Mothers (Clandestina)

It was a dying wish. The Duchesse of Piques was over seventy years old, having outlived her husband by several years, but she seemed even older in her weakened state. She had never recovered from losing her child in her youth, the young heir snatched by the fée while out in the woods on the day of Springfinding about fifty years past. She had never lost hope either, though along with that she gained anger, grief, and fear that she carried for the rest of her days.

So, in these last of those days, a plea had been given and the order spread: Find Félicien by any means. 

In reply Elwin made his way into The Duc’s Forest. Many entries into Faery opened in these wood, and it was where the young Félicien had been taken from. Usually private land, those caught on it without permission lost almost a year’s wages, it was with Her Grace’s blessing that he set foot in one of the best wood in the realm. What he did not appreciate was that the wood was private for the safety of those who would venture in and not for noble’s greed. 

He left his dogs behind with the chief huntsman, who had not wanted to let Elwin off work, but as it was the duchesses’ desire there had been no choice. The huntsman had managed to claim that the dogs were Elwin’s to train, but not to take, and so he would have to make due on his own, perhaps thinking it would deter him. It did no such thing. In a pack Elwin carried traps and a spare set of clothes, some twine, flint, and a couple of knives, enough that he could survive in the woods by himself for a few weeks. Even if it would have been easier with a hound, the late spring would mean there was much to choose from in both flora and fauna. 

Finding the heir would a great boon and mark to his name, he would be able to do whatever job or task he pleased for coin and not be under the watch of others, but he thought that unlikely given all the time that had passed. This was more a vacation of pleasure and adventure.

He hiked deep into the woods until late afternoon, enjoying the day and the forest until he found a spot to set up camp near a river. He would have enough time to catch some fish for dinner and turn in for an early night before beginning again on the early morrow. The trees were thick and in some places it was hard to see the sky or even work out where the sun shone from. He could follow the river for a time and he would make sure to find a clear patch of sky for tomorrow night to check the stars.

A cool wind sent a shudder up his spine as he brought out his fishing equipment. He felt as if eyes were watching him, and so along with the net and rod he brought his favorite knife to the edge of the riverbank- a gift from his father, made more for a fight than for utility. The feeling did not lessen, it only intensified, and he left his net and rod out but returned to his chosen spot to build a fire and begin building a crude shelter. It should not be a cold night, but that wind’s chill has sunk into his bones.

By the time he was finished it was close to dusk. He returned to the river but froze when he saw someone sitting in his place. A boy, Elwin’s fishing rod in his hand and several dead fish on the grass beside him. 

“There was a fish on the hook, I took it off and then you caught another one. Or, well, I did. But I’m not hungry and you’ve been walking all day, so you can have it.” The boy spoke without turning around.

“Oh, thank you,” Elwin replied. Had this boy been the eyes he had felt? A curious child had put him on edge. With a laugh Elwin sat down beside him. He was young, a dozen years at most, wearing clothes that were a bit too pristine for where they were in the woods, and a little too fine as well. But their value did not seem to matter as the boy’s feet were already in the water, the ends of his trousers soaked. 

“I have not checked the net,” the boy continued. “But the fish are usually too smart for nets here. Maybe you’ll catch some overnight though.” He pulled at the rod and another fish joined the rest on the grass, trying to throw itself back into the water but being too far away.

“Why are you out here all by yourself?”

“My mother is around,” the boy replied. “We live nearby. And even if she were not, I am old enough to be by myself.”

Perhaps he had not wandered straight into the heart of the woods but was near a village? If the Duc’s Forest was open perhaps he was not the only one who ventured in.

“And how old are you?” Elwin asked. Should the boy be even thirteen he would not think it very wise to let him wander far.

“I don’t know, exactly,” the boy replied with a shrug. 

“You don’t know?” Elwin repeated.

“I have been here for quite a time, you see, years and years and look, I’m still quite small!”

