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I just wanted to give a quick update here for those of you who are reading this as I am releasing it. This is part four, which is the start of the second act of the story. In terms of actual writing, parts 5 and 6 are complete and the story is currently over 75k words. It’s still planned to be 9 parts, although may go over 90k words.
Next, I wanted to respond to some comments I’ve gotten telling me how they want characters to end up or how the end of the story should be. I appreciate this and pay attention to all respectful feedback, including preferences. I’ve also finished planning the entire plot, and I don’t see making any major changes to it. I will say two things:
1) There aren’t a lot of straight up good or bad guys here. There are people making decisions, selfish or selfless, wise or foolish. Every single character has weaknesses and flaws. The ones that allow themselves to be dominated by those negative aspects are the villains of this story. The heroes are those that rise above them or help others to do so. Love and sex are key parts of this.
2) I’m not going to spoil it but if you’re worried about how the ending might play out you could read some of my other works. They are very different in tone and content but should give you an idea of how I like to end my stories.
I received a really excellent question via comment about confusion over the family tree. I realized, quite belatedly, that I had forgotten to make this clear early on. Oops. I’ll have to revise the first part at some point, but for now, below is a quick guide to Finn’s immediate family as it stands right before part 4 starts. I may update it as things change. Because they will change.
* * *
Grandmother (Mother of all Father and Syrlin, other two sisters are his half-sisters) – Deceased, mentioned in passing later because she had some unusual traits.
* * *
Father (Artan) – His relationship will all three of his sisters is pretty good, if sometimes tempestuous. Cares for family but can be ruthless, cold, and cruel. He would never hit women, but has no such compunction about his sons. Missing and presumed dead.
Seigaldia – Mother of Tyr (1st Child) and Adewyn (2nd Child). She’s more or less loyal to her son, but she has equal devotion to her daughter. Wife. Proud and has a temper. In Marche Grodayn.
Bayrd – Brother, Finn’s Uncle. Has no known children. Was not permitted to marry any of his sisters and has many affairs with commoner and lesser noble women. Spymaster for kingdom.
Syrlin – Mother of Finn (3rd Child). Made First Wife due to her unquestioned love and loyalty to her brother. Social butterfly, renowned for her beauty and charm. Capable mage. In Marche Grodayn.
Cedyr – Mother of Merwyd (4th Child) and Raisa (5th Child) and source of their red hair. I should have mentioned her at least. Concubine, not full wife. Raisa’s name is different from the others out of respect for a friend of hers who died. Concubine without full rights of a wife, reason why is not public knowledge. In Marche Grodayn.
* * *
Tyr – Heir. Unwell.
Adewyn – Ex-wife of Tyr, rejected. Intended Wife of Finn. Very much in love with Finn but will not put up with his shit. Finn loves her and trusts her advice on all military matters.
Finn – Although he’s declared his intent to marry two of his sisters, none of it is official yet. Reputation for sleeping around, although this was during times when Adewyn and/or Merwyd were not with him and before Raisa as of age, so it is somewhat undeserved. Mostly.
Merwyd – Finn’s first head-over-heels love. First Wife of Tyr, has a daughter but her name hasn’t come up yet. Finn still loves her but her current feelings are unknown.
Raisa – Intended First Wife of Finn. Loyalty and love for him is complete. Finn loves her deeply and is protective of her. She was trained to be a shadow-magic assassin and is smarter than she gives herself credit for.
Politics are dangerous both because they can kill you and because they can bore you into a stupor. To an extent, as a Pureblood, I am accustomed to them, but even my patience was sorely tested by the Lords of the Northern Comdail.
I wasn’t surprised that they all wanted something. I wasn’t surprised that they were a pack of surly brats. I was surprised by how unwilling they were to commit to anything. Including coming out in support or opposition to me. By the seventh day of the meeting it was clear that some wanted to hear what Tyr might offer in contrast to me or had already been bought out or blackmailed to oppose me.
The Northern Comdail was held in its own fortress in the gray and dreary highland moors, which was ostensibly neutral. However, it was under royal command. And the soldiers there, lacking any particular affection for Tyr (in part because they had been ignored but mostly because they hadn’t been paid), more or less swore loyalty to me immediately canlı bahis şirketleri as soon as some money changed hands. Eorvane had opened his vaults to my cause, with the understanding that I would pay him back, with interest. Not to mention all the juicy favors I would owe him.
