It’s Falling From Grace Launch Day!

Here we are again, with a new book launch. Falling From Grace is available now on Amazon. It’s easily my favorite book to date, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Hit me up on social media today, I’ll be answering any questions. And don’t forget, the first three Woven novels are all on sale this week.

Click here to get Falling From Grace

Click here to get Broken Patterns for free

Click here to get Starting Chains

Click here to get Missing Stitches

Falling From Grace, Chapter Two

Grace leaned against the door frame between the bedroom and main room, watching Victor pack clothes into a bag. “Calvin thinks we will not be gone longer than a week, but I do not know,” he said, adding a leather pouch of dried meat to his bag. “I hate to give you a time because I do not want you to worry if we are later than that. Did you make that flat bread I asked for?”
“It is on the ledge above the fireplace,” Grace said, not bothering to stir herself to fetch it for him.

“Thank you,” he said, striding across the room to get it. “I got that new bar put on the door, but it is not going to do you any good if you do not use it. I cannot imagine anyone would fuss with you, but you never know.”

“I will be in the square with the other women most of the time, anyway,” Grace replied.

“But you will come back here at night,” Victor said.

“Do not go,” Grace replied.

She didn’t know what she expected him to do with this, but laughter wasn’t really a surprise. “Do not go? Calvin and I finally get Timur to give us some real work, and you are telling me not to go. Woman, have you lost your mind entirely?”

“This is death, what he is sending you to do. Marching into the Septan palace, dressed like a Calistar soldier? You will not survive, not a man going with you will.”

“That is foolishness,” Victor said. He stood, and clenched his fist. A blue shield of light manifested. They’d yet to find anything that could penetrate it. “I will come home, and so will Calvin. So will all of us going.”

“And what if you do not? What are the girls and Morgan and I going to do then, eh?” Grace whispered.
Victor was across the room in two strides. He swept her up into his arms, and his mouth found hers. “Darling, I have to do this. I did not become a Brother to raid food storage barns, and I will not do it anymore. Timur has given me a chance here to prove-.”
“Timur has given you nothing,” Grace hissed. “He has given himself a way to be free of you, Calvin, and every other young man who would defy him. He does not expect you to come back.”
“Perhaps not,” Victor said. “But I will.”
“Vicky, are you not ready yet?” Calvin called from outside.
“I am coming, hold on!” Victor replied. He released Grace reluctantly and grabbed his bag from the table. Grace followed him outside.
Calvin had already hitched his wagon. “Are you done crying over your woman yet?” he asked.
“Do not be jealous, just because I have one,” Victor laughed, tossing his bag into the wagon. “Where is Boris?”
“Saying goodbye to Nikita, still. We will pick him up on the way out of town,” Calvin said.
Grace decided to try Calvin next. She stood beside his seat on the wagon. “Calvin, think about this. What is the point of starting a war between Septa and Calistar? The aristocrats will just send poor sons to go fight for them.”
“But that is part of the plan,” Calvin laughed. “Do not worry your head, Grace. Look after the girls and Morgan, and we will be back soon.”
But Grace grabbed hold of the horse’s reigns. “What if none of you come home? What about Boris, leaving Nikita here with his babe?”
“Boris will come home,” Calvin said. “And so will I, and so will Victor. Do not be afraid, Sister. And let go of my horse, please.”

Grace released the reigns but didn’t move away. She felt shaken to her core, as Victor grabbed her up into a hug. “Stop fussing, woman,” he laughed, swinging her around. “This is a great mission.”
“And nothing is going to stand before this,” Calvin said. He clenched his hand, and a ball of light appeared. Unlike Victor’s, his light was no shield. It was a ball of energy that nothing could stand against.
“But what if Timur is sending you into a trap?” Grace cried.
At this, Calvin leaned down from the wagon seat to whisper in her ear. “That is the thing, though. He is, and we know it. When we return victorious, we will have a very, very different conversation with him about where our country is headed. And I do not think he will enjoy it.”
May, June, and Morgan crowded around the wagon, and Calvin sat up straight in his seat. June, the middle of Calvin’s children, had an ever messy braid down her back. Her brown dress was stained at the bottom with mud and at the knees with soot.
“Take care of each other, and stay out of trouble. We will be back in a week,” Calvin said.
“Do not tell them that,” Victor said, swinging into the seat next to Calvin.
“One week!” Calvin bellowed and clicked at the horse to send him on his way.
“Goodbye Da, be careful!” June called, waving at him. Grace joined the others in their farewells, feeling brittle. She watched as they rode to the other end of the village, stopping along the way to pick up Boris and a number of other men.
“Come on,” Grace said. “We might as well head to the square.”
June and May nodded, but Morgan said, “I am going to go hunting. The sun is barely up, I should be able to get some good meat for supper.”

“Oh really?” May snorted. “You are going to go hunting? And why would you waste the whole day like that, eh?”
“You ought to stay and help us weed the garden,” June said.
Morgan scoffed. “What do you need four people to weed the garden for? I will go and get us some meat. Grace, will you make a pie if I bring you a bird? Your crust is better than theirs.”
“I would need the goat milked,” Grace replied dully. “And I might need to churn butter, as well. Go and get your game if you can. Be careful.”
Morgan was gone in a moment to collect his traps and head into the woods.
“Might as well get the goat milked, then,” Grace said.
“You are not going to be the one this time, are you?” June asked.
“The one what?” Grace asked.
June sighed. “The one woman who cannot help but mope until the men get back. They always ruin the whole experience for the rest of us.”
Grace shook her head. She grabbed her bucket and went into the small enclosure next to the house where her goat resided. She was napping in the sun, but came fast enough when she heard Grace come in. Normally she would have been milked earlier, but Victor hadn’t had the time before he left.
“Are you going to stand there and complain at me the whole time I do this?” Grace asked, settling into her stool to milk the creature.
“Maybe. Why are you so upset, anyway? You have never been this way before.” June grabbed some hay from the pile next to the enclosure and started making a pile of it.