The chill returned. Had he walked into Faery without even realizing it? And this boy, if he lived nearby, then he was fée.

“I would like a small favor for helping you fish,” the boy said after a moment. 

“I do not have much I can give you. Though with the amount of fish you are catching we can certainly share dinner.”

“No, thank you, I am not hungry.”

Elwin shrugged, standing up to go and start putting the fish in a bag. The latest one was already dead. He would have to cook them quickly, the older ones had been laying out for quite a bit.

“What do you wish?”

“I want to keep what is in my pocket.” 

Elwin paused in putting the fish in a bag. His net was still tied to shore and the rod in the boy’s hand. 

“Well it is in your pocket. Surely it is already yours?” he asked carefully.


The boy placed aside the rod and stood up, brushing his pants before pulling out Elwin’s favorite knife.  

“How… no, return that to me!” He had thought perhaps that boy had taken the hook or some of the wire, but his knife was precious. 

The boy laughed and danced away from him. “A deal is a deal, your words hold meaning among these leaves.” 

He had found his way into Faery. He counted his blessing that he had been fairly careful.

“A deal is a deal,” Elwin repeated. “And words hold meaning. I never said the knife was yours, merely implied that something in your pocket would likely be yours, not that it was for certain. Return my knife.”

The boy’s grin faded and he thought about what Elwin has said exactly. Finding nothing he could exploit he stomped his foot and swore.

“Fine!” He held out the blade, handle first, and with a huff added. “But I want your name. I wish to know who tricked me.”

It was habit that made him speak his whole name.“Elwin Pierrick.”

The boy laughed and his good cheer returned as quickly as it had left. “Well, Elwin Pierrick, you should know better than to give me your full name. I shall not be as hasty. But I know my manners and so my name—” he paused here to give his full attention and half a bow. “—is Félicien.”

It was the heir! He had found him. Elwin almost jumped in excitement, the transgression forgotten. It did not matter that the physical body the boy had made no sense, whenever had Faery made sense in the first place?

“Félicien, then, a pleasure! Come with me then. I wish you no harm, but your mother is dying and wishes to see you. She—”

Félicien’s grin and color faded at that and a seriousness that gave way to his true age filled him.

“What do you mean she is dying? Tell me this instant, Elwin Pierrick!” 

A magic that he had never felt before wrapped around him, forcing his tongue to move and words he had meant to hold back spill forth.

“The duchess of Piques, your mother, who lost you when you were a child. She is quite elderly now, dying. Your father is already dead. She wishes more than anything to see you before she passes. She has sent an order for you to be found and brought to her. I wish to do this.”

The look of relief was not what Elwin expected.

“Oh,” Félicien said, leaning against a tree. “Oh, good.”

“Good! Your mother—”

“My mother is not this duchesse. Perhaps she bore me, but I do not remember her face or name. I will not leave my real mother to see this false one.”

“Who is your real mother?” 

“Her name is not an honor you have been deemed worthy of.”

“Oh, I dare say, Félicien, he bested you with a turn of phrase, I do believe I may be kind enough to share part of my name with him.”

A woman stepped from the trees. She was tall, her dark eyes meeting Elwin’s without having to look up. Light blonde hair that caught all the colors of the forest was tied back in a tail, and her gown was a spotless white with trim of gold. A sword at her left and dagger at her right were her only decorations. They, unlike her clothes, were worn and well used.

“You were watching,” Félicien muttered under his breath and the woman nodded, eyes never leaving Elwin. The chill was suddenly replaced with a warmth and he found himself more terrified and drawn to her.

“You may call me Rhianu. I heard you speaking with my son. He has watched you for most of the day and says you are interesting. You say his human mother still lives and wishes him?”

“Yes, oui, mademoiselle Rhianu. She is the Duchesse of Piques. He was lost almost half a century ago. There has been a task sent, to find him and bring him to her side before her death. I came, more for the forest than the boy, I thought it almost impossible to find him.”

