Click to Enlarge

Ten Kingdoms
Book Two Of The Firebrand Trilogy
Click one of the above links to purchase an eBook.

ISBN-10: 1-77115-122-6
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Medieval
eBook Length: 167 Pages
Published: July 2013



From inside the flap

A plot to overthrow the Ten Kingdoms has been discovered, but the only ones who know of it are a band of fugitives wanted for murder and treason. They barely escaped Castle Sovereign with their lives and have spent the last year in hiding. But now the time has come to strike back against House Andrassis. The only hope they have is finding a way to warn the kingdoms who are not part of the plot and rally them under the same banner. Which is exactly what Jada Suvari intends to do.

Being daughter of the High King ensures that Jada will get an audience with any monarch she chooses to visit, but it will be no easy thing to tell a friend from an enemy and a single slip could cost them all their lives. Against the wishes of her friends, Jada enlists the help of a telepathic mage. A man whose loyalty can be bought. A man who once worked for the enemy. A man who may prove to be their undoing.

Ten Kingdoms (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

Carlan sat alone on the flat roof of the two-story adobe house. Alone, not because he tired of the company of his friends, but because he needed space to think. To brood, really, and brooding is best done alone.

The sky was clear and blue, the heat beat down on his head, but he hardly noticed. He stared down at his hands, flexed his fingers. There was pain still, at times, but it was faint. A memory.

It had taken the better part of a year, but he was finally healed. It hadn’t been easy relearning to do things that had once come as natural as breathing. Lifting a glass of water, buttoning his own shirt, turning a doorknob, and a million other things he once did with his hands without even thinking about it. He thought about it now. If there was one thing he’d learned over this past year, it was that nothing should be taken for granted.

But he hadn’t tried his fire yet. No one had pushed, no one had even mentioned it, but he could see the question in their eyes at times. While Jada practiced and learned, he hid behind his pain and his fear. Fear that the fire wouldn’t come, that he had been damaged in some way not to be seen by the eye. Or worse, that it would come, but he would be unable to control it.

He’d have to try it eventually, he knew. They couldn’t stay here forever, couldn’t pretend that there weren’t things they should be doing, and Carlan had a feeling that Verdin would have suggested they move on long before now if not for him.

A familiar cry drew Carlan’s eyes skyward. A gryphon approached, its cobalt blue feathers gleaming in the sunlight. Carlan jumped to his feet, his heart hammering against his chest. All thoughts of his hands and his fire were wiped away as he watched Moonlight dip low toward the roof. Darlois waved from the saddle, but Carlan couldn’t bring himself to wave back. He felt light headed and somewhat sick to his stomach.

Where Darlois had been the last three months and what he had been doing were two things Carlan had worked very hard not to think about. It was all too confusing. And now, as he stood there waiting for the gryphon to land, that confusion hit him full force. He would have to ask Darlois a very important question, and he wasn’t entirely certain what he wanted the answer to be.

Moonlight made a surprisingly light landing on the roof, despite her size. Darlois dismounted. Carlan felt frozen in place, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His palms were slick with sweat; he wiped them against his pants. Darlois took a step toward him.

The door which led back into the house swung open and Verdin strode out onto the roof. "I thought I heard... " His lips pinched when he saw Darlois.

"Good morning, my friend." Darlois’ grin was a flash of white against his brown skin. His accent, decidedly Duskan, drew the words out syllable by syllable so that "morning" sounded like "morn-ing."

Verdin folded his arms across his chest. "Good morning? That’s all you have to say? You leave without so much as a goodbye, stay gone for three months, and all you have to say to me is ’good morning’?"

"There was a note."

"A note that didn’t tell me anything except that you had to go and that I shouldn’t worry, and you’d be back. That’s not much of a note. Care to explain yourself?"

Darlois glanced at Carlan. "The explaining is not mine to do."

Verdin looked at Carlan as well. "Is that right?"

Carlan flushed, wishing he could be anywhere but where he was at this moment. He’d pretended not to know what Darlois was about all this time and it hadn’t been easy, lying to his best friend, but the truth was too hard to say. He supposed if Verdin was angry with him now, he deserved it.

"Carlan?" Verdin was still looking at him with green eyes so like Marlina’s and Carlan could only look down at the toes of his scuffed boots and wish he was a braver man.

Verdin sighed. "You don’t want to talk about it. Fine. But I’ll have you know I’m angry with the both of you for keeping secrets. We’re all friends here; we should be able to talk to each other."

Carlan’s flush deepened, but still he couldn’t speak. It made him feel ashamed, that he had asked Darlois to do what he should have done, that he had pushed his friend into breaking a promise.