Of the remaining lords, two had immediately backed me. One Dux and one Graf. Both powerful lesser houses. Interestingly it meant that all three lords who had commanded men in war had thrown their lot in with me. You’d think that would mean something to the others, but sadly four found the fence perfectly comfortable to sit upon and the remaining two declared loyalty for Tyr.
If it came to it, our forces were larger than that of our enemies here in the North, but sieging and taking their castles and towns as well as occupying (or simply pillaging) their land would be expensive in terms of both men and treasure, to say nothing of the ethics of the situation. I meant to avoid it if at all possible.
Eorvane had persuaded me to close the “official” deliberations so he could do the dirty deals that would be required to bring most, if not all, of the other lords onto my side. He believed that he could, given time, but he was certain that intimidation or direct pressure would have the opposite of its intended results. So I was stuck cooling my heels for a few weeks at least.
I did take care of some things of importance. I sent trusted men off with messages for some of my friends in the southern cavalry, as well as one for Parla. While these men bickered over rewards for the use of their petty forces, I knew where I could find an experienced group that I could trust.
Raisa was a bit upset that I didn’t send her with the messages, but when I explained that I didn’t want anything to happen to her and that I needed someone to gather and organize intelligence, both of which were true, she brightened up and started applying herself to being my spymaster. After all, who better to run spies and assassins than another assassin.
Adewyn pored over maps, reviewed strategies, read reports from the South and generally was an effective pain in my ass. Rather than complain, I tended to take her advice, even if I did argue a little first. She was right most of the time, and knew more about logistics than I did, even if I had fought in more battles. I argued largely so she would defend her position, and therefore teach me the right way to do things without either of us appearing weak in front of nobles or soldiers. She understood this instinctively and I respected her for it.
I also provoked her a little because I found her to be irresistibly cute when she was angry. I’d never say that to her face. I wasn’t entirely a fool.
One day, after reviewing countless ledgers and reports and missives in my private tent, I found that I was, shockingly, out of busy work. I decided to walk around our camp, which was growing daily as the lords loyal to me continued to raise their levies. Fall was here in force and it was quite cool just after dusk, so I took my heavy dark cloak with me. I think that was one of the reasons why I was able to wander freely without being recognized.
I strode around, impressed with the order I saw. Most camps I’d been in weren’t arranged rationally or easy to navigate. Then again, most camps weren’t laid out by Adewyn. A few people saluted or deferred to me, but I was dressed plainly so most assumed I was a knight of some kind and just nodded as they passed. This suited my purposes. I wanted to see how things were, not how others wanted me to see them.
I made a circuit. I listened to folk songs, some old, others I hadn’t heard before. There was a particularly bawdy one going around about me, which was flattering and made me out to be some kind of sexual titan who seduced good temple women and stole them away in the night. I did not correct the young lady doing the singing. I needed all the morale I could get.
Eventually, I completed my review. I was generally satisfied. The perimeter was guarded, the men had good boots, everyone had food and drink, and their tents were in good order. This would change as soon as we started marching, of course, but we would have all the advantages we could muster.
As I returned to my own tent, looking forward to sleep and, if I’m honest, laying with one of my sisters, I heard voices. They were hushed, and I recognized them. Rather than announce myself like a gentleman, I lurked outside like a cad.
“She won’t listen. She’s going to come straight here as soon as she is able to get away,” Raisa said, obviously disapproving of this plan.
“For god’s sake, she needs to let us talk to him first. Did you tell her what he thinks happened?” Adewyn asked. They were in agreement.
“She wouldn’t even tell me anything. I’m worried…I’m worried that he’s right, at least in part.”
“Fuck. He’s not the same. I love him, more than anything, but I really think he’s capable of killing them both.” Adewyn said, and although I couldn’t be sure who they were talking about, it canlı kaçak iddaa still hurt me.
“Do you really think so? I mean, maybe in the heat of the moment, but…he’s not like that. He didn’t attack you.”
“Yes, but I had him at a disadvantage. And my situation was very different at the time of the attack.”
