As promised, here's the first excerpt from my upcoming book release, The Reckoning of Asphodel, coming May 3, 2016!
We did not have long to wait. Less than a minute later, I saw the bobbing of torches through the trees. Thirty seconds after that, they thundered around the bend. The leader pulled up when he saw the flaming arrow burning merrily in front of him. Over my head, bowstrings sang as Mylan and Morrote fired two more flaming arrows to land near the first.
The leader’s horse reared and the man had all he could do to control it. I watched in cold silence while he struggled with his mount. Once the horse was calmed, I called out in a clear voice. “You have entered Asphodel without my permission, stranger. What is your name and affiliation?”
“Who in the hell are you?”
“I am Tamsen, Countess of Asphodel,” I retorted. “You did not answer my question, commander! The light is in your eyes, not mine, and I can see your uniforms and insignia.”
“Lord Spesialle ordered me to prepare this castle for occupation”
“Spesialle has no claim to Asphodel. His claim is forfeit, as is due a regicide and traitor.”
A low murmur broke out among the troops, but the commander ignored it. “How do I know that what you say is true?”
“You don’t,” I said pleasantly. “However, I should inform you that I have a company of Elven archers behind my walls that are itching to use you for target practice.”
“I don’t believe the lies of any squatting peasant wench,” the commander growled. “My orders are to take this—”
Before I knew what was happening, the man screamed. Brial had notched and fired an arrow that pierced the man’s leg in the half-inch gap between the bottom of his mail shirt and the top of his high, thick leather boot. “If you speak one more word about my lady the next arrow will be through your throat!” he called in a clear, cold voice. “Any man that moves in this direction will die. Make your decision quickly. We want to have enough time to burn your corpses and get a good night’s sleep.”
“Good shot,” Glaucon noted with dispassionate approval.
“Easy shot,” Brial shrugged even as his voice grew tighter. “Even after Tamsen warned them, they kept their torches burning.”
The commander grimaced in agony as he removed the arrow from his leg. He examined the distinctive Elven fletching, and then said something low to the men at his back.
As he began to turn his horse’s head, I called out, “Take this message back to your master, dog: Asphodel is once again held by the heir of the house, and will remain so. On the day he enters my lands, I will kill him with my own hand. There is no succor in Asphodel for the man who killed our King.”
He glared at me silently, his face twisted with hatred. Then, his troop turned their horses and sped into the night.
“You should return to the castle, milady,” Anner suggested. I could just see his gray eyes glint in the moonlight. “They may try to double back. Glaucon and I will keep watch.”
Before I could respond, Brial gripped my arm and steered me back into the castle. Grimly, he marched me up the steps and into my room. Once there, he tossed his bow in a corner and glared at me.
“What?” I asked, confused.
“Why did you do that?” he grated. “What plausible excuse for such idiocy can you possibly have?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”
“The only reason this castle could be safe for you is if your uncle doesn’t know for certain that you are here!” Brial shouted. “Now he not only knows where you are, but you make matters worse by sending him a message that a man like him cannot ignore.”
“It doesn’t matter if he knows for certain or not.” I retorted, my own temper rising. “He’ll come here regardless, Brial. He needs Asphodel to act against the Elves.”
“You don’t know that.” Brial enunciated carefully, evidently trying to rein in his temper. “You are only guessing.”
“I know it. I don’t know how I know, but I do. Spesialle will be here within three months, Brial, and he will not come alone. He will bring his army.”
Brial opened his mouth and then shut it abruptly. We glowered at each other for a minute and then the breath left him in a loud exhalation. “If you ever do anything like that again, I swear to the gods I will throw you into the first room with a stout door and lock you in,” he said in a slow and carefully controlled voice. “Don’t fight me on this, Tamsen. If you will not behave in such a way as to protect yourself, I will not allow you to endanger yourself further. If I must, I will force you to listen to me.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Well then you’d better hope that the door consists of something other than wood,” I retorted spitefully. “If it isn’t, I’ll burn my way out.”
“I meant what I said, Tamsen.”
He kissed me, his fingers digging painfully into my arms. When he pulled back, he looked at my shocked face and laughed, not humorously, but with an ugly, ragged laughter. “I told you not to let yourself get involved with me, I told you it would interfere with my ability to protect you! You don’t listen to anyone, Tamsen, and your pride will be your undoing! You are not omnipotent, my lady.”
His tone was so furious I actually winced.
“If you will not attempt to protect yourself, then I will do it for you, You will not like my methods, but you won’t have any choice. I will not stand by and watch you get yourself killed, and by the gods, you will obey me!” He punctuated each word with a shake. “I love you, Tamsen, but at this moment I could break your neck.”
He kissed me again, and then pushed me away. “By the way, don’t go on thinking that you are the only one here who has magic,” he purred. “The Ka’breona element is metal; I can build a door that all your magic will not break.”
"I wouldn't count on that!"
He turned to leave and spotted Morrote standing grimly in the door, his nostrils flaring. For one long, tense second the two Elves stared each other down, then Brial said evenly, “Get out of my way, Ka’antira. I will take your watch tonight and you can remain here to guard her.”
“From whom?” Morrote growled.
“From me, Elflord!” Brial snarled at him. “Most particularly, from me!”
Without a look back, Brial stalked by the stunned Elf and disappeared into the blackness of the outer corridor. I exhaled slowly and sank into one of the chairs by the fire.
Morrote looked after the vanished Brial with an odd expression on his face. Then he snorted a short bark of laughter and stepped into the room.
“I’d really rather be alone, uncle,” I said sadly.
“I don’t think that’ll ever be an option for you, Tamsen,” the Elf said with a twinkle in his eye. “You two were meant for each other.”