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King, Chapter 14

Chapters 1-13 are here:

 http://jm-harrison.com/8-king-chronicle-8-sample-chapter/

~Chapter 14~

Juleta Gurrell sat in yet another parlor that was attached to an unused suite of rooms tucked in along the far side of the Lord Chancellor’s quarters. She held her hands folded together, stiffly composed, but Marc knew she was terrified. With good reason, he thought. The charge of treason very often carried with it the penalty of death. Her face was so pale he thought she might faint.

“You’ve been busy,” he said, feeling little sympathy for her, angry at himself for not acting on the forewarnings he’d had about her. “I don’t have time for hysterics, Juleta. You need to tell me what you know, what you’ve done, and who you’ve done it with.”

It took her a moment to answer and he felt his patience cut thin. “I didn’t know…”

“I’m not interested in what you didn’t know, my Lady.”

She nodded and her paleness increased. “When I came here, it was at Queen Alexia’s insistence. My mother is a friend of Lady Elise Taldic. When I expressed an interest in coming here, all my mother had to do was write her and I received her recommendation.”

“Alexia expected you to spy for her.”

“I didn’t have a choice.”

“I’m sure you think you didn’t. We’ll get to what you’ve told her in a moment. First, I want to know what your involvement with Lady Liselle is, and what you know of the drug that was given to Prince Dynan last night.”

She closed her eyes, swaying slightly in her chair. Marc took a step closer, thinking he’d have to catch her, but his proximity frightened her into recovering. “I…Alvuen…”

“Juleta,” he said in a milder tone and poured her a glass of water. “I’m not going to do anything to you, but I need this information and I need it now. What about Alvuen?”

“She gave me a box to give Liselle. She said it was a gift. She instructed me to invite Liselle to my parents’ home, but to keep quiet about it.”

“She gave this box to you? Directly?”

“Yes, last night at the Ball.”

“Did you know what was in it?”

She started to shake her head, then stared down into her hands. “I saw what was in it, but I didn’t know what the vial held.”

“You knew that Liselle was going to give it to Dynan.”

Her admission was longer in coming, but she nodded. “I didn’t think Alvuen meant to poison him. I would never—”

“She didn’t mean to, but the drug was sufficiently toxic to cause death if misused. Dynan is lucky to be alive this morning. Or maybe not so lucky. Were you ever told the point behind the use of this drug?”

“I guessed it when I found out what it was, and then Liselle told me when she arrived this morning. They mean to drive Prince Dynan and Lady Loren apart so that he has no choice but to marry Princess Danetha.”

“Liselle indicated this to you?”

“Yes. Alvuen too, but I didn’t understand what she meant at the time.”

“What did she say?”

“That she had a plan that would ensure her Queen’s wishes would be followed. But she didn’t say it, she wrote it. We used a messenger when we needed to communicate. His name is Reve Brezden. I passed him notes on what I saw and he delivered them to Alvuen. He would deliver her return messages to me.”

“What did you do with the notes?” Marc asked, thinking it would be too easy if she still had that particular message.

Juleta shook her head. “I always put them in the fire. That’s what she told me to do.”

“Alvuen?”

“Yes.”

A knock on the door interrupted his next question, and Ralion came in. “I’m sorry. I thought you should know. We’ve found a Palace Messenger murdered. His name was Reve Brezden.”

“Where?”

“In a storage bin in the pantry.” Ralion hesitated, glancing at Juleta. “His heart was cut out.”

“Maralt.”

Juleta gasped, her breath stuttering through her teeth. She covered her mouth as she dissolved into instant tears. Marc frowned and nodded Ralion into the next room, but left the door open to keep an eye on her. He kept his voice down, so she wouldn’t hear. “How was he discovered?”

“By another servant, who thankfully didn’t start a huge commotion about it. He alerted the guard, who then called me. Everyone who saw the man has been instructed to keep quiet. It’ll get around anyway, but the story I put out was a case of robbery gone wrong. I have his purse, which has a good bit more coin than a servant of his rank should have. The man bragged it seemed, about how well off he was. His finance account says the same thing.”

