her eyes to Druskin and tilted her head just a breath.

Druskin’s sword fell and some of the women screamed. The Countess didn’t flinch as the man in the middle tumbled face first into the ground, unconscious.

The Countess’s voice rang out in clear order, “Bind them and tie them to the remaining carriages.” She turned on her heel and strode back into her tent as her men leapt to obey.


In the churning activity that followed, I tried to slip away to grab my boots from the stream but Druskin saw me and stopped me just on the edge of the firelight, “I want you to stay in the Countess’s tent tonight.”

I blinked at him. “I told you, I’m not a bodyguard.”

“No, but you’re a good person. You killed for her. She needs protection. I’ll have men at the four corners of her tent, but…” he looked away. “I would feel better if you were inside.”

I wanted to say no, mostly because I wanted to sleep and was irritated that he couldn’t just put a guard inside the tent. “How do you know I’m a good person?”

“Maybe I’m wrong about your motives.” He dragged his eyes to mine, “I don’t know how you got to her so quickly, or why, but I know she is still alive because of you.” He knew how close a thing it’d been, and it terrified him. It was none of his doing that the Countess was still alive. He had failed.

I crossed my arms. “Yes, where were you? And what were you doing without a shirt on? With Galo right on your heels with her clothes all askew.” Druskin turned red, as I’d expected, but I wasn’t done. “Are you sleeping with Galo?”

If possible, Druskin got redder, staring down at me with his eyes wide and his mouth open.

“Oh,” I said, surprised, “You are sleeping with Galo.” I’d wondered, given their looks and whispers, but it had been a leap. A leap I’d made mostly just to get under Druskin’s skin.

“Not so loud!” hissed Druskin, glancing around to see if anyone had been close enough to hear. There was a smoldering carriage, prisoners, and wounded men moaning as they were treated. No one in the camp was paying attention to us.

No wonder he’d told Galo immediately about being in my room. And no wonder she’d been so touchy about it. I grinned at him. “Can the leanyodi marry?”

“Yes, they can, but they take a yearlong sabbatical to do so,” he stopped, irritation filling his face, “That’s not important—” Druskin’s jaw clenched as he looked away again. When he spoke again, his voice was pained, “Please stay with the Countess. She is strong, but she has had a terrible fright, and I know your presence would comfort her.”

“Alright. Fine,” I said, “I’ll stay in the Countess’s tent. But I think that you should make it a priority to find and train female guards for your female nobles in the future.”

“It’s been awhile since the Wuhn had need for elite female guards.” Druskin looked relieved, “I didn’t have any who were skilled enough and…” he hadn’t thought he needed them.

I sighed. “I’ll get my knives.”


In the morning, the Countess summoned Druskin, Pontikel and the mercenaries before she had even finished dressing. Brell and Hadella were bustling around the tent packing and Galo had just finished brushing out the Countess’s hair when they all arrived. I was, of course, already there, having spent the night dozing on the ground between the Countess’s cushions and the tent entrance. By the sandy look to everyone’s eyes, no one had really slept the rest of the night, least of all the Countess, who had startled awake frequently.

Druskin looked about as sunny as usual when he walked in, his eyes skipping over the room to inspect the Countess and Galo. The gray bearded Pontikel was so grave he didn’t bother giving me a disapproving look. I’d only just finished dressing in the clothes Galo had brought me from the leanyodi’s tent, and was sitting on a cushion drinking tea. I still didn’t have my boots. Quill and Eliah arrived looking better rested than anyone else. It was not their world which had been upended by violence.

The Countess began, “I will not bring prisoners to Gar Morwen in my wedding train.”

Everyone nodded.

“I will not,” she continued, “waste their execution on an empty moor. Nor will I mark my wedding week with blood. It is to be a time of celebration, and executions in the square will not help with tensions. Druskin, you will send as many men as you must to safely transport them back to Wuhnravinwel. Send a messenger ahead for relief forces, so your men can return to the retinue as soon as possible.”

“But, my lady, this will leave us ill equipped to protect you from another attack,” said Druskin.

Eliah spoke up, “I kept close to the prisoners all night, they spoke of other…dissidents…who might harass the caravan.”


“These are mobs, not assassins,” said Eliah, “They are angry and unpredictable, and if we had time, we could look for the rabble-rousers and contain them.”

“And without time?”

“An overwhelming show of force might be the only way to dissuade night attacks,” said Quill, quietly.

“It’s a little late for that,” snorted Pontikel, “They have already attacked our caravan fully outfitted.”