“You all seem to think that these men are invincible just because of a little magic,” Grace muttered.

A single scream rang out just as she was finishing with the goat. Grace only just managed to not spill any of the milk before running from the paddock. June was just a moment behind her.
“That is Yulia’s house,” June cried. The front door was wide open, and they could hear Yeva shouting for help inside.
Grace stopped on the threshold. Yeva was kneeling next to her grandmother’s chair. A cup of tea had fallen and shattered on the floor. Yulia was slumped in her chair, not breathing.

“I, I do not know what happened,” Yeva sobbed. “I just came in to check on her, and she was like this.”
“Was there something off in her tea?” June asked.
“I do not know. She might have stirred something in by mistake, look at her damned work table!” Yeva cried. She gestured to a table near the window, laden with herb bouquets and bowls. Always a thin wisp of a girl, Yeva seemed even smaller now in her fright.
“What am I to do, I am all alone now,” Yeva sobbed.
Grace considered the girl. She couldn’t remember saying more than a handful of words to her since she’d been born. She’d said enough to Yulia, screaming for her book back, for help, for anything the old woman might have been able to do for her.
“I was alone younger than you,” Grace said. “You will be fine.”
Yeva turned a tear stained face towards her, her eyes wide. “How?” she asked.
“That is not my concern. When Morgan gets back we will help bury your grandma. That is more than she bothered to do for me.”
Grace went back to her chores, leaving the girl no room to say anything more.

Want to keep reading? Falling From Grace will be released tomorrow. Here’s a link to order it now.

Falling From Grace, chapter one

The women of the village had a tradition when the men were off on a raid. They would collect together, anyone whose man was involved, and spend almost all day at the center square. The village had no inn, for who would want to stay there? They had no tavern, because no one had the extra coin to get drinks. There was a meeting hall for the Brotherhood, but the women weren’t allowed in there. So they collected in what they called the square, but was really just a clearing in front of the meeting hall. They set up tables, and brought out chairs. They’d do their washing communally, and share what little supper they could as well. Those with children would bring them, and the women would lend a hand in caring for them.

They collected together because it was easier to work with so many other hands. They collected together also because it was loud. And it was good that it was loud. Grace had never spoken to the other women about the matter, but she was sure they all would agree. When they were surrounded by other women and children, making noise, it was easier to forget that sometimes men didn’t come back from missions.

While that wasn’t likely this time, it was always possible. It was a simple enough raiding mission, taking food collected for the greedy aristocrats to redistribute to those who had actually worked for it. But one could never depend on even a simple mission going to plan.

Grace, now a woman grown, sat in a circle of chairs with a basket of sewing. Her thick, light hair was pulled into a tight knot to keep it from her face. May, now also a woman grown, sat next to her with a larger pile of simple dresses, tunics and breeches, muttering. She had her da’s ice blue eyes, and his height.

“Can you speak up?” Grace asked. “I do not know how you expect anyone to hear you.”

“What is the point if anyone does hear me?” May replied. “June certainly does not care that she has left me with all of the mending. She is off pretending that she will catch some fresh meat for supper. As though she could.”

“Do not fuss at her,” said Nikita, sitting on Grace’s other side. Her belly was swelled with her first child, and she was crocheting a blanket. “At least she took all the bigger boys out to the woods. They might not bring anything back, but at least it got them out of here for a while.” “Sure. It got them running in the woods, shouting and scaring away all the game for the next moon, so the men will not be able to get fresh meat when they return,” May replied.

“Speaking of,” Grace said, as a sound caught her attention. She stood, still holding a shirt in her hand. The other women began to hear it as well. The grind of wheels on the road, the sound of horses. The men had returned.

Women and children stopped what they were doing, eager to greet them. Timur, the leader of the Brotherhood, came from inside the meeting hall. He was an old man with gray hair, but he still walked steadily enough.

“Ah,” he said, seeing the men. “My brothers, you have returned.”

Timur’s sons led the way, driving a wagon full of barrels and sacks. They were calling out to the women and their da, and couldn’t have been in higher spirits. Many of the men were the same, hurrying to set down their burdens and grab up their women and little ones.

Grace watched for Victor, Morgan and Calvin. She knew she shouldn’t have worried. They were three of only a handful of mages in the village, and their magic was powerful. But that didn’t mean something couldn’t happen.

But they were there, walking at the back of the crowd. Victor and Calvin were easy enough to see. Victor’s reddish blond hair was in a tangle around his face. His broad shoulders were slumped. Calvin, taller and broader than his brother, was looking at the ground rather than at the crowd. His son Morgan was thin, and appeared thinner still when compared to the other two. His fine blond hair was pulled back neatly, as it ever was. They came to May and Grace, but there was a dullness in their greetings.

“Gracey,” Victor sighed, and grabbed her up into his arms. He hugged her tight, and she returned the embrace. “I have missed you, my girl.”

“Victor, what is it?” she asked, pulling away. Calvin released May, letting Morgan hug his big sister. He gave Grace a dark look. “Where are Yulia and Yeva?” Grace tensed. “They are likely in this crowd somewhere.” As though she would know where that thieving old woman and her granddaughter were.

“Now is not the time for old angers. We lost Vlas,” Calvin said.

“Oh, oh no,” May gasped. Vlas, Yulia’s son and Yeva’s da, had been a good friend of Calvin’s.

“A guard for the aristocrats took him out as we were leaving the stock house. We must tell them,” Victor said.

May looked quickly at Calvin. “Da, do not say anything stupid to Timur.”

“Do not be telling your Da what to do, girl,” Calvin said, but it was muted. “The fool sent us on this raid knowing damn well the guards would be thick. He should hear this.”

“Yes, but maybe not with screaming in front of the whole village,” Victor said.