“And yet you are here, not a day into this adventure, and already your prize is before you. Are others coming?”

“Yes. It is quite the talk among those who wish fame or adventure.”

“I found him almost fifty years ago,” Rhianu said. She finally turned to her son and walked over to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “He was lost, wet, having fallen into the river and sprained his ankle. He was crying and cold. Barely more than a babe, he knew his name and could tell me little more. I took him and nursed him, intending to return him, but as days went by I loved him. I decided he was mine to keep if Faery brought him to me. That said, I am certain his parents loved him too. That after all this time she waits and wishes still, I must admire it.”

She looked down at Félicien. “Do you wish to see her?”

“I do not know. Perhaps? I did not know she still lived. I have not thought of those who bore me in many years.”

“At Midsummer, then,” she replied. “So that I do not lose you just yet, little fay. You will decide then and go, but return quickly.” She had forbade him leave until his majority, feeling in her heart that on that day he would leave her for possibly forever, but this would be allowed.

“And you, dear Elwin Pierrick,” she continued, looking up to him. “Shall come with us after dinner.”

“Come with you?”

“Oui. You will stay with us until your Summerfinding, our Midsummer, as a guest. Then after you escort Pierre to and from seeing his birth-mother you may go and do as you please. You say others are coming to take him, then defend your prize.”

There was no magic to make this a command. There was no physical force. He could easily say no and then try and leave, but it was only a little over a month. He had enough supplies that he could live for that amount by himself, why not stay in a home with some comforts while having already finished his job.

 Elwin nodded and a then offered a bow.

“If I may invite you to dinner?”

He held out an arm and Rhianu took hold of it. 

‘Bittersweet’ romances

(Semi-Spoilers for a bunch of shit, GoT included, mostly in reference to romances. Endgame spoilers too, Avenger’s fans)

I’m sick of these ‘bittersweet’ endings. Game of Thrones, Samurai Jack, True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, probably more I can’t think of right now. They keep pulling this shit in romance stories and expect me to be happy ‘because the romance was really the scenes along the way’ and we don’t get a HEA.

(IMHO) You cannot have a main couple, the main relationship, the hinge of so much of the story… and then decide ‘they don’t end up happy, yay, bittersweet.’

(I’m not against Tragedy. I understand tragedy. But these try and have their cake and eat it too- they give us an unsatisfying ending that’s makes us feel mostly meh and call it a win because it’s not quite tragedy, so they call it bittersweet.)

Game of Thrones: I don’t follow it too much, but I read some of the books, watched a few seasons, and was mostly waiting for it to finish before investing myself emotionally. And I’m glad. I hope GRRM has a different ending in mind, or a better way to reveal all this, because the showrunners cocked it right up. Jon and Dany were, for many people, the end-game. The Ice and Fire. And I was pumped when they hooked up (never let a little incest get a Targ down after all). It was finally canon! And then the politics started:

Jon has a better claim than Dany. But they love each other. A marriage was even suggested.. and that would have tied it up all nice, even a little too nice, but really, didn’t they deserve this by now? But noo, they had to give me crazy!Dany, and have Jon kill her before fucking off North.

Maybe if he killed himself too- make it a proper tragedy. Have it ALL burn if you must. But don’t give me this, tell me everyone will be better off with King Bran, and leave it. Especially with so little foreshadowing and straight up telling us that Dany is not her father and she isn’t mad.

Samurai Jack: Similar thing. Last season, a love interest is introduced. We have 3 or 4 episodes of straight relationship building. We are told the ending will be bittersweet. For those that haven’t seen it. Jack was a Samurai who was taken to the future and his whole goal was to return to his time and kill the demon that imprisoned his land and people (the demon that is still in power and messing up lives in the far future) … but while being in the future he meets many people and has adventures and gains dear friends.