“And lost soundly,” put in Druskin.

“True, but we don’t want to fight our way to Gar Morwen if we can avoid it.”

“Do you have a specific suggestion, Quilleran?” asked the Countess.

“I propose that we split up the caravan and travel separately. Everyone leaves their ceremonial clothes packed and wears the least distinctive things they can, to look like simple travelers heading to Gar Morwen for the festivities. The caravan can reconvene on the outskirts of Gar Morwen to make a grand entrance, but not before then. This has the added benefit of confusing any real assassins who might seek to murder the Countess on the road.”

A moment of silence met Quill’s proposal. By their faces, everyone hated the idea. But no one offered a better one.

“One of the carriages is badly burnt,” said Druskin. “It will take some time to get it cleaned out.”

“We’ll have to cover crests on the carriages anyway,” added Pontikel.

“It is decided,” declared the Countess, “Focus efforts on one carriage at time. Carriages may leave as they are ready.”


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.

Legendary Art

Took a break to paint!

Typically, I have The Badlands Job, The River Rebellion, and the new story open all at the same time so I can work on them concurrently. There are so many moving parts, I’m so looking forward to launching this in the new year.

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.

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I sketched this scene out with watercolors the other week, it’s such poignant moment for Zare. The first real loss you see her face beyond doubt. Her city, the old life, even the other people in her life she’s lost or left behind were all “off screen.” Most, also, were almost a year behind her at the start of our story.

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An icy vigil.

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



Trinh had left by the time I got back. Before I could pester Namal for details or tell him about Domjoa’s little project, the King’s messenger rapped on the door to deliver our official invitation to the King’s Midwinter Ball. The invitation came with a large white box and a note in Tarr’s hand that read, As promised, in honor of what was.

If Tarr and Analie had truly been in love, she should stay far away from that ball. As it was, however, I couldn’t help the delight when I opened the white box and lifted out an exquisite green gown. The color was as deep as forest shade, and vibrant as emeralds. Tiny gems winked like wood sprites from the sweeping neckline and trailed from the waist like the tendrils of a willow. I resisted the urge to try on the gown immediately.

Under the dress and a layer of paper Tarr had included a coordinating ensemble for Namal, complete with a new set of shiny black boots. Namal was less thrilled than I was.

We just finished stashing the clothes in the sparse little bedroom above the office when another knock rattled the door. We froze, eyes meeting. That wasn’t the pattern Trinh used.

Namal cautiously descended to the door, me a few steps behind him, and opened it. “Can I help you?” asked my brother, mild like merchant who was only average.

“Is Analie Meredithe here?”

That voice.

Namal looked back at me. “You know this man?”

“Alban,” I stepped up to the door, “This is Lord Belledi Valredes.” I was too surprised to have any idea which manners to use or not use. I hadn’t seen Bel since I’d choked him unconscious in his rooms. Did he know?

Bel bowed quickly. His cheeks were pink from the cold, a small carriage stood in the street behind him. “May I come in?”

Namal looked like he would say no, but I said, “What do you want, Bel?”

“I heard you left the palace, I’ve been trying to find you. I wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“I’m fine.”

Bel shifted on his feet uncertainly. “Good, I’m glad.”

I nudged Namal to get him to move away from the door, “We have only a few minutes.” Stepping back, I gestured for Bel Valredes to enter. “Sunset comes quickly these days, and they are quite serious about the curfew down here.”

He stepped in gratefully, looking around the room and hopefully missing the silent exchange Namal and I had before Namal growled, “I’ll be back down in five minutes,” and stalked up the narrow stairs.

I closed the door and turned to face Bel, crossing my arms.

“You look well,” said Bel.

“Thank you,” I replied.


“I’m sorry about what happened,” Bel looked at me earnestly, “Between you and the King.”

Incredulous, I swallowed several responses before managing to croak, “Are you?”

There was more bite in the words than I had intended, and Bel’s features became more guarded; I turned away, lifting a hand to my face, hoping to hide just how much I knew about his involvement in Analie’s broken heart. “I was happy, you know,” I said thickly.

“I know, I’m sorry.” His hand brushed my elbow hesitantly. “But it wouldn’t have lasted. It’s not his way.”

“Is he with the Ambassador now?” I asked, lacing my tone with bitterness.

“Maybe,” replied Bel, gently turning me to face him and tugging my hand down. “I’m not sure. Analie, I know it is terrible right now,” he tipped my chin up so he could look into my eyes, “And I know you won’t believe me, but this pain will pass and you will find real love. You will feel whole again, alive again.”