Calvin sighed. “I suppose there is some sense in that. Where is June?”

“Out hunting with the bigger boys,” Grace said. “Foolish girl should be here, not distracting the boys in their hunt,” Calvin muttered. “Alright, Vicky, let us go and find Yulia and Yeva.”

Grace let May trail after them. She would have no comfort for Yulia. No sense being there when she found out she’d lost her son.

Timer was with his sons in front of the meeting hall. He cast his hand over the wagon, full of foodstuffs and goods. “Look at all you have brought us!” he called, striding into the middle of the crowd. “These goods will go to villages in need, instead of the bloated coffers of the aristocrats. And that is something well worth celebrating, do you not all think?”

The village cheered, at least most of them did. Yulia and Yeva were listening to Victor and Calvin. Grace saw Yulia stagger, and lean heavily on her granddaughter. Yeva, all of fifteen years old, didn’t look as though she could bear the weight. May helped the older woman to a seat, where she broke down into sobs.

Timur didn’t seem to notice. “I want to thank each and every man who brought this bounty back to us. Together, we brothers will do what the aristocrats will not. We will feed our people. We will clothe them. We will bring our country back from the brink of darkness. And someday, no more children will starve.”

“I wish he would shut up,” Morgan said, eyeing his da. Grace had to agree. Calvin was still standing over the sobbing Yulia, but his eyes were on Timur. His raging eyes. His hands were starting to glow blue, he was losing control of his magic.

“Brothers, we have fought a long and hard battle against the aristocrats. We have been ground down. Look at this, look at what they had kept in their store houses, stolen right out of the hands of the people. They leave us to starve, but we say no more! We will defeat them!”

Calvin turned, as though he would march up to Timur and tell him just what he thought. But May put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

She didn’t think to stop Victor, though. “When?” Victor called. The crowd hushed, and turned to see who had spoken. Timur, still all grins, said, “What was that, Brother Victor?” “I asked you when would we stop the aristocrats. Because these little raids are not doing anything.”

“I would not call this mountain of goods a little raid,” Timur said.

“I sure as hell would,” Victor replied. “Especially when you consider what we lost to get it. Or did you not even notice that we came back here a man short?”

Grace darted through the crowds to get to Victor, to shut him up. But it was far too late for that.

“Stand back, young wolf,” Timur said. “Your passion is admirable, but you are aiming it at the wrong man.”

“You think so?” Calvin called. Apparently May wasn’t able to keep him silent any longer. “All we do, all we have ever done is raid! We are the Brotherhood of the Broken Chain, and we act like a pack of thieves! Why are we not attacking the aristocrats? King Kurtis is old and mad, surely he could not stand against us.”

“I will not send men to die attacking the capital, Calvin,” Timur said. “Not even your magic light balls are going to take that castle down.”

“Maybe they would, if you were not too much of a coward to let me go find out,” Calvin snapped.

The entire village froze. They looked from Timur to Calvin, with Victor standing at his back. They waited.

“What did you just say to me?” Timur asked. “We all know you heard me,” Calvin snapped. “So how long will you treat us like a thieving crew, eh?” Timur’s eyes narrowed. He looked like he was trying to work out a puzzle. Grace waited. She felt like a deer who knows a hunter has her in his sights. “You, you young men might have a point,” Timur said. He nodded, looking them over. “Yes, I think you just might. I am older, of course. I have spent my life making sure our people were fed and safe. But maybe that is not enough anymore.”

Timur walked calmly up to Calvin, and put a hand on his shoulder. “You have such fire, such promise, young wolf. How about we see how far you can take that?”

Click here to preorder Falling From Grace.

Falling From Grace Prologue

And now, a special sneak peak at Falling From Grace

In a sparkling city of canals and magic, there is a prince named Victor. He is married to a strong headed princess, and they have two daughters who are the center of their world. Together they have fought monsters and men, and changed the course of their country, Septa, forever. 

But before Victor was a prince, he was a common man. And he loved another, a girl named Grace. This is her story. 


Thirteen years ago 

The night was black, the wind slicing cold. At a little house near the woods where creatures crept, scratched and howled, a girl sat in front of the door. She was barefoot, wrapped in a quilt, shivering. But she had to get out of the house for as long as she could stand the cold. The darkness and smell inside were too much for her.

Ma was coughing again, and sobbing. The sobs were so loud that Grace could hear them over the wind. A moment later they were stifled, and Grace could hear Yulia, the village’s other healer, talking. The wind was too harsh for her to hear her words.

Until she called for Grace. Grace swirled around and pulled the door open. The wind caught it and tried to drag it out of her hands. She had to use all of her strength to close it.

“Come and help me,” Yulia cried. Grace’s ma was jerking in the bed, her body twisting and convulsing. Her Da, lying next to her was still during this fit, ghastly still.

“Come here!” Yulia called again. Grace ran to the bed. The two of them turned Ma to the side, as flecks of spittle flew from the woman’s mouth.

Finally, she was still. Her chest rose and fell, and her breath was labored. But at least the terrible seizing was finished. “Good, good girl,” Yulia said. “Do not be running outside again. Get yourself to bed.”

“But, but Da,” Grace whispered. “There is no helping him now. I will move him out of your ma’s bed, but you are not strong enough to help with that. Now off to bed with you.”

Grace retreated to her bed, and fell on it. Her da was dead. What would she and her ma do without him? She settled into her blankets, and tried to do as she’d been told. But she just couldn’t close her eyes.

Eventually she dozed, as Yulia stoked the fire. Grace was never sure how long she slept, when she was woken someone walking past the foot of her bed.

She sat up, startled. It was Yulia, but she had her cloak on. And she was holding Grace’s ma’s book. The book of medicines and herb lore that had been her own ma’s legacy. It was black and leather bound. When it was closed, her ma tied it with a red ribbon. This now was missing. “What are you doing, Mistress Yulia?” Grace asked. “Rochelle next door is having her baby. I must go attend to her,” Yulia said, and turned to go with the book.