“All right. She’s next you know. Liselle too.” He started pacing, wishing now that he hadn’t sent that messenger to Shalis. Maralt’s involvement changed all the rules. “We have to get them out of here. We won’t be able to move Liselle unnoticed until tomorrow, if then. We need to move Juleta now.”

“Maralt doesn’t leave his witnesses alive.”

“He didn’t know that we were aware of her activities, otherwise, she’d be dead by now.”

Ralion glanced at him at that, conveying with a look that he hadn’t been aware of Juleta’s activities either.

Marc only shook his head. “Who do we have who we can trust and won’t be missed?”

Ralion took a moment to think about it, forcing Marc to rein in a wave of irritation over the delay. “Lyle Dowd has a place near Beren. Last I heard, he was completely recovered from what happened the night we landed. He and Ames Lithford can take her.”

“Will they?”

“Yes, and unless Maralt goes himself, they should be able to handle anyone else. They were both trained here by Boral. They both went through conscription. They aren’t stupid.”

“All right. I’ll get her out of the Palace. We’re going to say that she was sent back home to her parents. I’ll think of why later. I want a message sent to the Gurrells—I’ll want to write that—delivered to Lord Gurrell only. They’ll need to move, too. I want a false trail laid out to cover their real destination. Their servants are to be told that they’re at the Beach Manor. Set it up. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“There’s one more thing. The dead man was a Palace Messenger. His seal has been stolen, which means that Maralt has it and he’ll use it to get access. I’ve already recalled the rest of the messenger staff, but it will take time to check them all and keep it quiet.”

“Right.” Marc shook his head, fearing that events were going to spiral out of control, if they hadn’t already. “I don’t want Dynan to know about this either. I need to think it through some more. He’s liable to come unhinged if he hears about Maralt. He doesn’t need it right now.”

“No, he doesn’t. All right. I’ll tell Kyle the same thing.”

“Get a guard in here who we know. Juleta will be staying in my rooms until we’re ready. No one comes in. No one talks to her.”

“Understood.”

“I’m going to see Liselle, and tell her what I want her to do. I’ll be back.”

“Marc, what do you want Liselle to do?”

“She’s coming to dinner tonight, Ralion. She and Dynan are going to talk to each other and act like nothing ever happened. We have a population to convince of that.”

Ralion didn’t look like he thought it possible, but he nodded, and Marc left him. Liselle’s reaction to his presence mirrored Juleta’s, but she covered it better. Still she took a step away from him, covering her middle as though trying to protect something. Marc didn’t waste time talking, but went to her and touched her forehead. When she thought to move away, he commanded her to be still, while he searched her mind for any trace of Maralt’s presence. He ignored everything else, concentrating only on that, but didn’t find what he thought would be there.

“Tonight, when Dynan returns for dinner you’re going to attend. You’re going to act and look as though you’ve done nothing wrong. You’ll smile and eat and converse as though nothing at all has happened. If you’re asked about last night, your response will be that you were talking with him. Adel was with you at all times. You lost track of time. That’s all you’ll say. All you will indicate in any manner.”

“Dynan will never—”

“He will. He understands what’s at risk here. Regardless, you have no choice in this. You’ll do exactly as I’ve said. I will see to it.”

She understood what he meant and her eyes widened. “Perhaps you aren’t so different from Maralt after all.”

“Different enough. You’re still alive.” He touched her forehead again, inspecting the shield he’d made on her first return and found it still strong. He put another in place that would prevent her from joining with Maralt voluntarily. “And I intend to keep you that way, so that when the time comes, you’ll be able to testify to Alexia’s duplicity in this and face whatever punishment the King decides. You better hope that King turns out to be Dynan. Ambrose isn’t likely to be so forgiving this time. Now, you’re going to tell me everything you’ve done from start to finish.”

