Between Spindle (Two Monarchies #1) and the upcoming Blackfoot (Two Monarchies #2), I’ve decided to release two novellas in my (currently) three novella series Shards Of A Broken Sword. The first, Twelve Days Of Faery, should be published shortly before Christmas, and the second, Fire In The Blood, will hopefully be released just a month or so after the first. As you may guess, that means I’ve been VERY busy. I’ve been using a different process for the novellas, too; and so far it’s been wonderfully effective and quite reasonably enjoyable. Then, in between writing and plotting, I’ve been ferreting through stock images and premade covers to find suitable covers for suitably low prices. When I get bored with THAT, I start picking out excerpts of Twelve Days Of Faery to show you all. Lucky you, huh?
In Twelve Days Of Faery, King Markon of Montalier is at the end of his tether. His son, Prince Parrin, is afflicted with a rather nasty curse that slaughters, maims, or brutally attacks any woman with whom he so much as flirts. After the rumour that sweeps around the kingdom, promising that any woman breaking the ‘curse’ will be eligible to marry the prince, there is no shortage of willing volunteers. Unfortunately, there is also no shortage of bodies piling up.
Markon needs to do something, but what? Can a visiting enchantress from Avernse help, or is she simply another accident waiting to happen? And will Markon be able to give her up to his son if she does break the curse?
Well, that’s it from me! Spindle is on a whirlwind tour with Prism Book Tours, so I’ll be tweeting about that during the week, with a quick post midweek to catch up with all the action. In the meantime, do enjoy this sneak peek from Twelve Days Of Faery!
Still, when Markon introduced Althea to Parrin, she didn’t seem particularly coy. She curtsied to him with less depth than she had curtseyed to Markon, and said in an offhand manner: “You’re rather prettier than I expected from the portraits.”
Parrin bowed and smiled, but he looked as though he was no more sure than Markon was that he’d been given a compliment.
“I understand that you have a rather difficult problem,” continued Althea. She was remarkably business-like for a girl who had just been discussing marriage. Not a maidenly smoothing of the hair or sparkle of the eye. “I have a little bit of an idea about it. May I ask questions?”
“Of course,” said Parrin. He was cautiously admiring her, though Markon was pleased to see that he didn’t go so far as to smile. The boy was thoughtless, but Markon would like to think that he wasn’t so careless as to potentially endanger Althea.
“The first two girls, the fiancées–”
“Both of those were accounted to be accidents, weren’t they?”
“Yes, lady. The countess was thrown from her horse in the courtyard and the princess was attacked by bandits when she returned home from a visit.”
“How long between the betrothal and the death for the countess?”
“A few weeks,” said Parrin, tugging at the cuffs of his jacket. He had been very fond of the girl, thought Markon with a pang: he had also been the one to find her.
“A few months.”
Althea frowned, a quick, reflexive action. “You weren’t immediately engaged again afterward, were you?”
“No: I met Jeannie at court and we stepped out a few times. She disappeared before it even got about that we were thinking of each other. After that it seemed to take less and less to activate the curse.”
“What set it off most recently?”
“I smiled at the girl,” said Parrin glumly. Markon couldn’t blame him: he remembered what it was like to be Parrin’s age, and the idea of being unable to so much as kiss a girl without something unfortunate happening to her was horrible to contemplate.
“And how long was it before it took effect?”
“A few days,” said Parrin.
“I see,” said Althea. “Stand up, please.”
Parrin did so, looking rather nonplussed.
To Markon she said: “Would you hold this? Thank you,” and pressed something circular and metallic into his hand. He looked down at the ring, somehow more real in his hand than it had looked on her finger, and took far too long to realise what she was doing. When he finally did understand, Markon started forward, his hand closing around the ring convulsively. By then Althea was on tiptoes with her hands cupping Parrin’s face, kissing the boy with some force and not a little skill if his reaction was anything to judge by.
Markon felt a rush of molten anger unlike anything he’d ever felt before. He didn’t think he moved or even thought, caught up in the stunning heat of it, but that was his hand gripping Althea’s arm with white fingers and tearing her away from Parrin, and that was his other hand shoving the ring back on her finger, his own slightly shaking.
Althea, her eyes rather big but not at all frightened, said a thoughtful: “Ow,” up at him.
It was left to Parrin’s rather frantic: “Dad! Dad, she didn’t mean any harm!” to bring him to the realisation that he’d clutched Althea to his chest, and that he’d not been gentle about it. Parrin was evidently of the persuasion that his father objected to what could technically be called an assault on a royal personage.
Markon, breathing heavily through his nose, released Althea. She hadn’t struggled at all and now merely smoothed her dress and hair as though she hadn’t just put herself wantonly in danger.
“You said you were going to work from the outside!” Markon said furiously.
“No, I didn’t,” said Althea, and there was a suggestion of stubbornness to her mouth. “I said I could if it made you uncomfortable. I also said it would make more sense to investigate from the inside. You didn’t object.”
“I object!” said Markon in exasperation. “I object very much!”
“Well, it’s too late now,” Althea said reasonably. “And it’s proved remarkably useful, too. For instance, I’m now quite sure that you’re not dealing with a curse– well, not in any technical sense of the word, anyway.”
“What?” demanded Markon, in less than cordial tones.
“I was already pretty certain it wasn’t,” she told him. “None of the girls have anything clinging to them—well, apart from some rather nasty magic, totally unconnected with the prince—and neither does the prince. As a matter of fact, they all seem to have– at any rate, I could only be certain that there was no curse by taking off the ring.”
“And putting yourself in exactly the kind of danger I didn’t want you to be in!” said Markon testily. “I’ve a good mind to send you packing!”
“No, you don’t,” said Althea.
“Of course I don’t!” groaned Markon. She’d achieved more in a couple of hours than any of the girls (or in fact any of the enchanters he’d called in) had achieved in the last couple of years.
“Parrin can’t be expected to live his life locked away from women–”
“I should think not!” said Parrin feelingly.
“–and it’s not good for your kingdom, either. After a while you get people making snide remarks about the crown sacrificing the people on the altar of succession, and then–”
“Small disturbances that become bigger ones,” finished Markon, meeting her eyes. “Factions forming across the court and perhaps an accident or two for myself and Parrin.”
Althea nodded. “Exactly. I’m rather good at this sort of thing, actually. Try to trust me a little.”
“You have a fortnight,” said Markon.