“Wait, but what about Ma?” she asked, struggling to get out of bed. “Yulia, what about my ma?” But Yulia was gone already. And a single glance towards the big bed showed Grace that there was nothing more she could have done for her ma anyway. Both of her parents lay still, their chests not rising.

And just like that, Grace was all alone. She thought at first that surely Yulia would return to help her, to tell her what to do. But she didn’t.

The fire was low, its warmth and light fading fast. Grace hurried to the wood pile next to the fireplace, and began feeding it logs. There weren’t many, and Grace prayed the few remaining would last her until dawn. With her parents now only husks that had been people, the thought of darkness was too much. She tried to think of good memories of her parents. There were many to choose from. But right then, she could only be aware of the ghastly lumps tucked into their bed. Grace huddled close to the fire and waited for Yulia to come back with her ma’s book.

She was still there, alone, when the sun came up.

The next day men came to take away her parents. One of them was Calvin, Rochelle’s man. He was also the da of May, June and Morgan, three little ones that Rochelle had occasionally asked Grace to help with in exchange for a few eggs or vegetables from her garden. He looked haggard, but was the only man to spare her any attention. “Little girl, are you hungry?” he asked.

“I, I do not know,” she whispered. He gave her a gentle smile. “Maybe you can come and help with the children while Rochelle heals? We do not have much to spare, but I will see that you have something for your help.”

“Thank you,” Grace said softly. “Did she have her baby?” Calvin’s face darkened. “I am afraid it was still born. The Sky did not smile on this village last night.”

A boy came in to the house a few moments later, Calvin’s little brother Victor. He was only a year older than Grace. “Calvin, Rochelle is missing. I cannot find her. Morgan is crying for her, I do not know where she could have gone.”

“Ah, damnation,” Calvin muttered. “Victor, do you know Grace? Maybe she can help you look after the little ones while I go and find that fool woman.”

Victor looked over Grace, her hair a mess and her dress stained. “Please, if you do not mind,” he said. “I do not know what to do with babies.”

“I can help, yes,” Grace said. “I will be happy to help you, Victor.”

Click here to preorder Falling From Grace.

Missing Stitches Chapter Three

Victor looked down at his breakfast plate. There sat three soft-boiled eggs, sausage, toast with honey and butter. There was a hot cup of rich tea steaming next to his plate. There had been a time, when he was a poor boy growing up in Montelair, that a meal like this would have seemed an incredible feast.

He dug into his food with relish, ignoring the tutting sounds from his mother-in-law.

“I’m surprised that Stella isn’t with you, Sultiana,” Lenore said.

“She’s gone back to Coveline to visit her family,” Sultiana said, glancing up from her plate. “It was long overdue, I think.”

“Lenore,” Devon said, leaning across the table. “Can I ask you something strange?”

“What kind of strange?” Lenore asked, scratching something out on her date book vindictively.

“Well, Sultiana and I have been feeling something since we arrived,” Devon said, “something familiar.”

“You remember that we had a strange black substance attacking our border with Kussier,” Sultiana said.

“Hard thing to forget,” Lenore said.

“Well, whenever we would stand near that Black, we’d feel something,”

“It made me feel, cold. It reminded me of the feeling you get when you wake up from a nightmare that you don’t remember,” Devon said.

Victor sat his fork down. “Almost like you’ve lost someone, but you’re not sure who, and you can’t find them?” he asked.

“Like that, yes,” Devon said.

“I’ve had that feeling,” Victor said. “Usually at night, when I’m preparing for bed, or waking in the morning.”

“I’ve felt that way, too,” Lenore said. “But it’s always gone by the time I dress. I thought it was just the stress of everything going on.”

“It is probably just this whole mess,” Victor said, taking another bite of his eggs. “It’s hard to feel right about anything.”

But Sultiana shook her head. “It’s not that. This is too familiar to discount. I think we should all keep track of when we’re feeling this darkness. Look for patterns.”

“We can do that,” Lenore said.

The dining room door opened and a palace runner slipped in. “Prince Victor,” he said, setting a tightly rolled scroll next to his plate.

“Thank you, Lad,” Victor said, opening it.

Come to my office, soon as you can, it read.

Victor crumpled the paper, shoving it into his pocket.

“Is something wrong?” Lenore asked.

“Nothing,” Victor said, getting to his feet. “Just a note from the gardener. Slugs are getting into the olive trees in the garden, and he needs me to approve something or other to kill them.”

“And you’ve got to run off from breakfast to deal with slugs?” Lorna asked.

“Well, the head gardener is out sick, it’s just his assistant right now,” Victor said. “Anyway, killing slugs sounds like a fun game this morning.”

Lenore arched her eyebrow. The code word game was often used between the two of them. He hoped that it implied that he’d tell her what was going on in truth later. “Oh, go on, Love. The last thing we need is slugs getting into the orchard.”

Victor plucked her hand from the table to kiss her knuckles before leaving.

He made his way to the lower levels of the palace. He hadn’t gone far, though, when he heard raised voices down a hallway that led to servant dormitories. Hoping that whatever the spymaster had for him could wait, he turned to head in the direction of the disturbance.

Much to his surprise, he found Butrus face-to-face with a palace servant, shouting at each other.

“Hey!” Victor bellowed, hoping just to be heard over the men. “What in the view of the Sky do you think you’re doing?”

“Prince, this man just started shoving me!” the guard said. “He’s gabbling away in that foreign language, and I can’t understand a word of it!”

“Prince Victor, this man was screaming at his wife,” Butrus said in Calistarian. “Am I permitted to discipline him, or do you wish to handle it yourself?”

“Do you speak Septan, Butrus?” Victor asked, also speaking in Calistarian.

“A little,” Butrus said.