He pointed her into a chair and sat across from her. “It isn’t what you think,” Liselle said, and as Marc listened, he began to understand what she meant.

~*~

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King, Chapter 3

Chapters 1 & 2 are here: http://jm-harrison.com/8-king-chronicle-8-sample-chapter/ 

~Chapter 3~

Queen Marella Mardon arrived at the Palace amidst a celebration rarely afforded a sovereign from a different System, and she brought with her all the remaining exiles from the Trillian Base. She also brought a remarkable gift from Trea. Marc listened while Drake explained to Ambrose how he had set aside a small portion of each year’s budget from nearly every branch of the System’s operation. He’d slowly built on that sum each year, saving a sizeable amount, even through the financial difficulties he’d had this past year. He smiled happily as he handed the promissory note to the former King.

“It’s not as much as I’d like, but it will help Dynan through these first years,” Drake said. Standing next to Ambrose, the King of Trea was shorter, but no less a man who was used to wielding a great deal of power. Both men exuded authority. He wore his dusty brown hair short, and his dark eyes were equally discerning.

“You’ve done more than enough to help him,” Ambrose said, “more than he’ll ever be able to repay you. For myself, all I can say is thank you. I’m indebted to you.”

Ambrose Telaerin was a tall man and physically fit for someone already dead. His sons took after him, having light blue eyes that missed very little. His blond hair had darkened somewhat with age. He was forty-nine. The same age as when his life had ended almost seven years ago.

“Nonsense.” Marella smiled easily. She had been forewarned of Ambrose’s resurrection, but Marc noticed how closely she watched him, occasionally shaking her head in wonder. She was as beautiful as ever, even more so than Marc remembered, and wore her dark hair netted in a cascade of glinting diamonds and pearls that matched her silver and white gown. “His safe return is payment enough. Is he all right?”

“He’s waiting for you upstairs,” Marc said, gesturing to the grand stair as he took Shalis’ hand.

“Is Dain with him? Both of them?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

She commented on how difficult it was to imagine two of them, a sentiment Marc understood all too well. The Queen then turned to Loren to thank her for the reception.  She stood as tall as Marella and carried herself with the same regal grace. Sometimes Marc wondered how everyone didn’t know that she was every bit a Princess. It remained the dominating focus of Dynan’s entire being to have her crowned Queen. Marc watched her while she straightened the line of her pale blue gown, her sea green eyes alight with happiness at seeing Marella again. Like Shalis, she wore a pin in her hair, a stone the color of light amber that matched her hair that she wore lose around her shoulders.

Loren had asked earlier if she could use the Lord Chancellor’s quarters for the Queen’s reception, the wider space affording more comfort than the Royal sitting room, and Marc had agreed. She had them set up in the small ballroom, and he was amazed at the transformation from this morning when her servants were only getting started. Great swags of colorful fabric hung from the ceiling. A large fountain bubbled gently from the center of the dance floor, surrounded by a lush, blooming garden of blue roses. What Marc could only describe as dancing lights floated throughout the room. A quartet of musicians played softly from a corner. Marc glanced up at the bobbing glass balls, grouped in threes that revolved around each other slowly.

“Ask Trevan,” Loren whispered as she moved by him.

Trevan Golyin, who was Dynan’s Chief of Technologies, and maybe the smartest man on the planet, wasn’t there, but out to the first Approachment Guildhall as part of the advance team to make sure all their security precautions were being met. Ralion Blaise, Cobalt’s First Minister, was supposed to have gone instead. While both he and Trevan were still suffering from their experience at the Temple, coming so close to the pervasive evil of the demon, the First Minister was having a harder time getting back on his feet and staying that way. Gaden Ahreld, just recently returned from his brother’s funeral, would accompany Dynan. Marc had initially hesitated at having most of the senior staff out of the Palace for what would essentially be six days, but didn’t want to leave Dynan’s safety solely in the hands of Palace Guards either. Especially in the condition he was in.

