The second book in The Asphodel Cycle, The Redemption of Asphodel, will be available for pre-order on May 30 on Amazon, and will go on sale June 6. Check out my website and Amazon author's page for more details!
Chapter One (partial)
Two hours later, I joined the men in the library, freshly clad in a warm, loose woolen gown and with my damp hair hanging down my back. As I walked in, Mariol saluted me with his glass. “Today was beautifully done, Tamsen.”
“I don’t see what was so beautiful about it,” I said irritably. “I got stuck in the middle of this entire mess, which is precisely where I didn’t want to be.”
“I think that at this point, you need to be right in the middle of it,” Mariol corrected me. “You don’t need to be some center of activity away from the Court now. Let’s keep you as the mediator and above the messy politics. That will serve us better in the long run.”
I gave him a steady look. “Mariol, if I were away from the Court, the last thing I would be is a center of activity. I need to rest, as you well know, and this will not help matters much. We can’t afford for me to collapse, especially since we have no idea where Spesialle is or what he’s planning.”
“Is your health still that bad?” Mylan asked with a frown.
I sighed, toying with the glass of wine Anner had handed me. “Magic takes a great deal of strength. Even when doing normal magic, it takes days for a mage to recover from a huge output of power. The weakness caused by the greater magics is debilitating, which is why you don’t have people blasting their way magically through the kingdom. Do you follow me so far?”
After he nodded, I continued. “During the battle of Asphodel, I performed a magical act that should have killed me. The control of the weather is a power that is normally beyond mortal ability, except for me apparently. In order to accomplish something as immense as a cyclone, I had to borrow power from somewhere. In the attempt to control what I’d borrowed, I destroyed a great deal of my strength. To this day, I have not regained it entirely. The—” I paused, swallowing the repressed lump of sorrow in my throat. “The miscarriage I had took even more of my strength, and my little trek through the forest didn’t help my situation. Kaldarte thinks I will improve, and perhaps even reach my normal strength again, but only if I rest. Any time I use magic, or I am up and active for extended periods, it causes a setback that I think we can ill afford right now. Spesialle has taken the time to heal and recuperate. He will not remain dormant for long.”
Anner frowned, first at me then at Brial. “Why are you here then? You should have remained in Asphodel while we came here.”
“It is necessary,” I said simply.
“Don’t think I haven’t tried,” Brial said, a defensive gleam in his eyes as he met Anner’s frown. “If you think you’ll have better success in restraining her, my friend, by all means: be my guest.”
Once again, the latent tension between the two men hovered in the room as they stared at each other. Mylan’s sudden laugh broke the uneasy silence.
“If Kaldarte can’t control her, there is no way either one of you two could,” he pointed out. The wary tightness of his face, however, suggested that Anner’s private confrontation with my husband was not as discreet as once it was.
Mariol turned back to me. “I had no idea it was this bad, Tamsen. If the Seer is that concerned, then you are endangering yourself by even being here.”
I waved this away with a grimace. “I’ll be very careful, Mariol. We’ll just need to regulate the Council meetings. Our herald friend is coming by tomorrow with a list of legitimate claimants to the throne. If we have our mind set on only a few of the candidates, then perhaps we can lead the Council to consider only those men.”
“Perhaps we can find somewhere a bit less formal to convene the Council,” Brial suggested, his voice still cool. “If we are someplace warm and comfortable, then the strain will less affect my wife.”
“That’s a good idea,” Mariol approved, ignoring the worded gauntlet Brial had tossed to the floor. “Several of the larger drawing rooms might be appropriate. I will contact a friend of mine in the city as well. He is an herbalist and physician, and if he attends you in Council, Tamsen, it will be a simple matter to use your health as an excuse to dismiss it early.”
“We can’t do that,” I disagreed, shaking my head. “If any word of my illness reaches Spesialle’s ears, we can expect a visit from him in short order. I don’t know how he can get from one place to another magically, Mariol. Do you?”