I swallowed. Hard. Heat climbing my cheeks at his touch and the offer in his dark eyes. Either he was a truly world class liar…or I was. The thought made me look down, suddenly interested in his snow spattered boots. I’d been playing one role or another since Galhara burned, and in this moment, I was tired of it. What would Belledi Valredes think if he knew the truth about me? About Tarr? Which side would he be on if he thought he had a choice?

Bel, mistaking my silence, put a hand on my shoulder comfortingly. The touch was inviting, but not pushy, like a charming shop with an open door. But I was keenly aware of the knives still strapped to my back under my knit capelet. There could be no comforting embrace for Analie today, and it was just as well. I forced myself to look up at him, “I appreciate your concern,” my voice warbled as I cast a significant glance at the window, “But you should be going. Curfew.”

Bel followed my look, “Curfew,” he repeated, his voice taking an edge and I could almost hear him blaming the King for the state of the wharfs. He started to turn toward the door, but paused, “Tell your brother to come to my office on Savlong Street, should he ever wish to pursue a trade deal.” Our eyes met again as Bel took my hand and pressed a small metal disc into my hand. “Or if you need to get away from the city for a while. Be far away from the festival.” He closed my fingers around the disc and brought my hand up to his lips. “Good evening, Miss Meredithe.”

He left with a swish of his cloak and I watched him climb into his carriage and disappear down the street. Only after I’d closed and locked the door did I look down at the disc in my hand. It was his brooch, his family’s crest of a leaping fish. I leaned my back against the door and rubbed my thumb over the brooch. If I needed to get away from the city for a while? Dread curled in my gut.

“You made quite an impression,” commented my brother, descending the stairs.

“I hope he doesn’t come back,” I growled.

We settled on chairs in the office, and I told Namal about the exchange, and showed him the brooch. My brother turned the brooch over in his hand, examining it in the lamplight. “It’s certainly fine workmanship. I wonder if he planned to give you the brooch, or if he was being impulsive.”

I rubbed my hands across my face. “Does it matter?”

“Well, if he was being impulsive that makes it feel rather less likely that he’s laying a trap for you.”

“What do you think he means by telling me to get out of the city for a while?”

Namal handed the brooch back to me and leaned back in his chair, “Everyone knows Narya is coming, that’s as good a reason as any to leave town. We prevailed upon our parents to leave Sinensis and get further away—even tried to get Ayglos to join them after scouting, though I doubt he will unless father explicitly commands it. But…Valredes sounds like he has experience with heartbreak. I think he just knows it will be easier for Analie to move on if she moves away.”

Our family was hardly a good example, but he was probably right. I tucked the brooch into my pocket, then remembered everything I wanted to ask Namal. “What were you and Trinh arguing about?”

“Arguing? We were having a stimulating discussion of tactics.”

I raised my brows.

“I’m serious. Trinh Kegan was—is—an excellent general.” Namal shrugged. “It’s also refreshing to talk to someone who has read the same tacticians, philosophers and military histories.”

“Oh.” I was glad that I had left rather than waste time eavesdropping on general debate. I was also glad for Namal to have a friend. Even if it was Trinh Kegan.

My brother picked up some ledgers and placing them on the desk. “I think that there is no chance of us being able to overwhelm the Nether Queen by force.”  He pointed to the ledgers, which he’d arranged in a line across the desk. “Ballroom,” then to the empty desk, “the Bandui,” he placed a ruler in the “river,” “Queen’s barge—most likely—” then scattered ink wells around the barge, “Small craft, lit up to make the river shine.”

I leaned forward, setting my elbows on the desk.

“The King’s guard is made up of men mostly picked and trained by Quill, they can be relied upon to protect the King of Dalyn—so inside the ballroom we have some support if everything really goes badly. The small craft will be crewed partly by the King’s Guard and partly by the Queen’s Guard.” We’ve found a spot we think will work for one or two marksmen to take position on the far side of the river,” here Namal pointed to a spot near my left elbow. “Hopefully no one else will notice that line of sight.”

“The men from Gillenwater are tasked with causing a distraction near the garrison—most of Narya’s force should be stationed there, and we would like to keep them away from the ballroom as long as we can.”

Picking up one of the inkwells I rolled it in my fingers. I knew the plan. “Do you think we should warn Quill that if they see someone sneaking onto the Queen’s barge it’s probably only Domjoa and they should leave him be?”

Namal stilled, blue eyes flicking to me as he growled, “What?”