Marc watched him struggle to stand to greet Marella. The Queen promptly made him sit back down, and greeted Dain and Dain Ardin. She spent a fairly long time with her arms around Dain, whispering to them both about how happy she was that he, they, were all right, to the point that Drake rolled his eyes over it. She finally let them go and took her seat.

Marc moved to stand behind Dynan, motioning Dain over to join him. “How do you feel?”

“Like I’m about to feel worse?”

Marc nodded, and touched he and Dynan at the same time. Both of them started, and Dain would have fallen had Dain Ardin not caught him. “Sorry,” Marc said quickly. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

“You could have warned me,” Dain said, shirking off Dain Ardin’s help a little more roughly than he probably intended.

“I did warn you.”

“Next time, I’ll let you hit the floor,” Dain Ardin said, and Dain turned on him, eyes flashing.

Ambrose joined them then, stepping between his sons. He took them by the back of the neck, yanked them apart and a step out of the immediate gathering. “I understand you two have been fighting.”

Marc smiled at the sudden change that came over both of them. “Fighting?” Dain asked, suddenly all innocence.

“Why would we do that?”

“That’s what I heard,” Ambrose said, jerking them both again. “But I’m glad to know it isn’t true, because if it were, I’m sure that the stable hands would appreciate all that excess energy being put to better use.”

“You can’t—” Dain Ardin started but Ambrose cut him off.

“Can’t what? Your order giving capacity stopped the moment you put me in charge. Besides that, I’m still your father, and if I ever hear of this kind of ridiculous behavior again, I’ll have you out in the stables the next dawn. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

Ambrose nodded and let them go, suggesting that they use this time to be together and work out their differences. His tone left little room for argument, so they agreed, though with a good bit of reluctance.

Alexia, Danetha and Creal arrived with their usual contingent of servants and the reception went on until Dynan didn’t look like he could stand much more of it. For a change, Alexia didn’t need to be asked to leave, and her concern seemed genuine. Danetha spent the entire time watching Dynan, a worried look on her face, a fact that wasn’t lost on Loren, nor were Dynan’s assurances to the Princess that he would be all right. Dynan didn’t speak to Loren the entire visit and hardly looked at her at all. When Marc glanced around for her as Alexia made ready to depart, he couldn’t find her. The Queen had spent some time observing her, and the sense Marc had increased, that Dynan’s plan to trick the Queen into believing he meant to marry her daughter wasn’t working.

He noticed Juleta Gurrell watching, too, and frowned at that. The same uneasy feeling remained about her that resurfaced anytime he was around her. He hadn’t had time yet to check her background again, and he’d meant to.

He slipped out after Alexia had gone, and went to his study, bringing up the files they had on Juleta. He’d only just started reading when Ambrose came back with Marella and Drake. He was showing them to the private parlor where they could rest before dinner in quiet comfort and perhaps get reacquainted. Marella had a look in her eyes that said as much. Drake too. The Queen drew Marc along with them. “I meant to congratulate you on your rather meteoric rise to authority,” she said. “You’ll make Dynan a great Lord Chancellor, Marc.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty. I’m doing the best I can.” He smiled even when he knew that Drake would likely tell her what was happening. Marc wished he wouldn’t. “I won’t be joining you for dinner this evening. Dain Ardin either. We have something we have to take care of, so I’ll wish you a good night now.”

“Another hunting expedition?” Ambrose asked.

“Yes. I think we’ll catch the thing tonight.”

“I’ll explain later,” Drake said to Marella. “Goodnight Marc.”

He bowed to them and left. He stopped in his study to continue what he’d started, but realized it was getting late. He went to find Dynan instead, and found Dain and his counterpart getting their brother into one of the many spare beds the Lord Chancellor’s quarters provided. He was mostly asleep already and difficult to manage. They were arguing about how to go about it, too, while they struggled to make Dynan comfortable.

“Careful.”

“Why don’t you shut up and go away. I don’t need your help.”