“All we can do is hope for the best and intervene if things go badly.”
“Yeah. While we’re on the subject of things going badly…” Adewyn went from sounding concerned for someone else to hesitant, even afraid.
“Gods, you still haven’t told him? Do it already. You’re panicking over nothing.” Raisa had apparently heard this before.
“I know! I’m such a fucking coward. I’ll do it soon. But can you be there, just in case?”
“Like, in the room? That would be awkward.”
“No, just nearby, in case I need to talk. Or he d…hello?” Adewyn inquired suddenly. Dammit, I’d gotten too close to the tent and my cloak had blown against it in the breeze. I made a shuffling noise and walked in, behaving as though I’d heard nothing.
“Hello yourself. Done for the day?” I asked, trying to portray myself as calm and relaxed. It was far more difficult than I thought it would be.
Raisa and Adewyn shared the briefest of glances before they both smiled warmly. They were better actors than I was. It made me worry what else they had been keeping from me. Was I becoming too trusting again? I didn’t want another dagger in my back from a loved one. Especially one I was sleeping with.
“Yes,” Raisa responded, “we were just getting caught up. I have some news for you, but I don’t know yet if its good or bad.”
Adewyn’s eyebrows shot up. She must have been worried that Raisa was going to spill her secret.
“Oh?” I said.
“You know I still have sources inside Marche Grodayn. They tell me that your mother has disappeared. No one has seen her for weeks.”
Adewyn relaxed at the realization that this wasn’t what they had been discussing. I did not. Raisa saw my anxiety and she went on hurriedly.
“I almost didn’t tell you, but there is more. It appears as though Tyr is sending people out to look for her, very quietly. And your uncle has been seen to be very concerned about her. So it seems likely to me that she escaped once she heard you were alive and had returned with an army. It would have been much harder for her to do that it was for Adewyn, who largely had free right of travel. Your mother was being closely watched and…” Raisa stopped suddenly, and I could see that she almost said something that she had intended to keep from me.
“And what?” I asked.
“…and your uncle had been…keeping her…in his rooms. My sources tell me that when she was seen about the castle that she had been more subdued, and once even limping. I thought that should have been her telling you that. I’m sorry. I don’t know any details,” Raisa seemed almost ashamed for having told me.
“Don’t keep things from me, even for my own good,” I said with deceptive calm, “I’m not the person I used to be. I can’t abide being lied to any more.”
My sisters had the decency to avoid eye contact with me for a little while. I took a deep breath. I wasn’t being fair to them. I wasn’t sure what they had been discussing, but I was positive that they were both loyal to me. And everyone deserved to have their secrets, even from their brother or lover.
“What about the situation with The Graf of the Isles? He’s still holding out and it will be difficult to transport anything on the coast without him.”
“I’m almost insulted that you asked. Tyr’s idiots were keeping his wife in a ruined fortress near the coast. My people got her back and she’s safe. We’re treating her well and told her that she’ll see her husband soon. What do you want to do?”
“Just give her back. He’s loves her and he only asked for lower taxes. He’ll side with us after that.”
“And that leaves the Dux of the Irons,” Eorvane said. He was standing at the entrance to my tent. I had been fairly tired and I didn’t even notice him approach.
“Are you making headway with him?” I asked. I was very interested. He didn’t have a lot of money, land, or troops, but the “Irons” were the mountains that ran unevenly across the kingdom, breaking it roughly into north and south. He held all of the important passes, and therefore could allow or deny access to whomever he allied with.
“No,” Eorvane said, “he’s not himself. Or at least he’s not making the sorts of demands that he normally would. Can you believe that he asked me about marrying Adewyn?”
I was honestly angry for a moment. Purebloods might marry outside of their own family but always to other Purebloods. The lineage must be maintained or the magic that made us who we are would be lost. And she was mine to marry. I opened my mouth to speak but Adewyn spoke for me.
“Fuck that,” she said, simply, “and you can tell him that I said so.”
“Well, I assumed that would be the answer. But he claimed that I was stonewalling canlı kaçak bahis him and insisted on speaking directly with you, Finn. I wouldn’t. I think he’s just going to waste your time,” Eorvane said.
“I’ll speak with him, maybe he just wants to be flattered or reassured. Is he at the headquarters now?”