“And what led you to believe that he was yelling at his wife?” Victor asked.

“I, well I heard shouting, and he was with––”

“So you just barged in on who knows what? Where is this woman, anyway?” he looked past the men, into the room. There was a woman sitting on the bed, someone he recognized.

“Daisy,” Victor said.

The woman was pulling a cotton dress over her petticoats. Once she was dressed, she smiled at him. “How are you? You haven’t come to see me in a long while, Victor.”

“Well, my lady might frown on it,” Victor replied. “Everything all right? My friend seems to think you were in some trouble.”

“No,” Daisy said, “I had a nice time. All that happened was that Jimmy couldn’t find his boots, and he was scared of being late. We stayed up a little late last night. He was being loud, but not at me.”

She came to the doorway and fluttered her eyelashes. “You know none of Lulu’s girls let ourselves get treated wrong,” she said.

“Good girl,” he said, “Sorry your morning was disturbed. Give Lulu and her old man my best, will you?”

“If she won’t spit it back at me,” Daisy replied.

“James, find your damned boots. And let’s have no more scenes on work mornings, all right?”

“Yes, Prince,” James replied before hurrying back into his room, presumably to continue the search for his boots.

“Butrus, come with me,” Victor said. “Right now.”

Butrus followed after Victor as they headed toward the noble visitor’s wing. “You don’t speak Septan, and you thought it all right to barge into a man’s room and start making a fuss,” Victor said.

“The woman seems to be a friend of yours, did you want her ill-treated?” Butrus asked.

“You did not hear her explain that he was not even yelling at her, because you don’t speak Septan!” Victor said. “Butrus, I cannot imagine that Sultiana needed extra muscle, so why did she bring you along?”

“I am to be the new ambassador,” Butrus said, looking defiant.

“Because you are so levelheaded and diplomatic,” Victor snapped. “I will not tell Sultiana and Devon about this, and you will never let it happen again. If you think that a man in my palace is mistreating a girl, get a guard.”

Without another word, he walked away.

* * * *

Talmadge Grace was sitting at her desk, sipping tea while she read over a stack of parchment. The office was barely recognizable since she’d taken it over. The desk was smaller than the old one, painted over with lacquer that made it glow red. The seats were plain but comfortable. The floor was swept clean around a blue rug that lay underfoot. A good lamp lit the room as there were no windows.

Talmadge herself was different. Her hair, which had been held back before in a messy braid had been cut. It was held away from her face with a steel clip in the shape of a bird. She wore breeches and a tunic with a cream vest, and good boots.

The most surprising change, Victor only saw when she looked up from her papers and stood to curtsy to him. After her bow, she stood straight and looked him in the eye.

“I am sorry to have kept you waiting,” Victor said.

“No need to apologize, Prince,” Talmadge said, “This is nothing crucial. I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk to you since you’ve returned.”

“My fault as much as anybody’s,” Victor said.

“Well, it’s good that you’re back,” Talmadge said. “Both you and the princess.”

“I have gotten some idea of that, yes,” Victor said. He took a seat at the desk. “What is going on with this noble uprising?”

Talmadge shook her head. “Prince Joseph is the trouble, not anyone else. I know that Lord David is angry about his bastard brother’s lordship, but James has been a lord for quite some time.”

“Since King Lyonal’s days, from what I understand,” Victor said, naming his grandfather-in-law.

“Yes,” Talmadge said. “Lord Constantine siding with the prince is easier to understand. He’s always been one too fond of power, and if his daughter is married to Hank, he’ll have power aplenty. But still, it seems strange that so many of the common people have sided with them.”

“When I hear that someone has gained influence so quickly, I hear the sound of gold clicking,” Victor said.

“Generally I agree,” Talmadge said, “and it’s a possibility. I know that the head of the merchant’s guild is unhappy about the changes Princess Lenore’s been pushing for. The last thing he wants is foreign merchants flooding his markets. He’s not too happy about the women inheriting businesses either. I wouldn’t put it past him to throw some gold at the problem.”

Just then, what had appeared to be a solid wall behind Talmadge opened in the center, revealing a small door. A young boy, a chimney sweep judging by the soot in his hair, popped into the room. He froze when he saw Victor.

“It’s all right, Lad,” Victor said.

The boy hesitated for only another second before saying, “Miss, Prince Joseph’s at the front steps of the palace. He’s wanting an audience with Princess Lenore.”

“Lenore?” Talmadge asked, getting to her feet, “What does he want with her?”

“Perhaps he is going to apologize and swear his fealty,” Victor said, causing Talmadge to release a mirthless laugh.

“You’d better get up there and keep an eye on the princess. She’s bound to be too trusting of her uncle,” she said.

“But, Miss, that’s the other thing,” the boy said, “Princess Lenore and Queen Sultiana left. They went into the city.”

“They did what?” Talmadge cried. “Bobby, why didn’t you tell me?”

“That’s what I’m doing now, Miss,” the boy said, giving her an incredulous look. “I only heard that the other prince was here when I was already on my way.”

“Send someone to tail her,” Talmadge muttered. She was reaching for her cloak.

“I will go meet with Joseph,” Victor said. “I grow tired of this family squabbling.”

He hurried to find the king.

Samuel and Devon were in the family sitting room. “Does anyone know where those girls ran off to?” he asked.

“Lenore got an urgent message from the temple just after you left,” Devon said. “Sultiana went with her.”

“I find myself missing Anthony, just now,” Victor said.

“What do we think Uncle Joe’s here for?” Devon asked.

Samuel laughed. “You know your uncle. He’s probably going to come right in as though nothing was ever wrong.”

A guard came to the door. “Prince Joseph Mestonie,” he said, holding the door open for Victor’s uncle-in-law.

Like his older brothers, Joseph was a big man, with a small goatee and mustache, well-trimmed. He wore his dark hair to his shoulders and was dressed entirely in Mestonie blue, save his boots.