“No,” the mage admitted, scratching his head with a frown. “It must have something to do with visualization, but I can’t grasp the idea behind it. I know Hyagrem is looking into it.”
“We don’t know who we can trust at Court, so no one must suspect I am this weak. With any luck, I can keep the meetings short. Call your physician if you like. Perhaps he has options for me that Kaldarte didn’t.”
“Brial will be there,” Mariol said. “He’ll know if you’ve had enough, and can get word to one of us so that we can make the suggestion. With all of us working together, we’ll be able to keep your secret.”
A servant announced dinner, and we followed Mariol into the familiar dining room. We had spent several enjoyable evenings lingering over the polished mahogany table in happier times. On this night, however, we ate the delicately seasoned shellfish and game birds the newly returned kitchen staff sent for our consumption without much conversation. Brial sat at my side, eating little and speaking less.
Inwardly, I sighed. The situation with Anner and Brial was reaching the point where I must address the issue. Obviously, I didn’t want them addressing anything in private with sharp objects, so it would be up to me to see that this crisis was resolved.
Just another thing to worry about.
We were silent when we reached our rooms. I curled up in a chair with a book on Court procedure while Brial honed the edge of his sword. The repetitive shrill of the whetstone running along the blade set my teeth on edge and banged against my throbbing temples with every scrape of the sword.
“Brial,” I said finally. “Put that sword down and let’s talk about this.”
“Talk about what, cariad?”
“We need to discuss this situation you have with Anner.”
Brial set the sword and whetstone on the floor. “I would say he has a situation with me,” he replied as the shutters dropped down over his face.
I winced, but plowed forward anyway. “Anner has been a good friend to us, beloved. We should be past these petty distractions.”
“I do not require the criticisms of another man on how I protect my wife,” he said haughtily, and for the first time anger snapped into his eyes. “Nor do I need that same wife to lecture me on how to behave.”
“I’m not trying to tell you how to act,” I said as my own temper began to stir. “I am concerned for you both. Anner has a problem, yes, and I will address that with him if I must. But your response to him today only encouraged him to continue his foolishness.”
“That is not my concern.”
“Maybe not, but it is mine!”
He snatched up his sword, ramming it into the sheath at his side. As we glared at each other, he strode to the door.
“Where are you going?” I demanded.
He did not turn back to me, only hesitated with his hand on the doorknob. Then, he squared his shoulders and stalked from the room.
Damn him! In all the years I had heard about the Elves and then lived among them, I had never heard of such a foul-tempered Elf. I threw a warm mantle over my nightdress and slammed my feet into slippers.
When Brial was in a temper, there was no telling what he would do. He could either be saddling his horse or searching the library for a book. I would have to go find him.
As I stepped out into the hall, I didn’t hear any shouting or sword fighting. That was encouraging. I closed our door and sped down the dimly lit hall. My slippers made no sound on the marble floors as I hurried in search of my irate husband. As I slipped down the huge, central staircase, I heard the others in the study. The doors were ajar, and I crept to them.
“You’re acting like an ass,” Mylan’s firm voice floated out to me. “They are married. Brial is our friend, Anner. You’re treating him like he’s beaten her.”
“If he were as protective of her health as he is his own pride, she would not be here right now,” Anner growled. I rolled my eyes.
“If she were not here,” Mariol pointed out quietly, “we would not have the advantages that we do. Tamsen knows her importance in the scheme of things, and if you think that husband of hers isn’t kept involved in the decision making processes, you are a fool. Brial Ka’breona has the unenviable chore of guarding his wife, and acquits himself admirably. He is the only one who can manage her with any form of success. All he has to do is suggest an outrageous restriction upon her, and then when she protests—usually at the top of her voice –he lets her suggest a compromise. Then he agrees and places her exactly where he wanted her in the first place. No one else, save possibly Kaldarte or Hyagrem, exercises that kind of control over our young lady from Asphodel.”