Eorvane nodded. The headquarters was our fancy word for a really big tent with a table and maps. It was where we held our larger meetings. The request for marriage was too outrageous, though. Was it designed to insult me? Or just to get my attention? Or was it a distraction? Better safe than sorry.
“Raisa, you stay hidden and protect me from any ambushes. Adewyn you go get some of our Guard and hide nearby in case we need you. I’ll head over with Eorvane and we’ll play this casual and see what he has to say.”
Raisa was surprised as I’d never asked her to be my bodyguard before. I had been thinking about it for a long time. She wanted to continue to travel far and wide for me, performing assassinations and infiltrations by herself, proving her value. The trouble was that we had people for that now. Some of them had come over from my father and had even been trained by Raisa.
And, to be honest, worrying about her while she was on missions was killing me. I never doubted her competence, but she could never, ever make a mistake. If she did, her impressive career would be over and I’d be in mourning.
I knew that in her new role as spymaster she would chafe at being unable to help me more directly. The bodyguarding idea would hopefully solve that issue, but it wasn’t just to assuage her ego. I needed someone to watch my back, and I trusted no one more than her.
Eorvane and I walked silently to the main tent. Adewyn had run off to assemble some men. I could tell by the way she looked at me that she would have preferred to just come with me directly but I was also worried about surprise attacks from without. More than one monarch had been killed in his camp by a sudden uprising or raid. Raisa disappeared into shadow and silence somewhere behind us.
When we entered I felt stupid for my paranoia. The Dux of the Irons was a small man, fastidious, bald, and near-elderly. He hadn’t even brought any of his own guards with him. Really, I’d killed people like this almost casually in battle.
I smiled and approached the Dux and he did the same. As I grew close he extended his hand to shake mine, the universal sign of friendship and peace. After all, you can’t draw a dagger while your hand is clasped. It was then that I realized that I had made a significant mistake.
I don’t know why I didn’t shout or scream or even shriek. Even after all the battles I had been in, in which I had performed fairly well and avoided the paralyzing shock that some feel, I was not ready for this. I froze, completely, my hand extended, my forward momentum stopped. I don’t think at that point that anyone else had seen what I had.
I wasn’t truly afraid at first, I just didn’t understand what I was seeing. It was unlike any magic that I had witnessed before. The Dux’s hand, small and wrinkled like aged leather, smoothed itself out. I blinked. His flesh began to flow, like water, that was strangely bound to his bones. And as I grew afraid and fatally unable to react, his flesh rolled off of his forearm, growing long and sharp, replacing his hand with a long and ragged reddish blade. I could even see the bone of his forearm, but it was black and had strange holes spread over it, like the hive of some terrible insect.
As I watched, he moved faster, his smile growing beyond the width of his mouth, his head splitting to reveal an awful blackish-red maw full of jagged teeth. That’s when the ghastly howling started. I moved at last, almost too late.
I shifted to my right, hard, and his hand-sword barely missed piercing my chest. Instead the edge brushed against my left side, biting into my flesh. I screamed. I am unashamed of this. I’d been cut and stabbed in battle, and much worse than this, but nothing had ever hurt this much. I smelled my flesh cooking where he’d touched me, and there was another acrid smell that made me think of an alchemists laboratory
That’s when Raisa, my beloved and trustworthy little sister, saved my life. Her blade erupted from the thing’s mouth as she stabbed it from behind. She didn’t assume that would kill it either, and stabbed it where its heart should be as well as several other places before she leapt past him and stood in between myself and it. There she stood, bravely, ready to defend me.
The thing was dead, however. It collapsed, not like a person, but like a heap of sludge that had just been emptied on the floor. The form still had skin, and presumably bones and organs, but they had no shape. It was like a squashed ball of dough, but the dough was also a man. Blue-black blood flowed viscously out of its wounds, with the consistency of syrup in winter.
Finally, I reacted. I spoke a word and burned the thing’s corpse just as Adewyn’s shouting form appeared at the mouth of the tent. I would have liked to examine the monster, but I don’t know what it would have revealed. Besides that, I felt deeply and instinctively that this thing was unnatural, and that its very presence, even while dead, was dangerous and toxic.
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