I, and a lot of fans, assumed the bittersweet ending would be that he defeats Aku and can’t return to the past. He stays in the future, having never saved his people, but saving the future and continuing his life. I would have loved that and it would have been bittersweet. What we got though? He does go to the past again, he defeats the demon and all of his future adventures were essentially annulled.

I could even kind of live with that, but no, they fucked with my emotions: that love interest I mentioned? She is the main baddie’s daughter. Born in the future. She went back in time with Jack, and after they defeat her father they plan a wedding. We have lovely scenes of feudal Japan, traditional wedding clothes… and AT THE WEDDING Ashi suddenly goes “wait, if we killed my father in the past, I shouldn’t exist…” and she DISAPPEARS.

WHAT. Maybe, *maybe* if she disappeared right at the start after her father was killed because duh. Maybe if Jack mourned and took the loss as a tragedy, and we could all feel what he had to give up. Given the mythic nature of the show it’s even possible that gods could have brought her back or let her live! But no. We get jerked around by a whole wedding sequence before ‘lol, timelines.’ ARGH.

True Blood / Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries: These both sort of go in the same direction in that the main relationship is messed up in them, but two different ways! We get double fucked!

Sookie starts out with Bill. We assume that’s the main couple and for the first two books/seasons it kinda works that way. But then we start getting more and more Eric and we realize that Sookie and Eric are the main couple. In the show it teases her needing to ‘pick’ back and forth, even (because it’s Showtime) going with a threeway-relationship fantasy… in the books she’s actually with Eric for many books, marries him, and they do love each other properly.

And she ends up with neither in either series. In the show Eric leaves and starts doing some shady business things, Bill dies, and Sookie sort of goes ‘fuck you all’ to the supernatural in terms of boyfriends and ends up with a random human that isn’t even pictured. We just get ‘she has a husband, she’s pregnant, and that’s all that matters.’

In the books? It’s worse. She ends up with Sam. The man she thought of as a friend, who was often an ass about her relationships with vampires, who had several bad relationships in the books because he makes bad choices… at one point he’s shot and he dies. Sookie, having a magic fairy bobble, uses her one wish to save Sam. After this there are some vampire politics going on, yada yada, Eric has to go and marry a vampire queen because of something his sire did, after keeping that to himself, not talking to Sookie about it, and just ruining all character development. Oh, and he can’t contact her at all ever again. They remain separated until Sookie’s death. The ‘epilogue’ book says that Sookie marries Sam, has kids with him, and is happy. Eric stays with his vampire queen, learns to respect her, and fullfills his contract with her.

So… we had *13* books about Sookie and her relationship with vampires to have it end with… she stays with the guy that she went on one date with a few years ago and decided AGAINST being with him. Then she falls in love, had wacky adventures, becomes a whole new person, learns to be herself in a supernatural world… and then goes back to the best friend who was always ‘the best friend’ and she specifically rejected romantically before even the first book.

With all this ranting, what’s a good bittersweet ending, you ask? I can tell you: Tony and Pepper in Endgame. Cap and Peggy. I even love the ending to the Vampire Knight manga which has a ‘twist’ that I could see myself doing.

Avengers: Tony and Pepper are engaged. Thanos comes and fucks up the world, and half the population disappears, included Tony’s mentee and pseudo-son. The next 5 years are hell. But Tony and Pepper stay together, they get married, they have a daughter. They pull through. And when there’s a chance to save people they take it– but Tony doesn’t want to risk his daughter by messing up the last 5 years, as horrid as they were. They work a way around it. In the end Tony has to sacrifice himself but both Peter is back, and Morgan gets to live. Pepper is with him in his last moments, tells him it’s ok, he can rest. Iron Man did his duty to his team, to the world, to his family, to his love.

Steve is a man out of his own time. Captain America was frozen and reawakened years after his first love is dead and even attends her funeral. He kisses her niece as it’s the closest thing he has to Peggy. But beside that he does not have time for romance, as much as the rest of his team tries to hook him up and make fun of his likely-virgin self.

