One of my beta readers said that if I was going to write several of my novels in a fantasy empire, she wanted me to post some short stories about the origin and back story of the empire. She was curious, but didn’t want to bog down the books. And so…
Leonora stepped off the boat and wrinkled her nose. The smell of sewage, animal, and sweat assaulted her as the sun warmed her neck and shoulders. Several squires were coaxing skittish horses down the ramshackle docks, and a few harried knights were overseeing the transfer of provisions. They didn’t deserve to die. None of them did, even if her father disagreed.
Unfurling her parasol, she cast a small spell to keep her dress from getting soiled and picked her way through the muck.
A young knight with a shock of blonde hair and smooth face hurried over to her, and realizing who she was, took a step back. “Your…ladyship?”
“Good enough.” She snapped her parasol closed. Few knew how to address the bastard daughter of the king.
“This is no place for a lady, ma’am.”
“Unfortunate I came all the way across the sea then. I’m looking for Knight-Lord Dracasan.”
Confusion puckered the young knight’s face, but he led her to a large drab tent. There was nothing to knock on, so the boy cleared his throat. “Knight-Lord-”
Leonora pushed past him into the tent. Cato Dracasan sat with his elbows balanced on his knees, a lock of dark hair curling over his forehead as he pressed his hands together and tapped them against his chin. With a day-old beard and unkempt hair, he looked nothing like the refined gentleman that had graced the ballrooms of Stardale a few months ago. Here, he looked like the brooding warrior he was.
Cato glanced up at her, and he narrowed his eyes but didn’t stand. “What in the seven hells are you doing here?”
The young knight scurried away as Leonora met the Knight-Lord’s glare. “What a lovely greeting. It’s good to see you as well, Knight-Lord Dracasan.”
Cato pushed out of his chair, filling the tent and making her want to step back. But she knew better than to retreat from a predator.
“Get on the ship andgo back home. There’s nothing for you here.”
She ignored the sting in his words and twirled her parasol. “There’s nothing for me there, either. But I have something you want. Something King Orin prays you don’t get.”
Cato raised a dark brow. “I think you made it quite clear that was something I was never going to get.”
“Had I said anything else, my step-mother would’ve had us both killed.”
“Might be better than the slow death here.”
Unscrewing the end of her parasol, she tipped it upward and slid out a rolled piece of paper. She unrolled it and revealed a detailed map of the landing site and surrounding areas.
Cato’s eyes widened as he stared at the map. “Where did you get this?”
“From my father. Of course, he doesn’t know I made a copy of it. Or that I brought it to you.”
Cato studied the document. “So he knew he was sending us to our deaths.”
“Of course he did. Question is what are you going to do about it?”