He also wore a sword on his belt. Victor wore no weapons, neither did Samuel. The only blade in the room, aside from Joseph’s, was on Devon’s belt.

“Joe,” Samuel said. “Get in here next to the fire, Man.”

Joseph stayed by the door, with two of his own guards flanking him. They both wore the same red owl on their breasts that Victor had noticed through the city. “Samuel,” Joseph said. “I came to see Lenore, not you.”

“Lenore’s indisposed,” Samuel said.

“You mean you’ve hidden her away,” Joseph replied. “What have you done to that girl, Sam?”

“What in The Creator’s name are you talking about?” Samuel asked. “Come in and say hello to your nephews. Lenore will be here when she can.”

Joseph cast a dark look at Victor and Devon. “These men are not my nephews. If you don’t release her, I’ll turn this palace upside down.”

Victor took a step toward him. “I do not think we have met. I am Victor Mestonie, Lenore is my wife.”

“My niece is not your wife, Peasant,” Joseph spat. “Samuel, I am at the end of my patience. You stand there, with your wife’s bastard son as though he’s yours. You allow this Montelarian commoner to hurt our Lenore. You allowed your true son to die, and for what? Did Octavian find out something you didn’t want him to know? Samuel, what are you hiding?”

Devon was on his feet. “What did you just say about me?” he growled. Victor was surprised. He wasn’t accustomed to seeing Devon stirred to anger.

“I said that you are a bastard, the son of some commoner your whore mother entertained,” Joseph said, “Now you’re sitting on the Calistar throne. You’re nothing but a farce. And you,” he turned to Victor. “You animal. I’ll see you gutted for what you’ve done to my niece.”

“You should be glad Lenore is not here,” Victor said. “The things you are saying about her brother may make her forget that she is a noblewoman. Let alone your insinuations about me.”

“You are speaking like a madman,” Samuel said. “Joe, have you been drinking?”

Joseph smirked. Victor felt cold. There was something wrong about Joseph, even more than his actions suggested. There seemed to be a coldness coming from him. Korhzik must have felt it as well, because he clung to Victor’s shoulder, crouched down with his ears laid back.

“If you’ve nothing to hide, let me speak to Lenore. Alone, so that she may speak freely to me.”

“I’m sure Lenore will be happy to speak with you when she is available,” Samuel said.

“No,” Joseph said. He turned from them, his guards hurrying to open the door. “Search the palace,” he said to them, “Everything from the tower to the cellars. I will find her, Samuel. And if you’ve hurt her, I’ll kill you where you stand!”

Victor stormed after them, praying that Lenore was safe at the temple.


Missing Stitches Chapter Two

Devon leaned over the railing of his ship, the StarS Cobra, watching as the afternoon sun and the Great Gate of Septa drew closer. The wind blew through his dark curly hair, chilling his face. He’d forgotten how cold it could be outside of the desert. The skies were cloudy, and the waters of the Dragon Tears River were choppy.

It had been raining when he’d left Septa, too.

In Calistar, where everything was still new and foreign, it had been easier to set aside his grief for his older brother, Octavian. It hadn’t gone away, not by any means. But there hadn’t been painful memories waiting around every corner.

He and Octavian had come out to the bay to fish when the weather was good. Sometimes they’d caught enough for the whole family to eat dinner. Or, if they didn’t, the servants had slipped a few extra in.

He was relieved when his wife, Sultiana, joined him. She put her arms around him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder. She was only a bit shorter than him, with dark brown skin and a thick black braid that she coiled around her head like a crown. They both wore white silk, the mark of Calistar nobility.

“You look weary, Honored Husband,” she said. “I thought you’d be happy. We’re going to see your family, our new nieces.”

“I am happy, for the most part,” Devon said. “I’m excited to see my mother and Lenore. Even Victor.”

“And your father?” she asked.

Devon grimaced. “That’s another matter. How did you know?”

“It’s my job to know such things. I’ve never understood your relationship with your father,” Sultiana said.

“Of course not,” Devon said. “Your father was perfect. He accepted my weaving, taught me everything he could. His life obviously revolved around you and your sisters. My own father, well. He’s always been a nobleman first.”

“Your father loves you,” Sultiana said.

“I know he does,” Devon said. He turned around to pull Sultiana against him. Around them, sailors and soldiers from each of the five tribes grinned at their king and queen’s obvious affection for each other.

“What about you, though?” he asked, “You look like you’ve been crying.”

She gave him a sad smile. “My courses came,” she said.

“Oh,” Devon said. “Well, I mean, you couldn’t have been pregnant again.”

“No, I know,” she said, nodding. “It’s just a reminder. I’d have been showing by now.”

“We’ll get a baby,” Devon said. He set his forehead on hers and smiled. “I imagine it’ll be lots of fun trying, too.”

“Lots, yes,” Sultiana said, chuckling. She looked toward the gate. “Do you think Chrissie will be all right back home?”

“She’ll do great,” Devon said, thinking of his assertive and strong-minded sister-in-law. “She’s got Kadar, Gia, Shilom, and Sabre to help her.”

Thinking of the people they’d left behind brought his thoughts to the friends that had come with them.

Saja, Sultiana’s chief adviser, was coaxing her falcon down from a piece of the rigging. She was dressed in Smith Tribe red with newly cropped hair, holding a bit of flatbread for him.

Devon couldn’t see Butrus, the bulking Farmers Tribesman who was to be their new ambassador to Septa. But this wasn’t uncommon. Butrus had spent most of the trip keeping to himself.

Sultiana’s assistant, Mergin, was talking with an uncomfortable looking sailor. She wore Smith red as well, a long skirt and tunic. Her skin was honey colored, her eyes heavy with kohl.

“Will you change into Septan clothing while we’re here?” Sultiana asked.