Now the war is over. There is finally peace. And there is another chance. He can go back, back to Peggy, back to the past with the burden of the future in his mind, but a chance at some happiness. And he takes it. He lives out his days with Peggy and we get a glimpse of Old Man Steve.

Vampire Knight: Vampire Knight is a manga and the romance is very tangled. It’s something of a triangle, the main heroine Yuuki unable to choose whether to be with Kaname (her brother and a Pureblood vampire) and her foster-brother Zero (who is a bitten vampire and will eventually descend into madness). Of course at first she knows none of this and the story is as much about vampire politics and similar issues (Hunters, bad vampires, good vampires, etc) as just romance. Eventually she is also a Pureblood vampire (she was locked away as a human for her protection… it’s complicated, just go read it).

But the end– ah the end I love. Because in a way she picks both. And if I’m honest it’s the kind of ending I would hope to write. At first she picks Kaname (who, if I had to pick, I am team Kaname). She sleeps with him in the last volume. But because of said vampire politics and nonsense Kaname gives up his life. He does not die, but is encased in crystal. Yuuki is left heartbroken and, as we learn later, pregnant.

Zero, her foster-brother sometimes-enemy, tries his best to stay by her side. We have another series that details the next several centuries where they remain allies, friends, all the while Yuuki raising her daughter by Kaname. Eventually Zero wins her over and they marry and have a son. Even more time passes and after Zero descends into madness and is killed, at his request, Yuuki is alone.

Yet… she is also a Pureblood vampire with strong magic. So she, finally alone, having lived her life and raised her children, wants to give her first love another chance at this new world. And so she sacrifices herself to reanimated Kaname as a human who has no memories of his time as a vampire. In the end Kaname wakes up during the daytime to his daughter and step-son greeting him.

That, my friends, is a bittersweet ending. That is love, and loss, and grief, and joy, and lives continuing on, and ending, and returning.

And those are the stories I want to write. The stories I plan. Sometimes tragic, sometimes happy, sometimes bittersweet. I write family sagas, I have generations to go through– and sometimes people will die, and others will have to move on, or stay stuck in the past, or crazy magic loopholes are found to make it all better.

Good news and bad news

I really don’t know how to write an intro for this, so I’ll just say it. I cancelled the second pre-order for Delphinium. The final file is just not quite finished. I tried, and I messed up, and I kept thinking it would work out in the end, but it just hasn’t. 

I am sorry. I am so sorry.

I do have some good news though. I do have the first 2/3rds of the book. It’s still a draft, and there are grammar errors and scenes I still want to tweak, or cut, but it’s a fairly coherent chunk of the tale (though it ends at a cliff-hanger). I honestly thought about ending the book there at one point, but I want that last 1/3rd to wrap it up properly and for it to not have the same issue as Larkspur

I am going to give everyone in the newsletter Delphinium in its entirety for free (you can sign up here). The moment it is properly done I will send a newsletter with a link and you will pay nothing for it. I owe you this story and at this point I don’t think I deserve the money or Amazon traffic.

– Victoria

Post Title :P

Delphinium, or A Necromancer’s Home has 70 pre-orders right now. And my Patreon has two patrons! ❤

Holy bananas.

I might actually hit 100+ pre-orders. When I said I wanted ‘103’ to match with the number of reviews for Larkspur I was mostly kidding and hoping to get 50. Now, at 70 with a month and a half to go, it seems much more likely 🙂 And as for patrons, well, that just feels unreal. I’ve posted and moved over some worldbuilding things to the Patreon and have started to move over Scenes too. The newest Scene, The First Suitor, was put up on Patreon a few days before I put it up here. I will need to work out a schedule for Scenes…

I continued to work Delphinium every day. I’ve streamlined it a bit, connected chapters, moved things around. A few things didn’t feel right where they were so I moved them to book 3. All in all I’m still getting about 110K+ for the wordcount. Each chapter has something written in it, many are almost-finished, just need to connect everything up.