"Perhaps I should fly away again," Darlois said. "If I am no longer welcome."

A smile twitched at the corners of Verdin’s lips. "I’m not that angry." Then his lips spread into a genuine grin as he unfolded his arms. "Welcome back."

Carlan drifted toward the stairs. Now was not the time to find out what had happened while Darlois was away, best to leave the two of them to their reunion and save the question for another time.

The stairs took him down into the kitchen, where he found Jada at the counter, using a pestle to ground wheat into flour. The sleeves of her ill-fitting brown dress were rolled up to her elbows; her long black hair was braided in piles atop her head, as was the custom here.

"Did I hear what I thought I heard?" she asked without looking up.

"Darlois is back." Carlan leaned against the opposite side of the counter, which stood free in the middle of the kitchen.

"It’s about time." Jada swept the ground wheat into a bowl. "Maybe now Verdin will have no more reason to mope around like a petulant child."

"Yes, because only the princess is allowed to do that," Esren said from the doorway which led into the sitting room. He leaned against the frame, a smile on his lips.

Jada rolled her amber eyes. "Who asked your opinion anyway? And what is that absurd smile about?"

"You, grinding wheat. No matter how many times I see it, I simply can’t get used to you doing household chores. It’s seems so... so contrary to your nature."

Jada turned and sat the bowl beside the sink. "I suppose time and circumstance can change anyone. Even a spoiled princess."

"Not too much, I hope," Esren said, coming into the room. "I rather liked you the way you were. Well, most of the time."

Jada placed the bowl into the sink and took hold of the pump handle. "You, sir, are entirely too insolent; you forget your place." Two pumps and the spigot coughed up a stream of water. As they were in the dead center of a desert kingdom, water was to only be used in the most sparing of ways.

Once a month, each household that could afford to buy wheat was allowed to make a loaf of bread, a luxury afforded only because this was the capitol city of Dusk, where water was in better supply than in other areas of the kingdom.

"I know my place." Esren stepped up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. "Right here."

Carlan decided it was time to make another prudent exit. He went through the sitting room and out the front door to the patio, hoping here he would find no further reminders of how alone he was. But it was too late. Already his thoughts were drifting toward Marlina, as they still did with painful frequency.

It didn’t help one bit that tomorrow was the anniversary. No one had spoken of that either and perhaps neither Jada nor Esren realized it, and why should they? They weren’t there when it happened. But Carlan was thinking about it and he had no doubt that Verdin and Darlois were as well. It was too much of a coincidence for Darlois to have just happened to return home today.

Hardy cacti grew along the border of the patio, each bearing tiny yellow flowers. Marlina had always loved flowers. Carlan didn’t even need to close his eyes to see her red hair shining in the sun, her blue-green eyes sparkling. The dry wind seemed to carry the sound of her laughter and he could almost feel the touch of her hand in his.

"I would speak with you."

Carlan jumped and whirled around. He’d not heard Darlois slip behind him. Not surprising, considering the man’s former occupation, but unnerving nonetheless. "You startled me."

"I apologize. I did not mean to sneak. Old habits." His expression was somber. "I am sure you are most anxious to know what has passed these months I was away."

Carlan felt a thickness in his throat that would not allow him to speak. So he merely nodded and waited, certain he knew what Darlois was about to say.

"I went to the manor house, but Tarel was not there. He was not anywhere near."

It took a moment for these words to sink into Carlan’s brain. "Not there? But... So then you didn’t... " But he couldn’t bring himself to say the words.

"No. I asked around, but could only find rumors. Once, I would have followed each until I did find him. But sadly it would seem I am not so much the assassin anymore. It would have taken many months more to track him, and the anniversary was much on my mind. I did not think Verdin should be alone tomorrow and I wanted to make certain my friends were safely where I left them. I make an apology. I dishonor myself."

"No," Carlan said, shaking his head. "It’s no dishonor to worry about your friends. Besides, Verdin was making us all crazy worrying about you. It’s better you came back. My brother can keep for now. I suppose there are more important things we should be thinking about."

Darlois smiled. "Family does make one’s life complicated, does it not?"

Carlan gazed at him curiously. There was a question that had been nagging at the back of his mind since they landed on Fidor’s doorstep, but Carlan had never found the right time, or way, to ask it.

"Darlois, I was wondering if I could ask you something, but I don’t want to offend." Carlan knew how serious Darlois was on the matter of honor and custom and, friends though they were, he didn’t want to say the wrong thing.

"You would ask of my family, yes? You wonder why my brother is so displeased to have me in his home."

"I don’t want you to talk about it if it’s too painful." For Carlan knew much too well the kind of pain family could put you through.