Devon considered his clothes. He wore a pair of white silk pants and a loose-fitting tunic with a vest over it. A cloth belt wrapped around his waist, into which, he’d tucked his ornate dagger. His leather boots were laced over his pants, reaching halfway to his knees. “I don’t know,” he said. “It might be a little cold, wearing this.”

Mergin, apparently done with the sailor, came to join them. “Sire, I wonder if I could ask you some questions about Septa. I’ve never been there. Actually, I’ve never been outside of Calistar.”

Devon almost laughed. It had taken fighting in a war together for Mergin to feel comfortable talking to him. Even so, she did so only when she thought it necessary.

“I wish our people would travel more,” Devon said. “Not just the Scholars and Traders Tribes. Everyone should see more of the world.”

“Do Septans travel often?” Mergin asked.

“No, as a matter of fact, they don’t,” Devon said. “I wish they did, too. I think we’d all be a lot better off if we saw more of the world than where we were born.”

Trumpets started to blare at the Great Gate, announcing their arrival.

The ship pulled into the dock. Waiting for them were the Lords Monroe and James. They were accompanied by a handful of guards, who were keeping a close eye on the crowds on the boardwalk.

Sultiana shivered. “Something feels strange,” she said, looking up at Devon.

“What in The Creator’s name is this?” Devon whispered, looking around the surrounding docks. They were crowded with people shouting at the Calistarians as they left the ship.

“Prince,” Monroe called, waving for him. Devon walked down the plank to meet him. “No,” he corrected himself. “You’re a king now.”

“It’s still just Devon, please,” he replied, reaching out to shake his hand. He and Monroe had faced the Dragon Plague together. He couldn’t bear such formality from him.

“Of course,” Monroe said, grinning. “My friend, I am so happy to see you.”

“Gladder than the city might be,” James said, clapping Devon on the shoulder. “Keep your bow close, Devon. Ah, Queen Sultiana. It is good to see you again, Your Majesty.”

James bowed to her, and she inclined her head politely. “Where is my Honored Father-in-law? Is he unwell?” she asked.

James grimaced. “I’m afraid he is dealing with a situation that couldn’t wait. He asked me to escort you to the palace.”

“What was so important that he couldn’t come himself?” Devon asked.

“We should talk at the palace,” Monroe said, glancing around.

Two gondolas were waiting for them. Devon, Sultiana, Stella, and Mergin joined James in the first, while the others climbed aboard the second with Monroe.

“I was only making a suggestion,” Devon heard Butrus say to Saja. “You don’t need to scratch my eyes out, Woman.”

“You are not my father, brother, uncle, or even a member of my tribe,” Saja snapped. “You’ve got no right to speak to me about my veil, Herdsman.”

Devon turned back, intending to chide them. As he did, someone in the crowd threw something at Saja. She jumped sideways into the gondola just in time to avoid a rotten egg. “Go home, sand whore!” the thrower yelled.

Devon was on his feet, his bow in his hand. He shot toward the man, catching his jacket sleeve and pinning him to the wall behind. He looked back at the other gondola in time to see Butrus raise an eyebrow at Saja.

“Oh don’t say a word. They’d have thrown that whether I’d had my veil on or not,” Saja snapped.

Devon remained standing as the gondola starting moving, his bow in his hand. James did the same. People along the boardwalks shouted obscenities at the Calistarians. He heard a few Sapphic slurs as well, causing him to glance toward Monroe when their gondolas pulled next to each other.

“My secret’s out, yes,” Monroe said. “My dear mother let it slip before she left the court.”

“Your mother?” Devon asked.

“Yes,” Monroe said with a sigh. “I suppose now that Larissa has made such a fine marriage, she no longer saw a reason to hide me away. It’s made getting around town problematic.”

“Honored Husband,” Sultiana said, “I don’t understand this welcome. It’s dishonorable of your father not to meet us himself. And even more so to greet us with a city in such uproar.”

“I agree,” Devon said.

“You haven’t seen the worst of it,” James said, softly. When Devon gave him a questioning look, he added, “You’ll see when we arrive. But Devon, I think Lenore is going to need your help.”

Suddenly a crossbow bolt shot across the front of the gondola, nearly cutting Sultiana’s face. James turned, bow in hand, but Sultiana was already on her feet. She pulled a throwing knife from her sleeve and, with a flick of her wrist, buried it into the forehead of the shooter. “Can a guard retrieve that for me?” she asked. “It was a gift from a friend.”

* * * *

Devon was thankful that they reached the palace with no more incidents. The public lawn was sparsely populated with minor nobility and palace guards.

At the foot of the stairs waited Lady Hannah and Devon’s brother-in-law, Victor. Hannah was dressed all in black. The sight of her was a knife in Devon’s heart. She should have been his sister-in-law. Octavian should be there, meeting them at the dock and furious at the angry crowds.

“Devon,” Victor said. “I am glad to see you. And, um, is it permitted that I speak with the Calistar queen now?”

“It is,” Sultiana said. “We’re working to change our laws back home. Even if we weren’t, you’re family now.”

“Then I am happy to see you as well, Sister,” Victor said. “It is good for Lenore that you are here, I think.” His Montelarian accent was thicker since his visit.

“Victor, what’s happening here?” Devon asked.

“I only know what Lenore tells me,” Victor said, as they headed up the stairs into the palace. “I have been spending much of my time with Queen Lorna, learning how to keep the palace. It is a lot more work than I realized, keeping house. Lenore is with the king right now. We’ll take you to your rooms so that you can settle in. Then, would you like to see the girls?”

Devon realized with a jolt that he wasn’t heading toward the suit of rooms that he’d grown up in. They were going, instead, to the rooms designed for Calistar dignitaries. He was also surprised the first time a guard bowed to Victor in the hall. It was just another reminder that he wasn’t a Septa prince anymore, Victor was. It was a strange thing, he thought, being a guest in what had been his home.