Dain Ardin didn’t respond for a moment. “I never said you did. I was only trying to be nice to you, which I see is a total waste of time and effort. Since we have to live together, I thought trying to get along with you would be a smart thing to do, but you keep proving me wrong at every turn. I can’t help my own existence. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t have any control over it. They never gave me much say in what they did to me in the first place, but I always did what I could to help you, whether they liked it or not. Yes, you. Why should that surprise you? You’re part of me. I can’t believe you’re treating me like this. I never did anything to you to deserve it, except be here. You keep talking about how unjust all of this is. How fair is it for you to act like you hate me, or that you can’t stand to be near me? What brand of justice is that?”

The crackle of the fire, feeding on a newly tossed log, filled the room, then settled. A long silence followed. “I don’t know,” Dain finally said in a barely distinguishable whisper. “I don’t know anything anymore. All I do know is that I don’t like having you around, and I can’t help it anymore than you can help being here. Any time I’m anywhere near you, it makes my skin crawl. It feels like…like death waiting just around the corner, or that I’m on the verge of being taken.”

Marc frowned at that and moved to the doorway, startling them both. He held up a hand when they turned on him, angry at him for listening. “Are you still shielded from him?” he asked Dain Ardin.

“Yes, I’d have to be.”

“But he isn’t shielded from you.”

“That shouldn’t make any difference as long as one of us is.”

“I don’t think so,” Marc said. “Your shield keeps you from joining him and repels him at the same time in a way that no one likely anticipated. Whether he wants to admit it or not, there’s a natural inclination that makes him want to be near you, but it makes him feel bad when he is. An imbalance is set up. It’s an incongruity that doesn’t affect you, because you’re already shielded. Come here, Dain. I think I can solve at least part of this problem.”

Marc touched his forehead and built a shield around him that would prevent Dain Ardin from ever taking him. Dain’s eyes widened. “It’s gone.”

Marc turned to the other and removed his shield for just a moment so he would understand what it felt like. Dain Ardin took a step back and his face paled. “You see?”

“Yes. Put it back.” Dain Ardin shook his head when the shield was restored. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“No, that’s all right,” Dain said hesitantly.

“Can you talk to each other? I mean, telepathically?”

“We haven’t tried,” they said and eyed each other.

Marc smiled at the identical expressions, then felt himself suddenly ignored when they concentrated. What he’d intended as a quick test, turned into a long conversation exclusive to them alone. Marc smiled again, relieved for Dain. A simple cure to a complex problem that might afford him the peace he deserved. Marc smiled at his own ingenuity this time, rather pleased with himself that he’d thought of it.

Marc cleared his throat to get their attention, but that didn’t provide enough of a distraction. He watched them smiling over some memory, their eyes only half focused as they slowly went about making their brother more comfortable. “It’s getting on toward dark, and I’m going to go get ready for our hunting expedition. I’m not waiting either.”

He left them, wondering if that would do it. He found Shalis and the others still in the ballroom. He realized that he would have to delay, yet again, dealing with Juleta Gurrell. He didn’t have time now.

“I’m off,” he said, and kissed Shalis’ hand. “If the Dains come running out here, send them down to the front lawn.”

“Both of them?” she asked.

“I’ve a feeling they won’t have it any other way. Dynan is down for the night. Kyle, see that he isn’t disturbed. How’s our security look?”

“Double what we had last night, and armed with lasers.”

“Did you tell them to be careful what they shoot at?”

“Dragons are exempt from the shoot to kill order, my Lord.”

Marc grunted at that. “There’s always one idiot who doesn’t get the word. I’ll be back later. Someone save me some dinner.”

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Chosen gets a Review!

Chosen got a very nice 4 star review from author Jade M. Phillips. Jade is the author of the young adult fantasy, Mer. Be sure to check out the review! Thanks Jade! http://jademphillips.com/2013/02/04/review-chosen-by-jolea-m-harrison-no-spoilers/

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Filed under Epic Fantasy, Guardians of the Word