Author’s Note: So I am toying with the idea of doing a fantasy serial. I’ve also got other ideas, but let’s see how this works. Here’s a bit of the prologue, then, as a teaser.
If you think this should be a serial on the site, let me know whichever way you prefer (comment, social media, etc.)
“Is the king a good man?”
He looked over at her, knowing what he should say. He owed fidelity to the king, he was not to speak ill of the man, and his obligation dictated only one response. She was to hear what she needed to hear: that the man was a good ruler, the most benevolent that any had ever known, that her parents had made the right choice in allying their kingdom with his.
After her silence for the first two days of their journey, he found himself speaking with surprising honesty. “No.”
She nodded, pushing her cloak’s hood off her head. He’d noticed her fighting with it from the morning on—the twin suns were bearing down on them, and she must be overheated. He had suggested stopping until the better part of the day for traveling, when the one sun had set, but she had shook her head. He wondered if she felt delaying would make it so that she might fail to uphold her part of the treaty.
She paused, shaking her dark curls loose. She closed her eyes for a moment, and he hesitated. Was this some part of her faith, perhaps? He did not know much about their new allies, though he’d thought them preferable to the alternative.
The king liked them because they would be easier to betray.
“Why do you serve him if he is not?”
He looked over at her. This sudden boldness was not something that pleased him. He did think she was considering running or refusing, and the consequences of that would be brutal for her people. His king would not tolerate such an insult. “Why are you here?”
She reached up and removed the cloak, passing it to her servant. “For my people. There is no alternative. I must do this.”
“So that is why you serve him? For your people?”
He could say that he stood between the commoners and the king’s wrath more often than not, but he would not make such a claim. “If you wish to stop until the sun sets, that will allow you to cope better with the heat.”
“How do your people do it?” She gestured to his cloak. “Is that not making you feel as though you are being cooked?”
“We will burn in the sun,” he said, letting his hand come out of his sleeve. He did not wait long—the pale color shifted to red—and he pulled it back.
She shook her head. “I do not understand why anyone would fight over this land, then. You should have abandoned it years ago.”
He could not argue with her sentiment. He followed after her as she resumed their journey. “Not all of us have this affliction.”
“Your king wouldn’t let those of you that do leave, though.”
He frowned. “You… You are not what they said, are you?”
“I was raised as a leader, taught to rule a kingdom. What did you expect? A meek, uneducated sacrifice?”
“It would, I fear, be better for you if you were one.”
“Well? Where is she?”
“She comes,” he told the king, wishing that he had been granted the same luxury—enough time as to be able to remove his soiled garments, bathe himself, and appear as a member of court should—but he did not. He was not in the same position, though hers would fall as soon as she married the brute. That was an unfortunate fact. “She was to be made fit for you.”
The king snorted. “No woman is deserving of my attention. If not for tradition, this treaty would never have happened.”
“Of course not.”
“You could not arrange it any other way?”
He closed his eyes. “They wanted some kind of guarantee of your sincerity. That, it would seem, is only possible with such an exchange.”
“So you claim.”
“You doubt my word?”
The king grabbed his hand, crushing it through the fabric of his sleeve. He should not have asked, not when his skin was raw from that moment in the suns, and he would not be able to free himself before the bone shattered if that was the king’s intent. He let go, shoving him away. “You have been away for too long. You have forgotten what you are.”
“I have been traveling for too long, and we did not rest in the dual sun. I—”
He nodded, putting his head down and waiting for the future queen to arrive. Once the king had seen her, he would be able to leave. That was what he must remember. He had forgotten what court was like, and he did not know why he had, but he should not have been so foolish.
The heavy double doors opened, and the servants led the woman in, her regalia fit to rival anyone who might have entertained notions of being the queen. That must have been hidden away in her things, since he knew she had traveled in garments far plainer than this. If she intended to impress the king, she would fail—the man was never impressed—but she might have the court’s opinion in her favor.
The king stepped down from the throne level, walking toward her. He walked around, studying each stitch in her dress, and then he shook his head as he did. “Disappointing.”
She met his gaze, defiant, and the king might have hit her if she’d continued to do so. He would have warned her again, but he could not. He rose, rubbing at his sore wrist as he knew what must follow the king’s decision.
“You are not worth it,” the king said, and the woman frowned. “Where is the rest of what I was promised?”
“It could hardly come as fast as we did,” she told him. “If you are patient, then you could have all you wanted.”
The king gave her a scornful look. “I do not want you. Leave my sight.”
She bowed her head, turning to leave, and the king watched her, his gaze cold. He moved, his stride angry as he ascended the few steps to his throne. “You are plotting against me. This is a trick of yours, isn’t it?”
“It is pathetic,” the king said, and he swallowed, knowing the words to come. “Guards, take him away.”
Though he knew that he could not win, he struggled as they came to take him, knowing that he would be fortunate if his fate was execution. A slow death in the heat of the twin suns was not much to hope for, but he would hope for it nonetheless.