The Calistar rooms were designed to be as close to their own palace as possible. The carpets were made of red, green, orange, yellow, and blue for the five tribes. An altar to the gods and goddesses was tucked into one corner. When Devon went into the bedroom, he found a mattress on the floor, rather than one that was propped up on a stand as was customary in Septa.

“I will let you settle yourselves in,” Victor said.

“Thanks,” Devon said, looking around.

Victor turned to leave but stopped. “Devon,” he said, “are you all right?”

“I feel strange,” he said.

Victor nodded. “I think I may understand. When I went home to Montelair, I felt as though everything I had known, everything I remembered, was different. Places I’d known my whole childhood were alien to me.”

“That sounds just like how I feel,” Devon said.

Once Devon and Sultiana had gotten their things put away and changed, they left the others to settle into their rooms and headed to the family sitting room.

“I didn’t realize this would be so hard on you,” Sultiana said.

“I don’t think it’s just coming home, and everything being strange the way Victor was describing,” Devon said. “There’s something strange here, something wrong. I feel like there’s a shadow over everything.”

“You feel it, too?” Sultiana asked, “I thought I was imagining it. Devon, I feel the same as I did when I stood next to the Black.”

“It does feel that way, now that you mention it,” Devon said.

They entered the sitting room to find Victor sitting with Queen Lorna. An air of uncomfortable silence permeated the air.

“Oh, Devon!” Lorna cried. She stood, rustling her great silk gown. She looked just as she ever had, her thick hair coiled in a neat bun, her clothes impeccable.

“And, Sultiana. I’m so sorry I wasn’t at the dock to meet you.”

“Yes, why weren’t you there?” Sultiana asked, coolly. “It almost felt like a snub. I understand that my brother-in-law is a prince and a great noble, but even he only met us at the door.”

“I am sorry, Dear, but there was quite a lot of activity in the streets today,” Lorna said.

“We did notice that. Someone took a shot at us on the way here,” Sultiana said, “It seems that, if my honored father-in-law knew that this was going on, he should have warned us. We still would have come.”

Lorna looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know, Sultiana, dear. You’ll have to speak to Samuel about that. He and Lenore are in a meeting right now with the city guards.”

At that moment, the sound of porcelain shattering came from the room next to them. It was followed almost instantly by Lenore’s screaming.

“Oh, already?” Devon cried. He hurried next door, Sultiana right behind him.

When they entered the meeting hall, they saw Robert Carr, the general of army recruiting, was holding his hands up to protect himself. A puddle of porcelain and tea was on the floor next to him. Lenore was on her feet, facing him.

“I have had it to the top with your condescending tone, Sir! I’m not some girl in two tails who’s never seen a battle before. And if you don’t watch yourself, I’ll show you some things I learned in Montelair!”

Samuel sat back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Maybe it’s best that we leave it there for now. In fact, I think a good rule should be that once cups start flying the meeting is over. Can I trust you to stop by tomorrow, General?”

“Of…of course,” Robert said, giving Lenore a wary look. Carr, a man who had been involved in every altercation Septa had taken part in since he’d come of age, nearly ran from the room in his haste to get away from Lenore. From the look on her face, Devon didn’t blame him.

“Devon,” Samuel said, getting to his feet and coming to greet them. “It’s so good to see you, Son.”

“It’s good to see you too, Papa,” Devon said. “Seems like things are a little tense.”

“A temporary nonsense,” Samuel said.

“Bosh,” Lenore said. “We can’t get through the damned streets without someone spitting on my children. Devon, Sultiana, I’m happy to see you. I’ve missed you horribly. Go home tomorrow.”

“Why?” Sultiana asked.

“Because Septa is one misstep away from being a war zone,” she replied. “And the last thing we need right now is more noble targets.”

“It isn’t as bad as all that, Bug,” Samuel said.

Victor snorted. “Sire, I am well aware what an angry populace looks like. In Montelair, they were just hungry. These people think that you’re endangering their immortal souls.”

“Let’s go into the sitting room, and have something to eat,” Samuel said, “Devon and Sultiana just got here. They don’t need to hear all of this now.”

“I’m all right,” Sultiana said. “I’m feeling very alert, actually. Someone tried to kill me on the way here, after all.”

“Which is why I want you to go home,” Lenore said.

“Nonsense,” Sultiana said. She pulled out a chair from the table and sat down.

“Sultiana, please understand that it’s highly improper for us to discuss matters of state with a foreign noblewoman,” Samuel said. “Even if you are my daughter-in-law.”

“Bullshit,” Lenore muttered. “Sultiana, our noblemen are in near open rebellion.”

The king gave Lenore a stern look that she either didn’t notice or ignored. “Lords Constantine and David left for Uncle Joseph’s country estate. Since then, we believe that they’ve been encouraging rebellion within the city.”

“They didn’t leave quietly, either,” Victor said, “David tried to force Hannah to come with him. She scratched up his face.”

“Hannah is David’s daughter?” Sultiana asked.

“Yes, and Daniel is his son,” Samuel said, apparently giving up. “They’ve stayed to serve the court. But they, Lewis, Howard, and Harper are all that we have left.”

“And Joan,” Lenore said. “Which surprised me, to tell you the truth.”

“Our cousin, Joan?” Devon asked, “Joseph’s own daughter stayed?”

“Yes, but Hank and Larissa left,” Samuel said.

Victor took a seat at the table, sighing. “If it were only some nobles in a huff, this would not be a bad situation. But it is more than that. The people are angry as I am sure you saw.”

“What are they so angry about?” Devon asked.

“Sapphic’s rights,” Lenore said, glaring at her father. “Most of the city seems to think that being Sapphic is a sin. Of course, it didn’t help that Papa made it illegal for them to be married.”

“They’re mad about more than just Sapphics,” Samuel said. “They’re mad about the way the war ended. They’re mad about the inheritance laws changing.”

“They’re mad about me,” Lenore said.

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