Yet, I’m still kinda terrified that I won’t finish on time. I do feel a lot of guilt for attempting this and having to pull the pre-order a year ago. But this last year has been a challenge in a lot of ways, and I think I’ve grown the better for it. I hope it reflects in my writing. I know if I had finished it last year the book would have been much different than it is now.

So thank you all for your patience, kind words, and support.


The First Suitor (Clandestina)

When doctors and healers began to converge in the realm of Clandestina, learning of its natural healing magic, its blancræft, the daimons of violent illness and death were forced out. The fée, who respected violence and death as they were volatile in their own way, returned to their plane of Faery. Everything that bound and tames the spirits of death was suddenly gone.

The magic of a realm was innate. While other realms survived without these chains, Clandestina began to crumble.

Plagues descended upon realm. They infected man, beast, and vegetation, bringing famine along with it. Wars sprung up as people tried to hoard the few resources that were left. In trying to keep sickness at bay Death began to thrive.

One last daimon remained, a ker by the name of Mora. As much as she delighted in this, she knew that if it was left unchecked then everything would die, and there would be nothing left. She was the last Keeper of Death, and thus it made her a Protector of Life as well.

A kingdom had formed during this time of war, the four main factions finally brought together under one ruler. This new king, who took the title of Roi, promised to bind together all of the people of Clandestina– the humans, the fée, and even the keres.

He was without a wife. Mora showed herself to him, told him the secrets of the realm, that it not only held magic of healing, but also of violence, and death. She showed him noircræft as well as blancræft, and even nekrocræft, weaving the three together so he could do anything from heal minor injuries to return the dead to life.

The realm began to heal. A second guardian kept much at bay, but when Mora wished to show her magic to more people, to begin to fix more, the roi became possessive.

“You are mine,” he said. “You chose me, out of all men. You will not show anything to anyone else. Make me yours and we will rule together.”

She complied. She continued to teach him until there was only one last test. As she was a Lady of Death, after this, he would be a Lord.

“Take your own life,” she told him. “Kill yourself, come, enter my plane and learn what it truly means to be a ker.”

That night they went to bed together. He ingested poison chosen by her own hand and taken with his own, and as they made love he experienced both little and true death.

Mists surrounded him. He was in Akhlys, the place of judgement before ones afterlife. Before him was a throne of limbs and bone, vines growing from the flesh and binding the seat together. Mora sat on the throne in her true form– great black wings like a bat unfurled behind her, her robes stained a many colors of red, her eyes the same crimson.

“And here are you mine,” she said. “Kneel, accept me as your queen, and you too will gain all of my powers.”

And here the roi shook his head, stepping back from her. “No. I am your king. I will not kneel before you.”

Before she could protest, say anything else, he used the cræft she had taught him to return his own soul to his body and left her.

He was alone in bed that morning. Quickly he took from his drawer a small knife and cut into a finger– his blood ran black, like it had ever since he began to learn magic from Mora. So he could still perform the deeds that made him great.

Time passed. Mora did not return to him, but as he had completed her last test, it did not matter. He was a lord of death, capable of even returning himself to life after death! He continued to rule. He finally married. He could not seem to impregnate his wife, but it did not matter as he continued to live on. He aged, true, but far slower than most men, bringing rumors that he had fée blood in him.

Then rumors began to circulate that there were men and women who were beginning to cure ills that should not be curable even with blancræft. A few more even said they could return the dead to life. The roi, now older than any other living being, found himself furious that Mora had betrayed him. He called this ‘necrocræft’ vile, and unnatural, and anyone learning or practicing such magic would be put to death.

They were killed. They had not passed her last test and remained dead.

Plagues sprung up again. Illness took root.

Mora still did not return to him.

It did not take long for the roi to be overthrown, by his own great-great-grandnephew at that. He was accused of practicing the same magic he outlawed, and when his blood ran black it was confirmed. He was sentenced to death.