My mouth dropped open. All of the arguments and struggles we had over my participation in events flashed through my head. All of the “you leave at sunsets” and the “I forbid its” were nothing but opening gambits in a game I did not even know he was playing?
“If she is so ill, she should be at home under the Seer’s care,” Anner said stubbornly.
“Anner, my friend,” Glaucon interrupted, a definite chill in his voice. “You need to get past this. She doesn’t love you. She is married to an Elflord, and among the Elves that is permanent. You can never have her, Anner. You need to move on.”
Glaucon’s blunt comment fell into the room with a crash, and Mylan added. ”I have followed you through many things, mate, but I will not follow you on this. You are jeopardizing everything we have worked for a year to build with this ridiculous attitude of yours. It’s time, Anner. Give it up.”
I hurried away. I didn’t want to hear any more. As I sped through the drawing room, I saw Wilden. He jerked his head at the music room door, and disappeared into the darkened corridor. I stopped to catch my breath, and went to stand in the door.
Brial sat with a small harp nestled upon his lap. His long, slender fingers were brushing over the strings, checking the tone of the instrument as he turned the tiny wooden knobs that tuned it.
“I didn’t know you could play,” I observed.
He didn’t look up, which meant he had heard me coming. One of the worst things about being married to an Elven scout was the difficulty in surprising them.
“I learned when I was very young,” he replied after a moment. “My mother taught me. As I grew older, I put it aside when I began to study warfare.”
I drifted through the door. As I hovered there, uncertain of what to do next, Brial looked up at me with a wry smile. “Go ahead and sit; I won’t shout at you.”
I lowered myself into a chair as he bent his head back to the little harp. Finally, he seemed satisfied, and began to play a sweet, haunting little melody that drifted through the room.
“What is this song?” I asked. “I think I’ve heard it before.”
“Oh, you have,” he assured me. “You heard it at our vialigatis.”
“That’s right,” I agreed, remembering the harps playing as the Ka’breona maidens tucked their blossoms into my hair. “What is it called?”
“It is our traditional song of courting,” he replied, unleashing those black eyes at me. “We play it to the women we love, and at the formalization of our unions, as a reminder of the early days in any lifebond where the magic and the power mingle in the growing surety that this particular woman is the one. It is, at once, a declaration and a question.”
“I see.” I relaxed in my seat. He turned his attention back to the harp.
“You thought I was leaving?”
“I thought it a possibility.”
“I will never leave you,” he replied, his voice deep and low.
We were silent for a few minutes more, caught up in the spell of the music and the new strangeness between us. I was tired and wanted nothing more than to curl up in his arms and cry. I knew I had wounded him in some way.
He finished the song with a last, tinkling spray of notes and lifted his head to stare at me. We regarded each other as the room fell back into silence.
“I have,” he began quietly, “changed many of the ways I was brought up to be since I fell in love with you. I have forced my mistrust of humans from me and learned to befriend the men that gathered around you. I have learned to bite my tongue at your ways, none of which, I might add, would be tolerated in an Elf of your age and station. I have given up convincing you to be more aware of your safety, and instead have focused my efforts into guarding you without your knowledge. Everything that I thought I was I have given up in love for you save for one vital thing: I will not endure any interference from another in the decisions I make regarding you. I don’t care who it is, this one, last thing I will not concede. Even you, cariad, tread a careful line with me in this matter. You are my wife and I think it important that we agree on things. There will come a time, however, that I will override you and you will obey me if I see fit.”
His eyes flashed into the glittering black glare of his anger. “Anner de Ceolliune, in particular, must come to respect this. Friend or no, I will not remain silent if this happens again. I know, cariad, that you will not understand this. I repeat it now only as a warning. I no longer have the patience for it.”
“Do not question my ability to look out for your best interests again, Tamsen. I apologize for my behavior earlier; I misplaced my anger. You need to realize that I mean what I say, and I will not change my mind.”