The day of the hanging he felt his neck snap, but he then hung there, eyes wide, unable to feel or move or breath, yet undying.

He was buried amid silent internal cries that he had not died! He was still alive! But after they shut his eyes by force he could not even open them again.

Mora finally came to him. She appeared in his coffin, pressed up against him, wrapping her arms around him. He felt her breathing, felt her skin moving against his. She stroked his cheek and for the first time in days he could intake some breath. It was ecstasy. His flexed his fingers and slowly moved his arms so that he could hold her in return.


“You are not mine,” she replied into his ear. “And so you shall never enter my plane, never again see my throne, or have your life judged. You chose to return to this and so you may keep it.”

He was alone again. His breath was stuck in his throat, his arms no longer feeling. His eyes were half-open, staring into darkness. He lived. He could not die.

Mora never gave her heart in the same way. She continued to teach in secret, both men and women, her cræft. If rumors amid the people gave false information she let it be. And when her last test came she continued to offer her magic at a price. She hurt when they returned their own lives, but allowed it, still being with them and letting them help her. One day one would take up her offer, but it was not to be for a very long time.


Writers are people. They make mistakes. I remember reading that in A Song of Ice and Fire there was a moment where the color of the horse changes between books. Fans were speculating, people tried to find ‘hints,’ there had to be a switch, maybe the rider was really somewhere else– what could it possibly mean!?

It meant George R. R. Martin forgot the color of the horse between writing the two books.

I wrote Larkspur a while ago. And as I keep finding out, stories change in the telling. I reference Larkspur a lot, but there are things that I wrote in the first book that are no longer true in the second. Not because I go out of my way to do something different, it just feels… like what I said before was wrong.

Thankfully characters are people too. Or good ones should be. And so what Pierre may have thought in Larkspur was what I thought, and he and I can both find out that it was sort of wrong in Delphinium.

I hope I do this right too. I don’t want it to sound like I just messed up. Because it’s less ‘I wrote something wrong’ and more like ‘I was working with limited information and now there’s more to it.’

I think.


Slave (Scorpiurus)

Even after years away from his service it was ingrained in her. She stepped back with her foot even before he was in the room, hands clasping behind her, and she sank to the floor in one fluid motion. Balanced on one knee she crossed her other leg over the first and bowed, turning her head only just above the stone, exposing her pulse, and waited with closed eyes. She was perfectly still in the strained position—this slave’s dip. Moments passed until he entered the room and walked towards her, his steps the only sound announcing his presence, and then there was silence as he stood before her to judge her and decide her worth. Finally, the tips of his fingers brushed her hair and he placed his hand in hers to pull her up. She unwound, knowing that if he desired, with a twist of his wrist her arm would be broken, but with his gentle leading she would rise like a dance.

For the first time in years she saw her king. Golden eyes stared at her, matched by his jewelry and circlet-crown. His black hair was tied up in a horse’s tail and the end rested over his shoulder. He wore no shirt, the heat that radiated off of him speaking of a day spent out in the desert sun, and she saw the scars from many battles across his chest. Some were new, and a few even fresh.

“What do you desire of me?” she whispered.

Another woman entered the room before her king could reply. She was clothed in purple robes and jewelry herself, and Tivela again made a move to curtsy, but Asar’s hand cupped her chin and forced her to remain standing.

“Tivela, my dear, you are free by my command. Bow to me if you desire it, but to no one else.”

A woman came to stand by his side, and she glared at the former slave, but said nothing. Her king finally let her go and wrapped that arm around the woman.

“Tivela, this is my betrothed,” he said. “She is the daughter of a rival, and I wish her to be taught my ways. You know me better than any other living soul. Teach her, and you will be rewarded.”

She knew better than to protest, though she wished to do just that. It was unheard of for a slave, even a former slave, to teach the queen anything.

“I am yours to command,” she said instead.